The memoir mine: Social and cultural issues

All of us grew up somewhere. That somewhere included a social and cultural setting. For me, the tiny berg of Moose Pass, Alaska deeply influenced my first dozen years. Insular, yet inherently limiting, Moose Pass was home for five years. After my family moved to Anchorage, we drove the hundred miles to Moose Pass almost every weekend to visit grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and friends.

My grandparents’ house in downtown Moose Pass, Alaska

I still associate Moose Pass with the safety and comfort of family. But in 1965, I burst out of that cocoon on a 22,000 mile camping trip that took in Canada, the U.S., and Mexico. We called that journey of discovery The Drive in ’65. I wrote about it in a memoir by the same name, to be published in mid-2020.

For others, the social or cultural setting was a cult, or a family plagued by mental illness. Maybe the New York theater environment, or Chinatown in San Francisco. Was your environment cookie-cutter suburbia? A ranch miles from the nearest neighbor? Our childhood experience of places and circumstances defines and sometimes limits us. Consequently, our escape or separation becomes an awakening to new realities, and broadens our horizons.

One example: Hillbilly Elegy

Hillbilly Elegy, a moving memoir by J.D. Vance, falls squarely in this category. I read the book a couple of years ago, and have recommended it often. Vance grew up in a cycle of poverty, abuse, and alcoholism in the Rust Belt of industrial Ohio. His escape gave him the perspective to write about the forces that trapped his family–and their broader subculture–in circumstances they feel powerless to change. The social commentary is as powerful as Vance’s personal story. Vance returned to Ohio three years ago to found a nonprofit to improve some of the social and cultural problems he grew up with.

What about your memoir?

Have you thought of writing a memoir? Consider your life experiences and environment, and you may find unexpected inspiration in your own story.

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