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  • A memory for detail is something that I’ve always seemed to have, and have cultivated it through the years. I’m not necessarily a super observant individual, but once something lodges itself into my memory banks, it stays locked in there like a steel trap. I can still remember the entire scene of when I got my nose broken at age 2 ½, as vividly as if it happened last week, complete with the smells and the colors and the feeling of utter fear that I was going to die, and the shock and the love I felt from my entire family after it happened. I especially remember my cousin Janey holding my head on a bench in the cottage, and saying, so sweetly, “Don’t cry, Pete. Don’t cry. You’re a big boy. Big Boys don’t cry.” I remember I stopped crying right then, because I wanted to be a big boy, and I wanted her to think that I was.

    The fact that I’ve been a dedicated journal-er since age 13 probably helps, even though none of my journals prior to 1979 survived the great basement flood of 1983 that wiped out most everything I’d written up until then, except for my more recent journals and my book of poetry, as they were the only things that weren’t in boxes under my bed in the basement at Billy Z.’s place when it flooded. I’ve written a couple of stories about that, so I won’t go into any more detail about it now.

    This memory for detail is one of the reasons I was always drawn to writing. Someday, I always thought to myself, I will put all these memories together in some form or fashion that will make them more useful than just this mental warehouse full of useless data storage that they currently are, rattling around in my feeble brain.

    My first several attempts at writing 4th Steps while taking the AA and NA 12 Steps (“Made a Searching and Fearless Moral Inventory of Ourselves”) were epic affairs. I dove headfirst into every corner of my extensive memory bank, pulling out all of the dramatic details of my life to those points, and laid it all out there. I wore a couple of sponsors out with those 4th and 5th Steps (“Admitted to ourselves, to God, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs”).

    I was so relieved, my last time through the steps, taking them with the guidance of sponsors who had actually recovered through the principles found in the AA Big Book, when they told me I would only have to do this one time, and that was it. By then, I had “worked” the 4th Step numerous times, in numerous ways. That last time, it was much simpler. That time, I didn’t “work” it, I just took it – or, maybe better stated, it took me. I just followed the guidance in the Big Book, and a very simple outline that the group had developed somewhere along the line - I think it might actually have derived from some of the early AA groups in Ohio – and just did whatever my sponsor said to do. It was so much easier and simpler than I had made it out to be.
  • Other than that, I occasionally would write down a story or two, from here or there, but I really didn’t have any reason to write out all of my stories. I would tell the good ones to friends or new acquaintances, because I was and am a storyteller, and that’s just what I do. I just didn’t see the point of writing all of that stuff down. Who would possibly care about it? I didn’t need to write it for me – I had it all right up here in the old noggin.

    I took a writer’s workshop at the Navy Memorial in DC on Memorial’s Day Weekend 4 years ago, and they encouraged writing out your memoirs. They had a lot of great writing tips for how to go about it, along with some examples of some famous peoples’ memoirs. That inspired me to start the process of downloading the memory bank onto paper, or should I say, into electronic files. My first attempt resulted in a 45 page memoir that pretty much covered from the broken nose, to finding recovery. After that, I got really tired of it. I still didn’t really see the point of it. I could always hear, in the back of my mind, Mom’s comment about Dad’s extensive written stories of his life, which had resulted in a 275 page memoir, “Random Thoughts of a 75 Year old”, with about a 20 page addendum, “Rambling Thoughts of a 77 Year Old”, some of his final thoughts that I and a close friend of his helped to transcribe as he related the stories orally. Mom once said to me, “WHAT kind of an ego did that man had to have, to think that ANYONE would be interested in all of that CRAP!” Even though I, for one, was fascinated by all of that crap, her comment still haunted me at times when I would be trying to write all my own stories out. I really didn’t see the point in ever publishing a memoir, per se, so what was I doing? I gave it up.

    What I really got into writing during that time, though, was interviewing and writing articles about others for the Navy Memorial’s Navy Log Blog. I became their most consistent reporter, going to all of the events that I could get to, interviewing the likes of the Navajo Code Talkers, the Tuskegee Airmen, the Negro League Players of the 40’s, Yogi Berra and other major leaguers from World War II, the original Band of Brothers, many of today’s Wounded Warriors, Donald Rumsfeld, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, book authors, and many others. I got a great deal of positive feedback from folks who read my articles, and began to realize that I really did have a gift for the turn of a phrase.
  • Cowbird opened up a whole other dimension to my writing - an engaged audience. Perhaps one of the early-on occurrences that really opened up my desire to keep writing these stories was feedback I received from, none other than, my own Mom. The critical voice in the back of my head that I was allowing to hold me back from writing more of my stories, in actuality became one of my most encouraging voices. When I wrote the story for Mother’s Day and her birthday, “A Most Remarkable Mother”, my brother Chris, who lived down the road from her, read it, printed it out, and read it to her on Mother’s Day. When I called her later that day, she couldn’t say enough about how much it meant to her, and how much she enjoyed my writing. Chris had apparently read her a number of my other stories, and she thought very highly of how I wrote.

    Because of the subject matter of a lot of my stories, the fact that they deal with addiction, suicide, along with many other problems I’ve encountered along my life’s journey, and the fact that I’ve been fortunate enough to overcome many of these issues, my hope is that the telling of my stories might help someone else going through similar challenges.

    This drives me to try to be that much more honest and authentic in the telling of them. I try not to exaggerate or dramatize my own experience. I try to just tell it like it was, or at least, like I remember it. I won’t say that I’m completely immune to a little bit of embellishment here and there – through the years, things that I think I remember clear as a bell, I find out - maybe not so much. I write about it, someone who was there reads it, and they correct me on some of my details. That’s great! I’d rather get it right, than continue to believe something that I never had right in the first place. In that way, my story evolves, and gets a little clearer as I go. It’s also true that, once I write out what I remember about an incident or a specific time, there’s more there that comes to the surface, now that I’ve cleared that surface memory of it out of the way and put it down on paper. All that stuff buried in the “archives” comes up to the main mental library. Interesting how that works!
  • Anyway, that’s sort of the unabridged version of why I write and post my stories on Cowbird. I’ve been at it for 14 ½ months now, and I have yet to get tired of the process, or the effort. I go through brief lulls, but they never last for more than a few days. During those periods, I just read more stories, and write and post less. This place continues to completely freaking amaze me, and more than anything else – it feels like home to me. It follows me wherever I go, and I take it with me wherever I go.

    I love just about everything about it. Even when funny things happen, like a story I post from somewhere between Hawaii and Mexico on the high seas of the Pacific gets caught up in some kind of a cyber wrinkle and posts itself 237 times within a couple of hours. Then, it’s time to send up the Bat Signal for mild-mannered Dave Lauer to come down in his cape and mask to solve the bat-riddle and restore Cowbird to sanity, once again. Even those times are wildly entertaining.

    As far as I’m concerned – what’s not to like about this joint?
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