I thought I knew what I would be doing in 2022, covid willing and competent still: I was going to write another book; I just wasn’t sure what it was going to be about. Would I dig out and polish some ancient manuscripts on my hard drive that deserved another look? Would I be able to get to The Philippines and do more research on ‘The Girl From Santa Rita’ project? Would I write a sequel to The Treasure of Stella Bay?
But then, John Lennon’s saying inserted itself, and a new project emerged.
I’m going to write my autobiography, sort of.
This project came about because of a Christmas gift from my eldest daughter, Shannon, in this my 75th year (my 75th year because I was 74 in August of 2021 on my way to my 75th birthday in August of 2022 – and it still astounds me to write those numbers, or say them), a book called: Dad, I Want to Hear Your Story, A father’s guided journal to share his life and his love (Jeffery Mason, ©2019 EYP Publishing). Evidently Shannon was taking to heart my long-ago advice that you should talk to your dad while you can because the chance may never come again. So with this prompt I’ve started to compile ‘My Story’.
I’m not so self-absorbed as to think my story is any more interesting than the next person’s but since I’m a writer, and interested in stories, and since life is short and one’s story more or less dies with you, it seems to me everyone ought to take some time to record one’s story for posterity’s sake. Have you ever walked through a cemetery and gazed upon a thousand gravestones and wondered, what were the stories of those people buried there? Or even one? Two lines of inscription are so inadequate to mark the passing of a life.
So when Shannon gave me that book, I decided that compiling something of my story had to be another project to be added to my list for 2022. And now that project has taken on a life of its own. Not only will it satisfy, hopefully, Shannon’s request (and inadvertently my other successors and possible other interested parties), it will also absorb a lot of my mental energies, divert me from my constant ruminations, and bring moments of flow and happiness.
For those less familiar with my philosophy for happiness, let me take a few paragraphs to restate my case: As you will know by now from reading my blog posts over the last several years, I’m a great believer in goal setting, and though not to be held rigidly – life is what happens when you are making other plans – setting goals helps one to remain focused on what one’s life purpose is. We must live in the present of course, but if we don’t have a sense of our purpose there’s real risk that you will come away at the end of the year, or of your time, and wish you had been more attentive to what matters most. Or, in Lewis Carroll‘s words in the Cheshire Cat’s mouth, ‘if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there’. But what if there’s no ‘there’ there?
So I believe in setting goals as a bit of a road map to realising my purpose.
As you also know by now, life’s purpose, in my view, is to strive to be the ‘best version of yourself’ you can be, and as a real bonus, to achieve some measure of happiness. To be the best version of yourself it is necessary to have a reasonable handle on what are your signature strengths, and which of the Great Virtues you wish to attend to, and give yourself opportunity, as much as you can, to put these in play. If you do this in a consistent way (and this takes discipline and fortitude) you give yourself the chance to feel validated, and experience happiness along the way.
I have long term purpose, and know my values, and signature strengths, and these are pretty much constant. My strategic plans are, not surprisingly, getting shorter in scope – to paraphrase George Carlin, at my age my strategic objective is to make it to next year (my goal may even be as simple as to make it to breakfast) – at least I still have some. Merely having a goal, and plans, however, is not sufficient for achieving purpose; you have to take action; you have to do, not just be. Hence my notion of having ‘projects’ which serve as a platform to manifest one’s strengths and achieve purpose.
My plan for 2022 included eight strategic projects, up from a mere 5 in 2021; since, surprising myself, I actually completed some of those projects, but not my purpose, I thought I would just re-formulate some of those for 2022. But, like Topsy, they growed. I won’t re-state the eight goals here – you can go to the last post for that – but suffice it to say that my main goal had to do with levering some of my signature strengths, chief among these, creativity through storytelling, knowledge and humour: I intended to write another book, I just wasn’t sure yet (and still am not) what the book would be about.
And then Shannon gave me a copy of Mason’s book. I’m now giving myself until the end of April to put this project to bed, though, ‘life is what happens, etc., etc….’
The author’s intention is help you tell your story by providing a whole set of questions for you to complete and then give the journal back to the giver. It’s a lovely idea.
Shannon’s a sentimentalist and I guess that means a bit of an historian too, or just plain curious. It’s a nice sentiment. Her kids, and my other grandchildren, don’t yet show such interest in my story but may one day wish to know something of their roots and will be glad of this essay too. I only wish I had been paying more attention when I had the chance to plumb the depths of my own parents’ memories to learn more of their histories, and mine.
Shannon had wanted to interview her Mother, on video, in Marlene’s last year but Marlene was not much of a sentimentalist, nor a story teller, and in any event she was too tired and too far along in her journey with cancer to give it the energy and effort needed. So some of her story now relies on my telling. ‘My story’ includes vast swaths of my life with Marlene, object of my affection for more than 50 years, so it is natural to include as much of Marlene’s life in my narrative as I can, even though, I now realise, there are significant chunks of her life that are unknown to me, or barely hinted at. How can one really know another’s mind, even after 50 years? (But, for that matter, there are large chunks of my own life I don’t remember and I have now few sources to tap to fill in those blanks.)
As I began working my way through Mason’s book it occurred to me that my other children, Ryan and Alison (and perhaps their kids, and maybe some other curious family members), might like to have a copy too, but I wasn’t prepared to buy multiple copies of Mason’s book and fill in the pages twice or more times. And besides, I wasn’t always happy with the way the author had organized some of the sections and questions. So, using Lulu.com’s MSWord template as my platform, I have converted Mason’s book to an electronic document, and amended some of Mason’s structure; this will allow me to tell my story in my own rhythm, and make it available through my publishing company to any number of interested people. Well, at least three. I don’t intend to make this my published autobiography, and it seems inappropriate to charge my family for these books 😏.
Perhaps this blog post raises a thought in your mind: maybe it’s time you told your story to your offspring, before it’s too late. And if your parents are still around, you better interview them too, soon.
Doug Jordan, reporting to you from Kanata Ontario
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