Memoir Writing


Extending a Conversation


Sometimes you find yourself mulling over a conversation you have had with a friend. What that person has said, brings so many related ideas to mind. I am not talking about the familiar "I should have saids" but rather those, "Oh, yes, that reminds me of..." You will be surprised where writing about the specific thing that comes to mind when your friend says, "and we went out and dug up some worms and went fishing," or "When we went to China I saw... " You will find that if you take that stray thought that leaps to mind in the course of an interesting conversation will furnish a satisfying meander through your past when you take it to your memoir writing project.

Below you will see where my conversation with my friend Joyce led me.


Example: Extending a Conversation

At this time -- Monday, October 13, 2008 -- all the news commentators are caught up in discussing the economic crisis the world finds itself embroiled in. I received an e mail from a friend of mine, in which she said, "It just occurred to me that although the stock market has dipped to a deadly low--not seen since the great depression, you nor I have even mentioned it." And with that, she launched into a wide ranging discussion of the role that money or the lack of it has played in her life. Which, of course, got me to thinking that it is interesting the way specific money concepts alter a person's life perspective.

The reason she hadn't heard me speak about the economy, is that I have not a clue how to think about things economic. So far the current situation has actually had no real effect on our personal reality. Interesting how much of our perceived reality comes from the news people. Our income in relation to the price of guacamole has not changed. But because due to the affect of the news, we do tend to think, "Can we afford the guacamole?" That wouldn't have been a question a month ago.

At one point in my life, when I was doing volunteer work with GED students in the jail, a group of prisoners asked me a question about an article in the daily newspaper.

A small town in Texas had been experiencing a disproportionate swell in prosperity due to some fast and loose financing by the local banker who was leveraging one of the local's "prospects of inheritance" from his deceased uncle, whose will was under probate, into a vast empire of cattle and other commodities. An empire that bolstered the entire local economy.

The local banker died, and, somehow, the relative of the local with prospects heard of the wealth the banker had built up for him and the community based on his "prospects of inheritance."

They contacted the Catholic Church who owned a lot of stock in the enterprise of the town. The Church panicked and settled for cents on the dollar. All the other investors followed suit. The town's prosperity vanished over night.

The questions the guys in the GED class had for me was: "What would have happened if no one had panicked?" I had not one clue. On first look, it seemed to me that the town would have gone on the way they were going. But that hardly seemed a message you would want to bring to the local jail population. I was chagrined that I had gotten that far in life without understanding the economy, and went to the library and read a stack of books about three feet high. When I finished the books, I still had not a clue where to start understanding the economy.

As an aside, when I had my first child, we lived in Baltimore. As it happened I had this child at Johns Hopkins. The attending obstetrician was a renowned expert on Rh negative and was the same one who attended the Queen of England. He traveled over to England to usher in Price Charles and whoever else, since the queen, like me, was RH Negative and he was quite famous. I was given a lot of something to put me to sleep, but I half woke up in the midst of things. The doctor and the others in the delivery room were talking about the stock market, and in that instant, I understood the stock market fully. But alas, when I came fully awake later, I did not remember what I understood... only that I had understood. And, so alas. We never made a fortune in the stock market.

Back to my story about not understanding the economy. After I had read the stack of books in search of the answer to the prisoners' questions, I knew no more than I had when I started, so I signed up for a course in economics at San Jose State. It was a mini semester they had squeezed in between the fall semester and the spring semester.

My schedule was tight. So, I whipped into the class and hurried out right after. It was a very different class than I had been used to at Antioch, where everything was taught symposium style. That is to say , at Antioch the class was strictly an exploration of the questions we had about the text we had studied. At San Jose State the classes were strictly lecture style. The occasional student -- one of the smart guys who sat on the front row, would raise a hand to ask a question designed to let the teacher know what a clever student he was. Other than that the rest of us just took notes. The rules at San Jose state required a final test, a mid term test, and with a couple of other tests scattered along the way. Of course before the tests, there had to be a review. That took up a surprising amount of time in a truncated mini-semester. .

When we came to the review for the final, it was clear to me that I still didn't understand anything about the economy. So, I asked some of my questions. At the break some fellow students came up to me and asked me to ask Prof. Primack the questions they were afraid to ask him. I don't know if they found his answers useful.

I do know that I came to understand that, from my perspective economics is based on flawed assumptions. How can they really expect their complicated formulas to work. Their data base is studiedly incomplete. As I understand it, they do not factor in illegal money transactions. And, so right there; they can't know anything. If the banks are not required to follow any rules, and none of the patiently illegal transactions are factored in, well golley gee?! Since we spend all that money combating illegal drug activities, I would guess that a big chunk of our GNP must involve illegal drugs...there are all those people stealing cars...not to mention the white collar criminals... and so on.


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