Monday, January 12, 2009

For the last three years, I have been writing memoir pieces an in-service writing class sponsored through the Jordan School District. I started the class as a way to practice and improve my writing skills while, at the same time, putting my life history on paper for my children. But I found memoir to be a different style of writing about life experiences, a very different discipline than simply writing a chronological life history. I have certainly found the struggle of memoir writing to be a life experience in and of itself.
For everyone, even we unimportant people, there are hundreds of fascinating stories from and about life that, if well told, are interesting to one's family and friends. I strive to write a letter to my family and friends monthly, and I include a piece of memoir with it. My ninety-year-old mother-in-law is my biggest fan.
I am going to post on this blog some past memoir pieces that I have revised many times, and I hope that they are in their final form. By posting, they will be electronically "out there" in the ether somewhere forever. So here goes the first post.

At The Wall
Michael L. Goodman

It was a physically stressing position, leaning into the polished, black granite wall trying to hold the strip of newsprint with one hand snug against the third name from the bottom of the panel and rubbing the graphite pencil over the incised letters with the other hand. I could feel my face reddening with the strain of holding my body at that awkward angle. My eyes teared with a flood of sorrow, regret, anger, and maybe a twinge of survivor’s guilt as the W-A-R-R-E-N appeared on the paper. The paper shifted slightly as I rubbed the pencil over the G, but I finished the name even though it was crooked.
I took the second strip of paper and smoothed it over the letters, but this time I held the strip on the left side with my knee giving me a free hand to hold the paper straight as I rubbed over the letters again.
When I stood, my legs were a little unstable, my face was flushed, my eyes were wet, and my breathing was shallow. Looking at my reflection in the black, mirror-like stone of the wall, I took a couple of deep breaths and steadied myself. Backing away from the panel, I almost bumped into a man who had been watching me; watching me and the dozens of others along the angling gash in the grassy slope on the north side of Constitution Gardens.
“Oh, excuse me,” I stammered as our eyes met.
“No harm done,” he said with a mild British accent. He was about my height, a few years older, but thinner. He wore a brown plaid shirt, a light tan blazer, blue jeans, and a bemused smile that was very close to a smirk. “Tell me,” he said, glancing leisurely left and right along the 54,000 names. “I don’t quite understand. What does all this mean to Americans?”
Looking at him with my mouth open, I couldn’t even explain what it all meant to me, or what I was feeling at that moment let alone what all this means to millions of other “Americans.” How do you give an answer that covers ten years of friendship with the very first kid you met when you moved to California: or guilt at not having time to talk the last time you saw him when he came by the house to say good bye; or unspeakable grief standing by an ugly, black gash in the cemetery grass on a beautiful hill above San Diego Bay; or the vague thought that your name could be on that wall if an ulcer the size of a small bullet-hole in your gut hadn’t been enough for a jocular corporal to stamp your selective service papers with a 4F? How do you meaningfully answer “What does all this mean?”?
“I can’t say. I don’t know,” I said haltingly, with my pencil in one hand and two WARREN GUTHRIE HARDING rubbings, reverently held in the other, fluttering slightly as the afternoon cooled. “There’s no easy answer.”
“Hmmmm,” he said, frowning at me like a tourist disappointed with his tour guide. Losing interest, he pivoted smartly to the left and ambled down along the wall shaking his head.
Turning to the wall, I had one last, long look at myself reflected among the names; one last, lingering touch of the incised letters; one last, wavering breath and sigh before returning to the top of the slope and my patient wife.

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