Elements of Memoir

Have you ever thought about writing a memoir? And what is memoir anyway? In this blog I explore the concept of memoir as well as offer some possible ideas you might consider in writing your own memoir story. I'd also like to hear some of your ideas about memoir in the comment section. Let's talk about memoir.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Secret Sister Strategy (Lost & Found: Valentine's Edition)


        This post is my Wrote By Rote entry for the Lost & Found: Valentine's Edition blog hop hosted by Guilie Castillo-Oriard, Alex J Cavanaugh, Denise Covey, Yolanda Renee, Elizabeth Seckman, and me.  Be sure to visit all of the hosts for this event.  To find the full list of participants visit the list on Tossing It Out or any of the host sites.  My post on Tossing It Out (appearing on February 1st) will also feature a related Battle of the Bands installment so please be sure to visit and vote if you can.

        Participants are sharing their stories and experiences concerning love lost and love found.   We all have stories in our lives relating to this matter.   I have several.  This is one of them--the most important one...

The Secret Sister Strategy

         As far as things go in my life 1992 was kind of a bad year for me.  My wife at the time and I had only been living in Los Angeles for less than a year when she seemed to go haywire.  The end result was that she left me and our daughters to pursue the proverbial greener grass that in the end was not all that green--but that's her story to tell and not mine.

          My world seemed upended as future dreams for that marriage were shattered and I was left to contend with holding down my job while attempting to provide as much stability and normalcy to my daughters' lives as I could muster.  With the help of God and a few well placed individuals I managed on through the next few years.  I was depressed and heartbroken, but I knew that life had to keep going.   I had kids to raise and a broken self to fix.

          A few relationships were attempted, but nothing seemed quite right with those so they didn't get far.  Those ladies wanted things to go further, but I was wary after having gotten burned already.  My priority was taking care of my children and that can be a hindrance to a relationship.  The main thing I wanted to avoid was getting involved in a relationship that wouldn't last.  When warning signals began flashing, my response was to back off and rethink the situation.  I was lonely for a partner, but I didn't want to take a step that might send me off of another emotional precipice.

        In 1996, after my oldest daughter had entered middle school, a different strategy evolved.  She had many friends, but there was one in particular that was her "best friends forever" type of friendship.  They became almost inseparable.  During their times together they obviously discussed their lives and found that they were in similar situations.   My daughter's friend's mother was also a struggling single parent.   Enthralled by the idea of becoming sisters so they could always be together they devised a scheme.

        The girls were at this time ready to enter high school.  An opportunity arose with the orientation for new students and their parents.  I sensed that something was afoot by hints my daughter had been dropping about meeting people on that evening.   After the orientation event was over, my daughter introduced me to her friend's mother.  As the girls slyly went ahead to giggle and chat with each other, this lady and I were left in an awkward position of making small talk.   My daughter's hints were not lost upon me so as we all parted I suggested to my new acquaintance that perhaps we could go out for dinner one night.  I got her phone number and told her I'd call later to make arrangements for our "date".

         As things turned out, Betty and I went out for our dinner date.  I was impressed and apparently so was she.  Betty was not confident about her ability to communicate since English was her second language, yet we always found plenty to talk about as we spent evenings on the phone and began going out on a regular basis.  Her communication was fine as far as I was concerned.   She was intelligent--after all she held a PhD and worked in the field of education.  After a year of dating we got married at the end of 1997.

        Most likely we would have never encountered one another on our own.   We found each other through the secret strategy of two young girls who wanted to be sisters.  Thanks to our daughters we were able to establish a new family.   They each gained a new parent and Betty and I gained new daughters.

           Now the girls are grown and have moved away to start their own lives and families.  Betty and I still have each other.   This year we'll celebrate our 19th anniversary.   We've been discussing our future plans for after Betty retires.   She's a wonderful lady with great values.  She is definitely a keeper.  I don't want to lose her.

           


Saturday, January 23, 2016

Growing Up with the Movies

Lady and the Tramp
Lady and the Tramp (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

        Some of my earliest memories relate to movies.  When I was a child my parents, my mother especially, were fairly avid movie-goers.  In the faintness of my memory I seem to recall going to the movies nearly once a week.  It was probably not that often considering the tight budget to which our family likely adhered, but still it was probably more often than most of the other kids that I knew.

