If you’re like me, you remember very well the magazine, Highlights for Children, and one of its regular features, “Goofus and Gallant.” Six panels of drawings compared the comportment of the two boys: the always ill-behaved, Goofus, and the ever. . .well, the ever-gallant, Gallant.” The first panel on the left might say, “When Goofus loses, he runs away, crying.” The right panel might then counter: “Gallant doesn’t cry when he loses in games.” You get the idea. Goofus illustrates poor choices; Gallant shows us how to conduct ourselves.
I thought it might be fun, then, to use this strategy to make some points about the writing of memoir. So, without, the aid of drawings, here are the captions:
Goofus writes a memoir to show how everyone has misunderstood him.
Gallant writes a memoir because he wants to think more deeply about an experience he doesn’t fully understand.
Goofus intends for his memoir to punish those who punished him.
Gallant wants the characters in his memoir to have dimension. He investigates the sources of people’s poor behavior in an attempt to better understand them. He doesn’t shy away from their flaws, nor does he blind himself to their admirable qualities. He also recognizes his own shortcomings.
Goofus wants to be the hero of his memoir. “Enough about me,” he says. “Tell me what you think about me.”
Gallant knows the true hero or heroine of a memoir is never the writer. He makes room for other people and dramatizes the interactions that were significant to the experience he’s considering.
Goofus writes a memoir to stay in the past.
Gallant remembers that Patricia Hampl (yes, Gallant reads Patricia Hampl) said the memoir is never about the past; it’s, instead, about the future. Gallant knows this means he revisits the past to influence the future into which he’s ready to move.
Goofus doesn’t worry about shaping a story. He just rambles and spews.
Gallant knows his goal is to give lived experience an artistic shape. He weighs his options carefully before deciding which form best allows him to express his content.
Goofus makes up his mind before he writes. He makes up his mind about people and events. He makes up his mind about himself. He fits his story to what he’s decided. He leaves no room for reflection, and, therefore, no room for discovery. He’s more interested in saying, “and then this happened, and then this, and then this.”
Gallant admits what he doesn’t know about people and situations and then sets out to see what he can learn through dramatization and reflection. He’s more interested in investigating why things happened and what they mean as he looks back on them now.
The message should be clear: when it comes to writing a memoir, don’t be self-absorbed like Goofus. Be open and thoughtful like Gallant.