On April 16, 2018, The Babbington Press will publish my new novel, Albertine’s Overcoat, in paperback and ePub editions, and in a special limited hardcover collector's edition.
At the end of Albertine’s Overcoat, Peter Leroy is inducted into the Babbington High School Hall of Fame.
The Afterword reproduces the remarks that he delivers on that occasion. Here it is:
Remarks Delivered at the Babbington High School Alumni Association Dinner on the Occasion of My Induction into the Babbington High School Hall of Fame
This is an honor, and I’m pleased, flattered, and grateful that you’ve bestowed it on me. I’m allowing myself to assume that you’re inducting me into the Hall on the merits of my life’s work, The Personal History, Adventures, Experiences & Observations of Peter Leroy, my life’s story.
I’ve been working on my personal history for nearly fifty-seven years—and for more than seventy-two years. That is, I’ve been living it—which I count as working on it—for more than seventy-two years, and I’ve been reliving and rewriting the life I’ve lived for nearly fifty-seven years. I’m an obsessive memoirist.
By the way—you can become an obsessive memoirist, too—with my help. I run a memoir-assistance service called Memoirs While You Wait. You’ll find brochures with testimonials from satisfied clients on the table near the exit. Please take one as you leave.
For an obsessive memoirist like me, the actual living of life is a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because it provides the raw stuff of the memoir. It’s a curse because my life moves faster than my writing and because living my life takes time away from writing my memoirs of my life. The result? I can’t keep up, and of course I’ll never catch up.
Here’s how I work. I take the raw stuff that life gives me, memoir’s rough draft, I examine it, and I make from it an examined life; but I don’t stop there, because I’ve discovered that the examined life is just a second draft. I revise it. I rewrite it. Why? Because I’m as interested in the possibilities as I am in the facts; because life includes the life of the mind; and because imagination takes me beyond examination, forces me to reconsider the way I’ve lived over the past seventy-something years and the way I live now, makes a life both examined and imagined, and opens the door to the heart of the matter, the essence of my life, the tone of my times.
I’ve tried to achieve a balance between the two, the life examined and the life imagined, but the balance is perilous. The documentarian in me wants to give you my life as I lived it, but the romancer in me wants to give you all the lives I might have lived. Some other me stands between the two like the moderator in a symposium, trying to see that you get both—and that you always know which you’re getting. I’ve always been honest about the fact that the memoirs I write, the experiences I recount, have been enriched by examination and imagination. Honesty is my shtick.
One motive behind my memoirs is documentation, of course, the urge to recover the past and paste it in an album, the desire to spend time with people I’ve lost—but a purely documentary memoir is impossible to achieve. Revisiting the past requires sweeping aside the fog of your current prejudices, desires, antipathies, enthusiasms, and regrets until you see a tiny circle of light, far away. Sometimes all you find is a memory that has blurred with time until only the most general outline of it remains, like the fuzzy, unidentifiable people in a faded photograph, and yet, off to one side in that photograph, some tiny detail stands out crisp and clear and sharp, as if a single ray of light had caught it just right and burned it onto the film.
I know that memoirists are widely regarded as little more than egomaniacs at heart, and because I assist other people with their memoirs in addition to writing my own I can say from experience that there’s a good bit of truth in that. The memoirist’s first impulse is to say, again and again, “Look at me! Look at me!”
However—this memoirist has been surprised and delighted to find that in the course of writing his memoirs he has discovered, or perhaps invented, another, better self, not the young egoist who began the project, but someone he’s made from the ashes of that egoist, someone he’d be happy to have as a friend.
To my continued surprise, people find my memoirs humorous. I’ve never thought of myself as funny, and I never intended my memoirs to be humorous. When I began I had no intention of writing anything humorous. I meant to be serious.
You may remember that Samuel Johnson’s erstwhile schoolmate, Oliver Edwards, complained that he tried to write seriously, as a philosopher, but, “cheerfulness was always breaking in.” That seems to be my problem. I seem to have a deep-seated conviction that there is more to life than vexation and misery and futility. When I look back at the time I’ve lived through I recognize it as what Emerson called “the painful kingdom of time and place,” but in poking and probing it I’ve found some of the niches where hilarity hides.
A work of art needs an audience.
It may be that a work of art is not a work of art unless it is completed by an audience.
Perhaps a life needs an audience.
It may be that a life is not fully lived unless it is observed.
I had the great good fortune to find the ideal audience for my personal history before I’d even begun writing it, an audience that is smart, clever, witty, well read, and discriminating. Having found her, I married her—and I’ve written my personal history to please, impress, entertain, intrigue, seduce, and beguile her—and to try to explain to her how I became the boy I was when we met, the boy who loved her at first sight, who wooed and won her, and how I’ve become the man I am, the man whose wooing will last a lifetime, the man for whom she has become the source of every worthy aspiration he’s ever had.
My memoir project has given me a great gift: it has made everything I’ve ever done worthwhile. It has helped me see the importance of every little thing, every one of my little adventures and experiences, especially the ones that seemed insignificant during the living of them, and taught me the lesson that Dickens made David Copperfield learn: the truth that “trifles make the sum of life.” Writing my personal history has been a bit like making a rich dish out of bland ingredients, the trivial experiences of quotidian life, a life lived at the level at which most of us live life from day to day. My life when I re-examine it returns to me not in high-definition on a wide screen, but more like a reflection in a foggy bathroom mirror, in which I see a man groggy and puzzled, squinting at what’s reflected behind him, over his shoulder, intriguing bits of the small world in which he has lived and lives still—and beyond that small world the larger world in which we all have lived and live still.
Let me give you an example of what I mean. Not long ago I lost my wallet—
Balham, Gateway to the Bronx
THE LIMITED EDITION
This edition of Albertine's Overcoat is limited to one hundred hardcover copies, numbered and signed by the author. There will be no other hardcover edition.
To get your signed and numbered copy of this limited edition, visit the Kickstarter project page.