        Many Saturday mornings my mother would take us to movies that were older films that circulated in the theaters for what were likely budget showings.  We'd see monster movies, comedies, westerns, and other B films that were considered family fare and in some cases maybe not.  My favorites were the comedies of Abbot and Costello and anything scary or science fiction related.

         We always had a television when I was growing up and much of my movie viewing was right in our own living room.  There were no large screen televisions in those days so we were accustomed to watching programming on a 15 to 19 inch screen.  Since I didn't know anything else this was my norm and I never considered that television screens would ever be larger.  Another norm for us was black and white.  I had seen color televisions like the one a wealthy uncle and his family had, but my family never had one until after I was in high school.  And that color television had what I'm guessing was a 25 inch screen.

          Back then a big screen was what they had in the movie theaters.  It was always a special event when my father and mother both took my sister and I to the movies.   Usually as a family we'd go to see whatever major release was showing--typically it would be a Bible epic like The Ten Commandments though sometimes it might be a Disney film like Bambi or Lady and the Tramp.  If there was a circus film or something that might have a juggler in it then that was a guaranteed theater excursion.  It was all fine with me as any movie was something that I wanted to experience.

          After we moved to San Diego when I was eight years old, I probably watched an average of nearly a film a day on television.   That's not to say I didn't spend time outdoors or playing with whatever it was I played with back then.  Time was in abundance so I always seemed to have plenty of time for both play and watching television.

           In those days on the San Diego television station there was a movie every week day afternoon.  I'd often watch those after coming home from school.  Then there was Saturday Night at the Movies on NBC when they would show fairly recent top tier films.  I was in front of our television set for nearly every one of those.  Some of  my favorite viewing was on Friday and Saturday nights when starting at 11:30 PM one of the stations would show films all night.  Apparently my parents were fine with me doing so because many a weekend I'd be up late, sometimes all night, watching two or three movies in a row.

           When I was entering middle school--or junior high as we called it back then--we moved to Northern Indiana.   In nearby Crown Point there was an old theater on the town square.  Nearly every Friday night you could find me there with my sister and a friend or two.  There were the James Bond films, surf movies, and the rock and roll films such as the Beatles' Hard Day's Night and Having a Wild Weekend with the Dave Clark Five.  The candy was cheap and movies were a quarter.  My mother would drop us off and pick us up when it was all over.  Those were great times.

           My childhood of watching movies was not just memorable to me, but it paved the way for a avid enjoyment of films in later years up until now.  I don't watch films like I used to, but I easily could if that were how I wanted to devote my time.   And I'd like to spend a lot of time watching movies, but there are so many other things that I want and need to do.

        The other day my wife said that when she retired we'd watch movies all day.   I'm not sure I'm ready for that much movie watching, but it sounds tempting.

          Did you watch a lot of movies when you were a child?   Did your parents take you to see movies?    What are some films that you saw as a child that had a big influence on you?

Friday, January 15, 2016

Give My Regards to Broadway (Backstage Blogathon)




In the Backstage Blogathon (click on the link for more info and the list of participating blogs) participants pick a film made before 1970 that has something to do with the workings of show biz.  This is a blog hop that definitely fits my interests in show business.  I'll tell you more about this later which should add more credibility to my championing the 1948 film Give My Regards to Broadway.  






Give My Regards to Broadway (1948)


      I happened upon this movie on television several years ago.  Serendipitously I had turned the channel just as the credits were starting to roll.  Seeing that it was a movie about show biz and vaudeville I stuck with it and I was glad that I did.   Give My Regards to Broadway is a film that so much reminded of me of my own family and upbringing that I added it to my list of favorite films.

        The story is about Albert Norwick (played by Charles Winninger), a vaudeville veteran who struggles in show business with his growing family until they are forced off the road by The Great Depression.   Taking on a regular job to lead the existence of any normal American family, Albert the Great hangs on to his vaudeville dreams believing that one day his family's act will get their big break in entertainment.

