A Memoir about the Good Times

by Jack E Nelson

Jimmy Carter has spent the years since he left the White House staying active, writing nearly twenty books, among his many other activities. At least a half-dozen of those books are memoirs, and the one published a year ago was entitled Sharing Good Times.

What a great idea for a memoir! For anyone who has contemplated writing a memoir but doesn't know how to get started, here is a suggestions: Take the best you've experienced in life - your meaningful friendships, your greatest adventures, your most romantic moments, your most rewarding achievements - and put them all together in a book that will let people know you've enjoyed life and made the most of it.

A memoir differs from an autobiography by focusing on one aspect of a person's life, a period of time, a particular theme, or an interest a person has pursued, rather than the full story of an entire lifespan. We speak of people writing their "memoirs," in the plural, because one can write a book about more than one facet of one's life. And people don't have to wait until they are over sixty-five years old to feel like they are in a position to start writing. A memoir of your childhood years, challenges you have faced, or your spiritual quests are possibilities. Then, again, why not a memoir about the good times?

Good times for Jimmy Carter include everything from fly-fishing excursions in Montana to Habitat for Humanity building projects in third-world countries to wildlife safaris and an ascent up Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. This guy hasn't let much moss grow between his toes since he left office twenty-five years ago.

He writes little about his political life in this book. However, the wave of excitement the Carter family felt as their home-baked campaign strategy swept them to early victories in Democratic presidential primaries in 1976 does warrant a brief chapter, qualifying as one of the good times they shared.

Far more is said about the pleasures coming from outdoor adventures. "In another life, I'd like to be a forester or a game and fish ranger." Camping trips with the family, and Boy Scout excursions with his sons and their companions are included in the good times. Fly-fishing has become a foremost passion: "a pastime that we will be able to share for many years, [one that] has introduced us to a wide circle of friends whom we would never otherwise have known." Then, bird-watching "added a new and exciting dimension to all our trips, and through it we have made a completely new circle of friends."

Quality times spent with family members and close friends appear repeatedly in this memoir. "Pleasure comes in being away from the news media and the pressing duties of public service, if possible in relative solitude with one's family or close friends."

Again and again, a theme Jimmy comes back to is how good times don't spring from the success of grand ambitions and accompanying fame but from the simple joys arising out of learning new skills, working with one's hands and sharing experiences with others. Habitat for Humanity has brought him great satisfaction, as have his efforts in his own woodshop at home, crafting furniture for friends and family members.

More and more, he says, the good times revolve around enjoyment of grandchildren, watching as they learn and revel in new experiences. One of his grandchildren once told him, "Papa, you're old when you don't have to keep up with us any longer."

Separate chapters are devoted to most of these memories of "good times," short vignettes that recreate the thrill and excitement of the most meaningful moments and encounters in Jimmy Carter's life. In simple words he tells how he became involved or he developed the needed skills, or he just took the time to add a new dimension to his life. The results have grown into a wealth of memorable experiences to be savored.

Too often people contemplating writing about their life never get started because they think they have to fit everything into one big book. It gets to be too much to manage.

If a job seems too big to do, break it down into little pieces and do one piece at a time. Think memoirs, not autobiography. A memoir about the good times is one anybody should be able to write. And it could be good place to get started.

Jack E. Nelson, from Charlotte, N.C., devotes his time to helping people write engaging books, mostly personal memoirs and autobiographies. Telephone him at 704-243-4447.

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