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John Palcewski's Journal

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Here I am, in bed with my laptop, immobilized with a slightly torn leg muscle, an icepack on my knee. Bleh! I’m unable to roam free in the nearby woods as is my custom at this time of morning. For the next few days there’s nothing for me to do but write in WITNESS, my excavation of ancient history. I’m usually good at self-discipline, but this injury guarantees I’ll be spending more time on the labor of writing.

The hard part is not documenting all the unpleasant events of my childhood, which are numerous, but rather to offset each of them with something humorous, clever, cheerful, redeeming, triumphant, or whatever. This memoir can’t be all doom and gloom, no, I gotta entertain my readers! I gotta make them smile, nod their heads in approval.

I’ve never been good at sugar coating, white-washing, spinning, propagandizing. But I guess I damned well better learn.

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Now, now. No childhood is so terrible that it is completely devoid of moments rife with guffawing and terminal innocence, even if the cynicism of age makes it convenient for us to forget such occurrences. Hell, not a day goes by that I don't don rose-colored glasses when recalling past exploits; I'm sure someone as skilled as you are will manage.

I would relay my sincere hope that your leg heals quickly and you are out-n-about post-haste, but I'm still not intoxicated enough to pretend that I'm able to fully empathize with a human being with which I've never personally interacted. If you can't summon childhood innocence quite so effortlessly as you'd hoped, perhaps a bittersweet rumination over the continual propagation of apathetic sentiment in opposition to everyone's interpersonal interactions in the real world will fit the bill.

But seriously, I hope your leg gets better soon. I temporarily suspend my limited knowledge of physiological healing processes in the hopes that you're on your feet faster than normal for your morning walks, sir.

Many thanks for your cheerful wishes for my speedy recovery. Since the horrors of my childhood vastly outnumber the blessings, I'm obliged to be creative in the balancing, so to speak. Which amounts to fabrication, or spin. On the other hand, despite that I never became a cynic. I've always been an optimist, which is probably what saved me. (I had a step brother with whom by bizarre coincidence I shared a birthday, March 1, 1942. He was a cynic, and ended up dead of a drug overdose in an alley, a hypodermic needle still stuck between his toes.) Anyway, the good stuff way back then was entirely in my HEAD. Or in the library, or on the radio's classical music station...

For starters, I would (selfishly) have your secret to optimism, if you'd share it.

If it's any consolation, any memory you'd select to share would be rife with spin, positive or negative. Existence might not be so twisted as long-dead, psychotic German philosophers would like to believe, but human recall certainly is.

Please forgive my ignorance on the matter, but how did you injure your leg?

Hmmm. I don't think optimism is acquired, I believe it's more a genetic thing you're born with. I never consciously decided on it, it was just the way I was, from the beginning, from my earliest memory. My father, who wished I had never been born, tried to convince me I was worthless, but I knew deep down he was wrong. I guess that's where luck comes in. What would have happened to me if I'd believed or internalized his toxic bullshit?

My leg injury is a recurrence. Several weeks ago in New York, at the entrance of the Rubin Museum, I felt what I thought was a cramp above the calf of my right leg. I promptly seized a lightpole and stretched the muscle. I heard a slight pop, and then came the gradual swelling. This time I felt the same kind of cramp, but I stretched it less vigorously. The swelling came, but it seems that it's healing faster with the application of Ace bandage and ice. In any event, I think stretching is what I need to avoid.

But back to the memoir. I have tons of journaling in Word Docs, a vast resource of recollections of events of the past. As a life-long journalist, I've always been able to put things down,fairly accurately, as they occurred. As I say, the problem is making the unpalatable palatable.

Get well soon, please! I want you to smile(you look like my cat: he is in bed from morning till night)

Thank you for your good wishes! I'll be up and about within three or four days. BTW, I once had a jet-black cat that used to leap up and walk on my PC's keyboard. She invariably made my prose more interesting.

More than a lot of other would-be "writers" who seem to write for and like animals rather than for and like human being.

Auguri!!! for your leg. Have you never tried to investigate about a particular lack of vitamins that causes your recurring problem? I know sometime the solution is there; but you do have the 50% of solution by your genetic optimism, I know you, my friend :)

Re: Vitaminic optimism.

Thanks for your good suggestions regarding my leg injury. Over the years I've tried to eat foods that contain necessary vitamins, most especially recently, but maybe there's a shortfall somewhere. There's no harm in my taking vitamin supplements. I'm glad to report that each day the leg gets better, which to me is reassurance that my optimism is not entirely in the realm of fantasy...

I'm curious to know why you're writing your autobiography/memoirs - is it for you, or have you been asked to write it by a publisher or other? It's something I've tried to do many times myself (for me) but it always gets too difficult to revisit my past times. The worst memories are always the ones that are more interesting, of course. What I have shared, in the past, with people in my journal/s have been very intense and have hurt me a lot - but people do seem to like to read that stuff, they can relate better when they know someone is 'real'.

I find it difficult to sugar-coat things too. Though - I don't really feel the need to but then I'm too much of a coward to spill my guts over everything in my life, anyway.

I've read quite a bit of your writing so far and know some of the things you're referring to - your dad, his attitude to you (and your mom) and his mistreatment of you - and I'm sure it must be really difficult to write about all that. I am glad you're an optimist, I don't think I would have been if I'd had to suffer all that you did.

I hope your injured leg recovers quickly so that you can resume your woods-roaming.


At my age the urge to look back and make an assessment is strong, and it’s even stronger for me because I’ve always been a writer. In this case it was largely a matter of finally taking care of a lot of unfinished business, because until recently I found writing in depth about my experience with my father was almost impossible. I was OK with relatively short pieces that simply laid out the facts, but I avoided any discussion whatever about how I felt about it, how it had damaged me, and most especially how it had been the root cause of a long, long string of failed relationships. Figuring this out took decades, and of course my tyrant’s death helped enormously.

Along the way I’ve discovered there are two kinds of writing about a troublesome past. One is a sort of private self-psychoanalysis, whereby you engage in a fictional confrontation with your abuser and you say everything he/she forbade you to say. It needs to be open, honest, freewheeling, with no regard for style, form, or anything else. In the process I was startled by the volume and depth of the anger that rose up. It seemed limitless, inexhaustible. But I kept writing and over time my rage finally dissipated.

The other is the formal memoir in which you are obliged to write in a way that does not totally freak out the reader. There are a number of conventions, or rules you need to follow. The point is to somehow make the unpalatable palatable. I’ve always struggled with rules, but now I fully understand their necessity. If you intend to keep it private, then you may vent as you wish. But if you want readers, well, you’ve got to keep them in mind.

As for spilling guts, the other day I ran across a brutal short memoir on the net. It’s principle feature is an apparent lack of anger, despite the horrid nature of the abuse he suffered. His detached and almost clinical tone somehow makes his writing compelling. The readers comments that immediately follow prove that revealing everything, however awful, can actually bring benefits.

My advice? Hang in there. In the past is MATERIAL.


Also, this:

An interview with Joel Johnson on why he’s funny | Easybranches.com™

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