         As the years pass, the three Norwick children settle in taking on jobs when they reach adulthood.   The two daughters are ambivalent about the show biz dream while son Bert Norwick (played by Dan Dailey) shares his father's passion for the world of the stage.  When their old agent lets Albert know about a possible big show opening in New York, the family starts rehearsing their song, dance, and juggling act as Albert is convinced there will be a headlining spot for them in this new show.

        First one daughter and then the next loses interest as they fall in love and get married, abandoning the act.   At first father and son pursue their dream until complications arise that threaten to keep them where they've been since leaving the glamour life 20 years previously.  Faced with the dilemmas of what to do they must make the decisions that will decide the direction of their lives.

         This is a fun film that explores the passion of pursuing dreams, the realities faced in that pursuit, sacrifices made for the sake of  love and security, and the bonds of family and friends.  Give My Regards to Broadway is poignant and bittersweet yet ever hopeful.   It's a joyous film about life, love, family, and baseball--yes that's right.  I'll leave it to you to watch the film to get the baseball connection.

         Stars Charles Winninger and Dan Dailey do a fine job in the song and dance numbers as well as performing some very credible juggling numbers.  Actually Dailey is quite good with the juggling.  Professional jugglers Duke Johnson and Bill T. Coughlin acted as juggling coaches developing simple routines that looked good on screen while requiring minimal juggling expertise.  

         All in all this little known film makes for a delightful viewing experience.  Nicely filmed in Technicolor, the acting is excellent and the classic songs are performed with true vaudeville flair.  I was especially impressed by the story.  This is one of the most realistic films about show business that I've seen.  I'm going to tell you why I make that claim.


Dan Dailey, Barbara Lawrence, and Charles Winninger perform a plate juggling
routine in Give My Regards to Broadway

My Connection to the Film

        What surprised me most when I saw this film was how similar the story was to the experience of my own family.  My father was just starting out in show business with his own juggling act when this film first came out.  Like most performers, he had that dream of being a headline act in a big show.  He soon was to meet my mother who was a dancer with show biz dreams of her own.  After they partnered in marriage they put together their own dance and juggling package and began playing the still active club and show circuit in the Cleveland, Ohio area in the 1950's.

         My dad never gave up his dreams though he did maintain a good job as a bookkeeper and our family had a home and a relatively typical life.  As my sister and I grew up we became part of my parents' act, performing on weekends or special engagements whenever we could get the bookings.  It was a great life and the show biz bug easily hooked us.  We dreamed of becoming performers full time, but never quite took that step.

          Later, after my sister and I became adults, she left the act to follow her own pursuits.  A few years later I too left to pursue my own show business dream as a solo performer.  I worked successfully as a performer for about 15 years, getting married along the way and raising my own brood of kids.  As they became school age I too left the show biz life to settle down to a regular job with a normal home life.

         Having lived the life and the dream, I can understand the lure of the bright lights and the cheering audiences.  It is something that "gets in your blood" as the saying goes.   To me the film Give My Regards to Broadway precisely captures the spirit of the dream as well as the security of being tied down to regular life.

        Relatively few people who attempt to go into an entertainment career experience huge success.   Some of the luckier ones like myself and my family or the fictional Albert the Great and Family are able to enjoy enough of a successful run where we get a taste of the glamorous life.  Once that's been tasted I think most of us have a lingering desire to return in some capacity.  It's certainly true for me:  If I were offered an opportunity to go back to an entertainment career of some sort, I would be tempted.  I'd be very tempted.      


A 1967 promo photo for my family's act The Juggling Jacksons
My father Bob Jackson seated with my sister Joy, me in the center
and my mother Lois Jackson.

         If you've seen Give My Regards to Broadway, what did you think of it?   What films have you seen that come closest to depicting your own life story or your family background?     Have you ever sacrificed a dream for the sake of security or the love of another?

To watch this film online you can find it here.



Saturday, January 9, 2016

Remembering Dad

Bob Jackson in a portrait taken sometime in his twenties.

