Bill Long 3/1/05
I hope I live to age 78. That would be the year that I would write my fourth autobiography, if past patterns are to be observed. I wrote the first on the Kansas plains in 1991, when I was 39. I called it "39 and Lost in America," because I really was trying to understand how I had made my way through a promising life to end up in rural America teaching at a college of 500 students in a town of 2000 away from all the bustle of life that I thought would be mine. I tried to be "upbeat" in my first autobiography, though as I re-read it today I recognize the way that I was glossing over issues that would become insistent in my mind in the 1990s.
But then I lived through the 1990s and two moves and a divorce and two new careers and about 10 books and decided to write my next autobiography in 2004. I wasn't planning to write it, actually. I was only going to write a brief piece for the web site so that readers might learn a little of who I was, but then things grew all out of proportion, like kudzu in the south, and I found myself writing a 247-page book. Entitled "52 and Strangely Found: An Autobiography Intellectual and Intimate," the book is a well-written and heartfelt look at the whole of my life, with most attention devoted to the period from 1991-2004. I didn't consult my first autobiography in writing the second. One friend who has read it said that someone should make a movie of it, but I think she was just trying to be nice.
The Real Reason for Autobiographies
As I thought of it, however, the real reason I want to write autobiographies is that I have come up with epigraphs that I simply want to put on the first page, and I have two more that I simple have to use--one in the autobiography when I hit 65 and one in the 78 autobiography. The epigraph for the first (when I was 39) was taken from Thoreau, and was to the effect that he would have gladly written about someone else had he known them as well as himself. I thought it was cute and self-explanatory, and so I used it.
For the second autobiography (52) I used a quotation from Shakespeare as the epigraph. Indeed, beginning in August 2003 I began to immerse myself in him, memorizing large chunks of text as well as working through all the plays. I did this until I began to write mini-essays in earnest about April 2004. I hope to return to Shakespeare within eight weeks and let his language wash over me once again and re-form my mind. By studying Shakespeare and the Book of Job closely, I hope to learn how to speak with conciseness and compact power.
The quotation I used in the second epigraph was from Coriolanus, a little-read play that I think tells us a lot about anger, human ambition and the decisions we make and cannot make. I zeroed in on a conversation between two servants on how Coriolanus, who formerly was in disguise, was the "rarest man in the world." That was my epigraph for the second autobiography. Whereas I used the Thoreau quotation for fun, I used the Shakespeare as a probing tool into my own motivations and thoughts.
Autobiographies 3 and 4
If my pattern holds, then, I will be writing the next two autobiographies in 2017 and 2030. But if I don't make it that far, I want to let you readers know what the epigraphs of those two volumes would be. For # 3 it would be the words of Elihu in Job 32:18, "For I am full of words." I have always admired a wordy person who knows he is wordy and doesn't hesitate to share that thought. If I am still around in 2017 and writing, I should have the equivalent of hundreds of books posted online, and what more appropriate epigraph could be used?
But the next autobiography would need a different type of epigraph. One line from John Bunyan has been on my mind for more than 30 years. It is the last line of Pilgrim's Progress--"And I awoke, and behold, it was a dream." Of course, the journey of Christian from the City of Destruction to the Heavenly City was a "dream," a pure product of the imagination. But, it also became a sort of textbook for generations of readers seeking to understand and inculcate Puritan virtues after the 1670s. There is so much involved in the line, "And I awoke, and behold, it was a dream." Maybe such a line would be a nice valedictory to life--a line uttered just before one falls asleep into the last dream.
There is so much beauty in the world, in our lives, in our ability to weave together the past into a strong fabric for the present, in our struggle to become honest with ourselves and to be self-reflective. I have found that thinking almost gets in the way of living or at least of earning a living. Like Winslow Homer in Maine, who was a bachelor and was amazed at how people could actually live in families because of the demands that family life takes on you when the creative urge is just so immensely strong in the human heart, so I wonder how people can actually hold jobs. How are they able to do so, when there is so much meaning that needs to be reflected on, gleaned, and written down in the process of living?
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long