As you can gather from reading my blog, I love to write autobiographical stories and snippets from my daily life. One of the main reasons I love writing is that I’m able to share deep and vulnerable parts of myself with others. I always hope to be able to connect with someone else through my writing. Stories are powerful, they allow us to get a glimpse into another person’s life and feelings, and they are an amazing way to develop empathy for people different than we are.
While I know it’s true that you get better at writing the more that you practice writing, I’ve been wanting some more concrete ideas on how to improve as a writer. This led me to check out a book from the library by Tristine Rainer titled, Your Life as Story.
I’m about 8 chapters in, and have found the book to be extremely helpful in its tips and ideas on memoir writing. I’ve been furiously taking notes, trying to capture all the things I don’t want to forget. I knew that the book would be helpful for me to read, but I didn’t expect that even just a few chapters in, it would already change they way I think about writing.
Another surprise from the book was getting to know on a personal level a man named Robert J. Hall – the previous owner of this book before it was donated to the library. His name and address are scribbled on the inside of the front cover, and he has underlined, highlighted, and made notes all throughout the book. As I continue to read, I get more and more insights into this man’s life, and why he owned a copy of this book.
It reminded me of the 6th Harry Potter book, where Harry gets an old copy of an Advanced Potion-Making textbook, and finds it rife with notes and edits from a person who calls themself the “Half-Blood Prince.” Many of the potion recipes have been improved by this Half-Blood Prince, and Harry finds himself doing exceedingly well in his Potions class due to the hints and clues left by the textbook’s previous owner.
I was excited to discover that I basically have my own version of a half-blood prince in my library book. (I’m a big Harry Potter fan! Shout out to my fellow Ravenclaws!) While not nearly as cryptic as the original half-blood prince, I do find myself getting more and more interested in the story behind Robert J. Hall.
In a section of the book explaining “Why We Write” our stories, Robert put checkmarks next to reasons such as:
- You are nearing the end of your life and wish to understand and share what it has meant
- You are motivated by familial love to leave for your descendants knowledge of who you were and the life you loved
- You know that the only thing that death cannot destroy is memory, and you wish to preserve from forgetfulness those you have loved
On another page at the top, are the words “Grandpa Remembers…” and I assume it may be a working title for the book Robert wants to leave for his children and grandchildren. In another section about filling in incomplete memories (using your imagination to fill in the details while still retaining the truth), a note is written stating “My falling into the slush pit will have to be invented in this way. Age 4-5, Kilgore, TX.”
I’ve found myself getting a bit sentimental as I think about this old man nearing the end of his days, wanting his life to mean something and also wanting to leave a legacy for his family. We can all relate to that.
I wonder what the significance is of the slush pit story? I wonder if Robert ever did write down the stories of his life for his grandchildren? How many years ago did he own this book? When did he donate it to the library? I wonder if Robert is still alive and perhaps still potentially living not too many streets away from my own house (as the address on the cover would suggest)?
My questions about Robert J. Hall may never be answered. I may have to live with the fact that I’ll never know the slush pit story. Life isn’t always fair.
Although, because I do have his address, here’s my plan: I’m going to send him a letter, telling him how I found his book at the library and am on a similar path of desiring to compile my stories for others. Maybe he’ll actually write me back – wouldn’t that be so cool? There may be hope for the slush pit story mystery…
It’s inspiring to think about someone else purposefully writing down their stories. I feel like Robert and I are kindred spirits, and it’s been nice having this invisible muse encourage me to write my own stories as I read through the book.
Every single person has a story, at least one powerful story, that is worth sharing. Your story matters.
*UPDATE* Follow-up to this post published on November 30th – check it out here!