     If my father were still living he would be 93 years old on January 14th.  Unfortunately he passed away 25 years ago when he was a mere 67 years of age--two years older than I am now.  Somehow that age of passing sticks with me.  It's like a milestone that I must pass in order to make it to an older age like 93 or more.   Once I've made it past 67 I feel like I can breathe a sigh of relief  and move on into the future with more confidence about living to an old age.

       My father was a pretty cool guy.  Everybody seemed to think so.  Part of his coolness was his juggling skill and another part was his sense of humor.  He liked to laugh and he liked to make people laugh.  That's probably one of the things that led him to go into show business.  He loved being on stage to entertain people.

        Bob Jackson performed his juggling act up until the last year of his life when a series of infirmities began to weaken his body and diminish his spirit.  I sensed that something was happening in that last year, but the severity of it all wasn't fully realized until a few months before his death on September 9th of 1990.   In July of that year he managed to make it to one final jugglers' convention.  His presence there was more like a farewell than a participatory event like past conventions where he  had juggled with the younger folk with nearly as much enthusiasm as they had.  He was beloved by the jugglers who knew him and sought out by those who didn't.

        Since he was my father I guess I tended to take him for granted much of the time.  He was a great provider and a good example to his children.  He worked a regular job with diligence and pursued his avocation of show business with a passion.  My father never pursued anything halfheartedly and attempted to instill this within all of us. The man had an exuberance for living and a curiosity for the world in which he lived.

        I was often intimidated by him as he could come across as a taskmaster.   Later in my life--and even during those times when his presence loomed over my formative years--I understood what he was attempting to instill within his children even though I was not always fully on board with his agenda.   He had it right when I often didn't.

        In those later years of his life, as I was bringing my own children into the world and acquiring a better understanding of fatherhood, I began to feel an alignment with my father and what he represented.  Oh, we still clashed on certain generational things, but overall I began to see how I was becoming my father.  The old feuds of differing opinions began to melt as we seemed to become closer to being peers and friends rather than father and son.  We were both heading toward an old age where the parent/child relationship becomes somewhat blurred.

        Before it all ended I took opportunities to thank my dad for the values he taught me and the experiences he brought into my life.  I was glad that I was able to do that.  Any perceived enmity between us faded into a mutual respect and toleration.  We were never the same people during our lives together and yet now much of who he was is who I am.  In many ways I feel that I fall short of what he accomplished in his life, but I think he would be pleased with where I have been in my life and where I am now.   He did the best he knew how when it came to living life.  I thank him for being that special man.

        Did you have a good relationship with your father?    Do you see a part of your parents in who you are now?   Were you rebellious when you were growing up?

Friday, December 18, 2015

Deja Vu

     


        Once again D.L. Hammons is hosting the Deju Vu Blogfest.  This is the blogging event where participants are invited to share one of their lesser performing blog posts in order to give a wider audience one more chance to read what they may have missed.  My post comes from early February of 2015.  Weirdo addresses the topic of "Being Different".


Arlee at Christmas in Tennessee 2004

        To be called a weirdo is not something to which most of us aspire.  When I was a kid I didn't necessarily think of myself as a weirdo nor did I want to be thought of as one.  But I really didn't think that much about it either.   After all, I was just a kid and being weird is often synonymous with being a kid.  Kids are mostly in their own world of imagination and from the standpoint of an adult they might seem a bit la-la--you know--out there so to speak.   Adults expect silliness and naiveté from children. I delivered on a regular basis.

       There were plenty of other kids whom I thought were a bit odd, but I didn't usually count myself in that category. Oh, there were those times when I reveled in doing weird things. But that's when I was on a mission of strangeness. Whether it was to annoy, shock, amuse, or for whatever other reason, when I was trying to be weird, I was happy if I fulfilled that mission which I had initially set out to do.

      For the most part though I was a normal child. I made decent grades and the teachers always had good reports to send home about me. That's mostly been me even into adulthood. Employers liked me and I always got promotions. I've typically had good relationships with people--other than certain people who were really weird in kind of a bad way.

