mad in pursuit notebook

DISPATCHED FROM THE CROSSROADS

On-Demand Memoir for 3AM Googlers

Memoirs are popular. Everyone's got a story to tell. I stumbled onto the form soon after I started my web diary in 1999, when I was bored with rants about work and someone invited me to join her Memoir ring. I was hooked. A crazy quilt of childhood and coming-of-age stories began to fill my online pages.

I wrote for myself. I disguised names and places. I figured that my experiences, my storytelling should be fascinating enough without risking anyone taking issue with my "facts." No one paid attention. Without giving it much thought, I began revealing names and places.

An example. In 1971, I joined Green Valley School, an organization that combined a Sixties commune with a residential center for troubled kids. It was my Peace-Corps thing. I put in 18 months, married the headmaster and got the hell out. In 2004, I started writing about it online -- life through the eyes of an unworldly 22-year-old.

Surprise. People found me. "I was there!" Turns out Green Valley had been a crossroads for all the bizarre experiences anyone who lived through the Sixties could have. Maybe like making your home at Woodstock. Without the music. And with lots of disturbing adolescents who'd been ejected from their families.

My memoirs became something Googled at 3 AM by sleepless 50-year-olds, looking for their past. Looking for themselves in someone else's story. It wasn't me they were searching for but a place in their minds, a time in their lives. Do you know me? For five years now, every few months someone surfaces with their own story to tell. Their memories are vivid after 40 years -- funny, tragic, mystical, angry -- it was one of those kind of places.

This makes me wonder about the purpose and format of memoirs. If I had published my little tales in a book, they would have been static, no doubt buried now in the out-of-print bin. Because they became part of my online stream of consciousness, they became relational -- part of a complex network of memories, linking together a set of people with very different experiences in a shared place. We're aging now. Some of us are dying young. Some are only now surfacing memories of the unspeakable. Some are reconciling with the ghosts of those dizzy days.

8.3.2009

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