Vail Daily columnist Warren Miller: Write your autobiography, for the kids
Ryan Summerlin January 26, 2013
Three and a half years after I started writing my biography. I am starting to edit the mountain of paperwork that I have written.
A lot of people have asked me why. Years ago, I came to the conclusion that no man is ever a prince charming and they have a lot of garbage in their lives that shaped them into who they are.
And I’m right in there, but I have been writing the bio because there are a lot of things that my children don’t know anything about. The good, the bad, and the ugly, as someone once said.
So where do you begin? Why not the day you were born? First you need some sort of a system to put it all down on paper.
I am very fortunate in that I have always been a pack rat and have tons of memorabilia from a career of traveling the world with my skis and camera for about five decades. Give or take a week or two. That memorabilia of course triggers a lot of memories.
The first thing you do is buy five or six ink cartridges for your computer printer. Then about 10 reams of paper and a lot of energy.
The second thing you must do is write everything down that you can think of. I printed up about a hundred pages with months of a given year down on the left hand side of the page. Each line was about seven-eighths of an inch apart. Buy a three-inch, three-ring binder and unlimber your brain.
Pick out any significant event in your life that you can remember the date of and put it in the page that has that number year at the top. For example, the first day you ever went skiing. That is usually an easy year to remember. Let’s say it happened on Feb. 23, 1971. Write that note in the appropriate location and as soon as you write it down, events on both sides of that date will come back to your memory.
In my case, I had 88 pages with a different year at the top of each. I remembered the best day of windsurfing in my life when I windsurfed from Maui to Molokai and back with three good friends. I wrote several thousand words describing that day. Luckily, I wrote of many of these adventures years ago when writing one of my columns, and I’ve saved all of those.
Then, what about my first day on skis in 1937 in a small patch of snow on the side of the road to Mt. Waterman in Southern California? When I wrote that information on the right page, I had to write about other things that happened in my life at that same time, such as the Boy Scout trips to Yosemite, my long bicycle trips, and my first photography efforts.
It is easy to dismiss things in your life that you might think mundane or ordinary, but everyone’s life is that way most of the time, interrupted by moments of stark terror, and financial ruin, while trying to discover the key to success.
Keep that three-ring binder where you can make notes in it. To get around that cumbersome binder, I found something easier to haul around. I purchased a 59 cent spiral-bound, 3×5 inch notebook and keep it handy with a ballpoint pen. Every time a memory slid across my brain, I wrote it down and it didn’t really matter if I was a year or a month off in my guessing when it actually happened because most of the people that were around when it did are no longer around. They moved away, or passed away and besides, who cares if it happened in June or July?
Have you ever lost a marriage through death or divorce? Your kids need to know what happened and when. The faults of these events lies somewhere, and when you write about them, it gives you a new perspective.
I have found that writing my bio has really helped me understand why I did some of the stupid things that I did in my life. It is easy to blame stupidity, but you will find that in many cases, as you write about them, you will find that you did them for selfish reasons.
Writing your bio is similar to a session on a couch with a psychiatrist. If you are honest with yourself, looking in the rear view mirror of your own life can be very rewarding.
Most children have their parents on a very high pedestal. If you are lucky, your parents were saints, but I have never met any parents who were perfect. After all, the job doesn’t come with instruction manuals. Hey, I really screwed up most of the time. I just hope my kids don’t blame me for all my mistakes.
When I wrote about my very unsuccessful foray into the TV big time world by producing 30 ski shows for national television, it became such a financial disaster that I had to reduce my filmmaking company staff from 47 people to five, and sell every piece of equipment except two cameras and an editing bench.
I averted bankruptcy but it took me almost five years to pay off all of the debt that series caused me. I cannot blame anyone but myself for letting it happen, and in the long run it added to the problems that led to my divorce a few years later.
I know my three children won’t know the entire story until they read what I have written.
Otto Lang, who gave me my first job as a ski instructor, and wrote his bio on yellow lined, legal pad with a ballpoint pen because, as he said, “There are a lot of things that happened in my life that my children don’t know about.”
I started writing mine for my three children, and isn’t that enough? It is not for me, but now I’m excited about getting it published, as there are so many cool old photos to go with the stories.
Filmmaker Warren Miller lived in Vail for 12 years, and his column began in the Vail Daily.