        And yet I see myself as a bit on the weird side.   Not wacky weird or scary or like some kind of a pervert or anything like that.  My neighbors and people who I encounter in public probably rarely give me a second look because I appear to be so damn normal.  When I'm in Walmart no one would ever think to take a picture of me to post on the internet because I look so--well--normal.   That's me--Mr. Normal Average Guy.

         It's some of my tastes I guess that put me out there some.  I like classical music, seventies rock, and jazz influenced pop music from the 20's and 30's.  My interest in films is eclectic though I have a strong interest in the films of Fellini, David Lynch, and old film noir.  I often read things that most people I know don't read.  Give me a thin crust pizza with onions, jalapenos, and anchovies and I'm in food heaven.

         I'm not saying that I'm the only one in the world who likes the things I like, but often I feel in a distinct minority regarding my tastes.  Some people think I'm weird because of what I like.  Or they at least think I like odd things.  I know there are plenty of people who do like what I like but I rarely seem to encounter them.  My tastes don't bother me, but often I have no one with whom to share what I like.  I never have anyone to discuss Fellini movies with me.  When my pizza arrives you can bet that I'll likely be the only one eating it if I've ordered my favorite.

         Being different is fine with me.   I've not only gotten used to it, but I'm a bit proud of it.  A lifetime of being a bit of a weirdo is something that one usually can adapt to.   After all, we're all just a bit daft in our own ways.  Aren't we?   Well, don't just stare at me like I'm weird or something.  Come on and admit it:  You're a bit of a weirdo too--in one way or another.

          I think its kind of the human condition.

         Do you think you're weird?   What do you think comprises "weirdness"?    Who are some weirdos that you have known?

          For more Deja Vu fun visit D.L. Hammons for the list of participants.






Saturday, December 12, 2015

Fear and Oblivion

This image was selected as a picture of the we...
This image was selected as a picture of the week on the Malay Wikipedia for the 44th week, 2009. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

        When I was a child I was fearless when it came to the woes facing the world.  My fears dealt more with issues at school or being embarrassed because I did something stupid.  Nuclear destruction or devastation from natural forces barely crossed my mind other than a certain fascination with those things.  Disasters such as these were movie themes or fantasies in my head.  Nothing to be concerned about or of which to be afraid.

        Even though in school we regularly had disaster duck and cover drills, the concept was far from any reality in my mind.   Even during the tension of the Cuban Missile Crisis, hiding under my desk periodically in preparation for the bombs to come or hearing the ominous sounds of the air raid sirens that were tested precisely at noon one Friday each month did not instill trembling within me.  On the contrary the drills and exercises were fuel for fantasy rather than a reminder of the reality of any threat to my existence.

        During the fifties and sixties I developed a curiosity and edgy enjoyment regarding things that should reasonably instill fear and dread in most of us.  A part of me longed to see giant mutated insects, prehistoric beasts, or monstrous entities roaming my neighborhood and destroying the city in which we lived.  An atomic bomb detonated in some nearby city seemed like an interesting possibility.

         When I was in junior high school I read John Hersey's Hiroshima--a true account of the first use of the atom bomb on a city.  The book impacted me, yet still did not frighten me in any way.  If anything, reading the book made me even more curious about the horrors of a major disaster.  My interest wouldn't necessarily translate into any strong desire to experience actual horror, but I did have a deep seated interest in the subject.

         Since childhood I've had an interest in the topic of world annihilation and that continues to this day.  Judging from the popularity of apocalyptic and dystopian genres I'm not the only one.   The B sci-fi movies of the 1950's have become in more recent times big budget extravaganzas as well as intriguing low cost indie films.   More than one television show has addressed the topic in varying ways from the serious to the comedic.   Apocalypse, death, and destruction seem to translate into big money.

         Do you think many people in our time have a societal death wish of sorts?    Do you enjoy films in the genres that center around fear and oblivion?   Do you have any favorite apocalyptic or catastrophically themed films?





