I suppose everyone is given a chance to introduce themselves to others. Telling someone who you are requires that you summarize and prioritize important experiences, facts or characteristics you want to be known to the audience you’re speaking to. Some people polish up an “elevator pitch” that tells all they can to a truly captive audience in a short period of time. Most of these introductions are very context driven. You might be speaking to a professional colleague or someone at a friends party. Your story more often needs to blend into the that context to be most meaningful. However, it’s very interesting to consider how you’d quickly describe yourself to a complete stranger outside of a common interest or experience. Is it your work, your family or where you’re from? What if you were to write a biographical piece about yourself with more time to emphasize and explain yourself?
How would John Randal McDonald describe himself to a stranger? What would his first chapter be in a book about himself? What would the first story be that JRMcD would tell?
In February of 1999, John Randal picked up a Craig Micro Cassette Recorder and began to dictate a story about himself. This was going to be the content he’d create and use as construction materials for the story of his life and career. JRMcD didn’t get too far along in the process of dictating interesting stories. As much as we’d like to have access to his telling of a very colorful life, we’re not surprised that he only got a couple of hours recorded.
Toward the end of his recording project, John Randal and his wife, Josephine, boarded a plane from Detroit to Milwaukee with the recorder left on by mistake. Jo and John were seated on aisle seats across from one another. John introduced himself to the travelers next to him as John Randal McDonald, an architect, a Scot (as in Scottish), married to a Norwegian beauty. They were traveling back to their ancestral home….Wisconsin. There you have it – JRMcD’s elevator pitch.
John Randal McDonald – dictating, 1999; photographer unknown, courtesy of Karen Randal
John Randal’s first dictated entry in 1999 was a story about an artist colony that he had planned to build for Victor Borge in 1989. Many of you readers may not be familiar with Borge, a Danish-American pianist, conductor and comedian who was immensely popular in America from the 1940’s through the 1960’s. McDonald had met Borge on St. Croix in 1963 and had developed a residential plan for him in Christiansted. They remained very good friends and the plans for an artists colony developed over time and many cocktails.
This first story dictated autobiography likely includes the important elements of John Randal’s perception of himself and how he’d like to be remembered – Celebrity, Creativity, the Arts, Music, and of course Architecture.
McDonald’s second story he told on the tapes was of his experience at Yale pursuing a Masters Degree in Architecture in their Department of Fine Arts and previous work he did at Wisconsin Teachers College (today’s University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee) studying Fine Arts . Do you suppose that JRMcD might consider the first chapter in his life’s story would be about his success in the Arts, finding his best self and enjoying success at Yale University?
We’ll continue from there on our next Biographical post.