Stay with me now…

It’s cold outside while I write this. Apparently, it’s cold everywhere while I write this. When you read this, on Saturday or after, it’s not going to be as cold outside as it is today. Today at dawn it was 6 degrees here on the Blue Ridge.

But here’s the thing. I’m thinking about the cold because our son Sam and I are attending another Special Olympics ski meet next Monday and Tuesday in northern Virginia—time trials Monday; races Tuesday. Hoping forward, I’d love some of this cold air to hang around until then, to keep the snow harder, easier to turn on, faster.

But no. The current prediction for those two days is high 50s/low 60s and showers about 40% of the time.

Now, Sam has done well on wet, sloppy snow that clogs his skis on the slalom turns—three weeks ago in North Carolina, on that same sort of snow, he came away with a silver medal at his competition level.

But skiing in that kinda snow just ain’t any fun.

Now, maybe you are a reader who doesn’t care a fig about skiing, but hang on a moment—I’m getting to something.

At many times in my past life, particularly before our children were in their teens and needed me to ski with them as they improved, I skied by myself very aggressively, although I never formally raced.

Here’s the “something” I am getting to.

Many of you readers—skiers or not--you may have had similar pleasures, when you were young. But now you have put them aside, and they have gathered dust—as my skis did—in the barn. There was never quite enough time to drive to the mountain. There was never quite enough money to afford the expense.

Here’s what I conjure for you. I conjure that you stop.

I conjure that you come with me on a trip to the mountain—to your mountain—wherever that is, right now.

Reach out—let’s do it—right now, let’s reach out for muscle memory.

I snapped my ski boots shut, stamped into my bindings, and pole/skated my way to the lift at the bottom of the mountain. The chair swung round—I was a solo this time—and I sat. I pulled down the bar, settled my skis on the footrest, and looked around. The sky was clear in northern Maine, and the trees all around were rimed thick with ice. It was cold, cold, cold—ten degrees with a twenty mile NW wind, making it seem as though it was about fifteen below. I pulled my balaclava up over my nose and cheekbones, glad I had my ear warmer snug round my head under my woolen watch cap. Loved my minus-twenty parka and mittens.

I reached the top and dismounted smoothly, slowed to a stop. There was an operator inside the upper hut, secured away, maybe with a kerosene heater. His eyes and mine met for a second. Yes, I tried to signal to him, I’m good for this. Hope you are, he seemed to answer, and his eyes shifted away.

I studied the trail map—black-diamond trail or a more moderate blue? I’ll return for that black diamond, I thought, but I need the slower beginning, the reaching for muscle memory, the remembering that my next big birthday is seventy now, and no longer thirty-five. And the blue trail winds along the ridge to the north, seems to dip and then flatten, dip and then flatten—that would be good.

I picked blue. I started down. It was a long, broad run, a good one to wake up upon. Muscle memory is a wonderful thing: if you had it once, you’ll have it now.

Halfway down that first tentative run all diffidence blew away. Deliberately, I set my downhill inside edge, forced my knees into the hill, bore forward with my downhill ankle…and steered a course closer to the fall-line, shot forward, nearly doubled my speed. From then on, with my mind plucked out, it was a dance, every muscle falling familiarly back into its racing place, attacking the hill.

I reached the bottom, winded and sore of thigh. But I had been relieved also of quotidian duty, for a moment, which had been plucked away from me, this once. I was relieved that I could still carve five or six perfect turns, each one increasing my speed by a percentage, each turn wrenching out a fear and leaving it behind me to shiver in the snow.

Do—you—the same, my friend.

What do you fear? What bears you down, as your age? What brings you despair? What leaps out at you when you encounter it and, this time, shrieks at you—‘NO YOU CANNOT!’

That is Satan.

He may have been the greatest of the angels, but he is FALLEN.

He wants to--




Don’t you let him. He is fallen. God is on YOUR side.

…and God wins.

Reader, I want to look behind me on our next ski run together and to see you, smiling as broad as heaven, carving your turns, transported, over your wall of limitations!

Ah! Won’t that be blessed!

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Last week I asked for recommendations of good memoirs for me to read…since I’m writing another one which I desire to be good. Who knows if my new memoir will turn out to be good, but recently my wife Channa gave me excellent critiques, on two levels.

So there’s hope!

One level of Channa’s advice was structural. That is the easier critique to address. The other level posed a greater challenge. Her advice was conceptual. Here's the advice. Take out anything—and she pointed to some things—take out anything that is, in the end, self-indulgent.

Hoist with my own petard!

When I mentor writers who struggle to produce their own memoirs, the first exercise I assign to them is to tell me what their memoir is about--in a single, short, snappy sentence. I don’t want their story at this point; that’s not what I want to hear. I want a billboard, not a book report.

In my experience, this is the single hardest piece of writing for many of them undertake. Me, too. However, when successfully undertaken, that single, short, snappy sentence becomes the memoirist’s lodestar. ANY writing that DOES NOT fall under its direction—however delightfully personal and engaging to the taste of the writer—is SELF-INDULGENT.

It must be taken out!

And here I was writing happily along while being guilty of that same fault! Bah!

Good on Channa!

