THE ART OF AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL WRITING
June 19, 2012
A new computer made the transfer of files from the old computer to the new necessary. In that process I came across a file dated 2/17/07. Curiosity was aroused by the title: Phebe Hanson Document about myself. It reads: “Written January 2004 at Gloria Dei Lutheran church. Phebe Hanson, a prominent Minnesota poet and friend discussed how to write about oneself in the first person. Wife Ruth also present at this same Sunday morning was stimulated to write regarding her childhood a ten page reminiscence of her childhood with additional pages of relevant photos attached.. Her effort was titled: HOW THE LITTLE GIRL BECAME THE WOMAN WHO IS. She presented this reminiscence to her children in 2005 upon the occasion of her 75th birthday. This is, perhaps, something I should consider providing for my children as well.”
Good intentions aside my autobiographical reminiscence of childhood and growing years to manhood remain a possibility. Autobiographical writing on my part is, along with several other short pieces, SHAPED BY HISTORY. Written in 2008 academic development and scholarly interests are outlined that eventually became focused upon a particular teaching emphasis. In the Metro Lutheran (December, 2011) describes this teaching emphasis as: “Grace, history, and the civil rights movement”. An outline sketch follows with themes that remembrances might stress and hurriedly scrawled at that January 2004 Gloria Dei writing workshop under Phebe Hanson’s guidance. I wrote:
“Frederick Albert Bartling – I was given this name by my parents. First name after my grandfather, maternal side, Frederick Pfotenhauer. Middle name after my paternal grandfather, Albert Bartling. Both names tie me to a Lutheran clergy heritage – myself third and fourth generation of Lutheran German immigrants. I treasure the names and uphold the heritage but wish for a consistent evangelical theology. The German rootage of my last name ties me into all kinds of cultural baggage – some I appreciate.”
I was born 6/3/1928 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Lived with five siblings and parents in a large frame house on a tree-lined street with arching elms. The neighborhood provided ample room for play and exploration. Our home was characterized by a charismatic mother and a father somewhat removed with academic pursuits, I’m surprised that my later life, not merely athletics, ended in an academic career. However I moved away from primarily theological study to my interest in history. Seems that early on self-interest was sparked by the stimulus of contemplating matters historical. This led to my later concentration academically in history. Seems to indicate why now I am a retired professor of history – American (history) at that.”
Interesting is noting that when I was unsuspectingly told to write about self some fifteen to twenty minutes, I discovered one can so comprehensively capture the essentials characterizing one’s life. Included is genealogical family history, culture, and religion; the qualities of the childhood home and rearing – matters of reality relating to living with parents and siblings; personal belief system and theological viewpoint; perceptions regarding one’s own head, heart, and body; and, finally, self-interests guiding one’s journey. Perhaps I ought to follow wife Ruth’s example and describe: HOW THE LITTLE BOY BECAME THE MAN WHO IS.