Saturday, December 5, 2015

Securing a Place in History


Arlee Bird a.k.a. Lee Jackson of the Juggling Jacksons


An Estate in Limbo

      For many of us our biggest mark on history will be our tombstone and whatever memories we leave behind with those who knew us or knew about us.   Having a memoir published is a big step in establishing a physical presence in history no matter how big or small that place might be.  Recently I came upon another concept of legacy in the tangible sense--becoming a part of a museum collection.

      My own story of this type of archived preservation memory relates to my family's reputation as a professional juggling act.  Though we may have not been widely known to the general public, the name of The Juggling Jacksons was known to many jugglers as well as others in the world of entertainment.  When my father was still living he and my mother would regularly attend jugglers' conventions and other gatherings thus establishing themselves in that community as iconic figures in juggling history.

       With my mother's passing in November of 2014 it became evident to me and my siblings that her house and everything in it would have to be sold, disbursed among ourselves, or gotten rid of in some way.  Part of this estate included decades worth of juggling props and artifacts.   None of the family had the proper space or wherewithal to hang on to these items even though we were aware of the sentimental value as well as the potential historical value.  Since none of the family continues to work in the juggling profession these props served no functional purpose to any of us.

A Fortuitous Inquiry

       A few years prior to my mother's death a juggler who at that time was working professionally in the art learned of the treasure trove of juggling memorabilia residing in my mother's house.  He passed this information to another professional juggler and juggling historian by the name of David Cain.

      David had been building a considerable collection of anything related to juggling for many years, maintaining space in his home as a juggling museum and touring juggling gatherings throughout the country with his collection.  Upon learning about the accumulation that my mother had, David contacted us to see if we were interested in donating to the museum.   We told him we'd think about it and left it there.

       Nearly a year after my mother's death, our family put her house on the market.  As we began clearing out her possessions, keeping what we wanted and selling, donating, or throwing away other things, I got back in touch with David Cain.  Juggling equipment was not going to be something easy to sell and we sure didn't want to just throw it all away.   Within a few weeks David drove down to Tennessee from his home in Ohio and loaded up nearly everything we had to add to his museum collection

        He was excited with this addition to his collection and we were pleased to have found a reasonable way to remove these from our possession finding a suitable home for them.  The arrangement served all concerned very well.

The Future of the Juggling Jacksons Collection

         David Cain is highly regarded as a collector of juggling history and his home museum is open to interested parties by appointment.  He has created a very fine website (links below) that details much of his collection to date.  Though his collection currently resides in his home, David dreams of one day establishing an official museum space for his valuable collection.

          Perhaps eventually the collection will end up as part of a larger museum or in a permanent juggling museum devoted to the art of juggling and the related history.  Whatever the case may be, the Juggling Jackson legacy will carry on through its place in the Historical Juggling Props collection.

           I encourage all of my readers to stop in to visit the online museum at Historical Juggling Props:  an Online Museum.  There is a lot of interesting information as well as many photos of items in David Cain's collection.  David has even added my blogs on his link page.  For those who are interested in furthering the outreach of this collection there is also information on how you can donate or offer your services in some way.

           Be sure to visit the Juggling Jacksons page at the site to see my family's contribution to the collection.  Since I hadn't gone through the props that we had in storage, I was very surprised at the extent of our collection as well as how good of condition these props were considering the amount of use they had endured.  Many of these juggling props are akin to works of art in my view.

          Another stop you might enjoy is the Juggling Jewels page.  The "Jewels" were an all female juggling act originally from England.  They worked extensively during the vaudeville era up to about 1950.   In 1967 one of the surviving members who lived in Roanoke, Virginia had gotten wind of our family and sent us some of their historical props which were included in the collection my family sent to David Cain.  He has credited us with this contribution on that page.

          I hope you will "visit" David's museum online to see some of the history of juggling which most people might never even think about.   Definitely visit the "Home Museum Display" page as I think you'll be impressed by the size of Cain's collection to date.  And it's always growing!

          Hopefully one day I can visit the Juggling Museum in person to see my part in preserving juggling history as well as marvel at the array of fun things that David Cain has accumulated so far.

          Have you donated any family or personal heirlooms to a museum or some other collection?   Do you have any things that you think might be good for museum preservation?     What are some of the most unique museum collections that you have seen or heard about?