You readers answered with suggestions—in Comments and on FB, or when we ran into one another during the past week—for which generosity, I thank you! Last night, one reader expressed curiosity about the list of books, so I said I’d present it in this next post. I’ve edited it a bit. Several of you listed one book among your lists…some strange book whose title begins with The Time Mom Met Hitler.

I’ve excluded that one. I wasn’t looking for lurid histories about discreditable social events!

What I also received were delightful statements from you among your suggested titles. For example, here’s a favorite--

Regarding the list of suggestions, one person characterized them as “All non-whiny memoirs of challenging childhoods with deeply flawed but not cruel parents.”

How enticing a blurb is that!

So here’s the list. (So far: you’re welcome to send more suggestions, anytime!)

Jesus, my Father, the CIA, and Me: A Memoir of Sorts – Ian Morgan Cron

All Over but the Shoutin’ – Rick Bragg (mentioned twice)

Through the Eyes of a Lion – Levi Lusko

The Fire of Delayed Answers – Bob Sorge

As Soon As I Fell – Kay Bruner

A Man Called Ove – Fredrick Backman

Educated – Tara Westover

Don’t Let’s Go the to Dogs Tonight – Alexandra Fuller

Glass Castle – Jeanette Wall

Liar’s Club – Mary Karr

Just Mercy – Bryan Stevenson

…and add one historical fiction – Becoming Mrs. Lewis – Patty Callaghan.

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I write memoirs in order to bring religious seekers closer to God and to gratify believers who wish to be re-enthused.

Most readers of my recent memoir are Christians, but some are not. The same applies to readers of my blog posts. Some are; some are not.

My point is that, irrespective of the religious stance of readers, I write from the perspective of a believing Christian who happens to be a Lutheran by denomination.

A memoir is a variety of writing that differs from, but is a sub-category under, autobiography. At a higher level, each is non-fiction.

Autobiography is an organized, factual, narrative recounting of the events that comprise the writer’s life, usually presented in order as they occurred. On the other hand, while a memoir also draws from the writer’s life, the word memoir has been traced back to a Persian term for that about which we ponder.

That Persian word is mermer.

The person who writes a memoir does relate factual events, indeed, but he or she devotes attention not so much to the events themselves or to the order in which they occurred, but to the ponderings which arise from the events.

The ponderings may be happy orsad. The pondering reveals the book’s theme.

The reader of memoirs experiences something that is more subtle and more nuanced than the reader of autobiography. Memoirs are closer to poetry than they are to general non-fiction. The reader of a memoir is engaged with the writer’s mind, imaginings, and soul.

During past centuries, published memoirs generally were written by persons of high achievement, or who had encountered some event of great significance as viewed by their entire culture. Near the end of the last century, and into our own, with self-publishing available, memoirs have exploded as a variety of published writing.

(My Amazon search just now, using the single word memoirs, pulled up over 60,000 titles…of course, my search was not nuanced, but that’s a lot of books that Amazon’s algorithm categorizes as having some relationship with memoirs!)

What is lamentable in our age of social media me-me-me-ism is that many persons who have lived their lives are stirred to write and to publish their memoirs, whether of general interest or not.

As a man who has written one memoir (and who is nearing completion of another), I am aware that I might be chided for deciding on my own authority that it is important to the world that I ponder in print on the truths of my life.

Who do I think I am, after all?

All I can say is that, manifestly, some memoirs rise above the ordinary into the significant. Since I write anyway, and am always working on another book, writing memoirs ought at least to be worth a try.

As a writer of memoirs, I am hungry to read them. What I want to gain from the reading of any memoir is two things. One, what is the story about? Two, how does this writer do the memoirist’s job?

I ask for your suggestions. What should I read?

As I select memoirs, especially I like to read--

  • Christian memoirs by believing Christians;

  • Jewish memoirs by committed Jews;

  • Memoirs by religious seekers who avowedly pursue Christianity;

  • “Spiritual” memoirs by religious seekers who view multiple religions phenomenologically with no struggle to select one over the others;

  • Skeptical memoirs that don’t desire to select any religion at all;

  • The “almost theres.”

I am eager for suggestions from you regarding memoirs you recommend, memoirs which have moved you, memoirs that are significant. Please give me a title or two and a sentence about them.

Particularly, coming from those of you who are Christian readers, I’m interested to read the “almost theres.”

In my language, an “almost there” is a memoir written by a serious-minded, skilled writer, who is pondering on the page about the nature of his or her life. Often there is a tone of anxiety. There may be an illness, or a relationship problem, or something else that produces a sense of wretchedness or emptiness of the writer’s soul.

A Christian reader of such a memoir may have a sensation that the writer suffers from lack of hope.

As a Christian, that reader has hope due to redemption provided by God through Jesus Christ. See, for example, 1 Peter 3:15, which speaks of that same hope.

When I finish reading an “almost there”, I may admire the writer’s skill, but I am left with sadness. The book is over. The life that the book depicted does not climax with the hope that is in me as a Christian, and which is available, through Christ, to all.

Of course, anything can happen for the Lord’s glory, and Channa and I ourselves came late in life to Jesus Christ. To those who knew us beforehand, perhaps our progress would have been judged unlikely, too.

I am left only with hope that another memoir might come from that same writer, whose craft I admire. I would welcome a new memoir that would reveal that the writer is no longer almost there, but there.

And still pondering….

So, my friends, what should I read?

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