DESCRIBING WHAT I have been up to since January 15, 1908, or rather, describing the fraction I can remember, is neither simple nor straightforward. Our memories are selective; they delete some events and magnify others. Just the simple act of recalling the past affects the recollection of what happened. That some of my remembrances are not the commonly accepted version of events should not be surprising.
Describing those events—and the people who had a hand in making me the person I turned out to be—is even more difficult. We do not easily recognize what shapes us most deeply, and the results of introspection are even less reliable than memory. Anyone optimistic enough to try to understand people— the most complicated entities in the known universe—is entering a morass.
Writing the first five chapters of this book was especially hard. It was like remembering someone I once knew, a person who no longer exists. I felt as I did in 1933, when I wrote a poem called "Air Mail":
If I tied a letter to a balloon, it would say:
I must find someone human—
Male or female, young or old, does not matter.
But I must find a human.
Why send such a letter? If even one soul
finds my letter, it may be read.
And the finder may consider it fitting
to write a response
And tie it to a balloon.1