"When we are green" –Memoir
Contributor
Written by
Victoria Chames
January 2018
Writing
Contributor

 Thoughts about the book This Boy's Life by Tobias Wolff. And what a  book it was! 

Tobias Wolff writes: “When we are green, still half-created, we believe that our dreams are rights, that the world is disposed to act in our best interests, and that falling and dying are for quitters. We live on the innocent and monstrous assurance that we alone, of all the people ever born, have a special arrangement whereby we will be allowed to stay green forever."

This is how one becomes great, by screwing up a lot, by making as many mistakes as possible as young as possible while there is still a good chance of forgiveness and reprieve as we are learning about life and humanity from the mistakes we make.

This coming-of-age memoir is a beautifully unique book. As I reread it (a third time) I slowed myself down and tried to look at how he achieved such intensity and gentleness at the same time. He tells the truth with a sort of crude naiveté, yet acute accuracy, and surprisingly alive descriptive images. The subtle, only-between-the-lines philosophy is never stated outright until this paragraph in the last chapter. Any wonder that I was lifted with desire like a rocket to write something wonderful too?

As wonderful as his book? Maybe not, but I must do something as wonderful as I can. After reading this, nothing less than my best work, my deepest/simplest truth, my most earnest honesty is good enough to make the working-draft, and then I will work to make it better.

To me, the essence of memoir and its most sacred quality is its truth. Reading something that we know is one human being telling the truth about what life is, and what it means to be human, just matters more, to me.

In this Cyber-age, the past, which is the great teacher that could save us from our own self-destruction, is widely ignored. The present, the only time we actually have, is ignored also, in favor of fantasy instead while life goes on by, with most of us not even noticing. Something real and of human value is badly needed for the sake of the survival of humankind. Not just the body, but the mind, and perhaps even the soul of us, is in trouble. 

The tide must turn, the pendulum must swing, and even though it is terrifyingly slow, I see it beginning to move. People want truth. It has become extremely rare, much more rare than diamonds, and infinitely more valuable. Lies are the commonest coin of trade. We who write, whether memoir or fiction (which often has valid truths of its own) must tell whatever truth we have, as honestly as we can. In the history of humankind, it has never mattered so much.

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