For reasons immaterial I’ve lately had occasion to read “bios”, those short biographical profiles normally written by oneself or one’s agent or publicist for predominantly commercial purposes. The bumf contained in the bios is invariably complimentary; and, as a result, the substance is somewhat suspicious or sufficiently attenuated as to be both uninventive and in some measure questionable. Especially when one knows the person about whom the bio is written, there is often a frigid disparity between that personal acquaintance and what one reads. It isn’t so much that there are incongruities but rather critical gaps.  What it is that expresses a person’s particular characteristics is seldom reflected in these so-called life stories of limitless triumph. It causes me to doubt or to diminish the profitability of the production.

The bio is frequently a statement of what the subject wishes were true as opposed to what is true, as though by mere conjecture a raw history can be artistically manipulated for public digestion. And even if truth (or fact) were too complicated a theme to encompass the deeper psychology of one’s portrayal, the content seldom throws back what are inspiring insights into the mind of the person.

So how does one compose a bio? It is not meant to be of the sterile nature of an obituary, a purely historic and usually celebratory record. It is frequently intended to be an animate, organic and gingered up narrative.

My speculation is that the more engaging account will attach not to what one did; rather why one did it. Achievement is by definition after the fact.  Plus it is technically possible for anyone to accomplish anything.  What isn’t however as suffusive is the spirit that provoked the initial ambition. For example I know a chap who became a lawyer. He hated the profession. He pursued the goal not because he wanted to rather because his father (a physician) and his older brother (a lawyer) wanted him to. It required some life-changing events (the murder of his estranged wife by her paramour) to precipitate an equally life-altering redirection of his ambitions. He got out of law and devoted most of what time remained of his active life to his first love, theatre. And he was damn good at it in spite of it having been a late awakening!

How, I then ask, does one relate those inspirational circumstances in a bio even if limited to the communicable facts?

Perhaps the confession is that it is impossible to insinuate a biography sufficiently to touch upon the imperatives underlying the predominantly dry and impersonal details. Perhaps we, the unwitting reader, do not wish to enlighten ourselves with chronicles of such perspicuity.  It does nonetheless jeopardize the mileage of the bio if it were exhausted by no more than the saccharine information of a curriculum vitae. Surely even a brief summary of one’s life is more nutritious than what amounts to a sale’s sticker on an automobile windshield. I reckon too that if one has time to record a 30-character VIN then there is time enough to say a telling word about one’s first childhood recollection?

I am betraying my implication that the raw data of life, undressed and sometimes ambiguous, is often more trenchant than a presentation plate of cultured products. Nor, I suggest, is the obstruction to such edification purely literary or logical.  Indeed much of our personal dynamic and expression is based on a broad and often unintelligible source (though we as regularly seek to dilute the substance of our nature to fit some manufactured appearance).

What it is that prompts each of us to do what we do is not a clinical expression. What keeps us awake at nights?  What do we consider our failings? What fears have we about conversing with others?  What constitutes elevation and recommendation within our own minds? What do we do or employ to distance ourselves from things? Wherein lies our comfort? By what measure do we adjudge others? What are our greatest fears? Is success something we want?

I’m persuaded to imagine that an accomplished bio is one which touches upon the ephemeral thoughts, anxieties and pleasures which colour one’s daily existence not a platform speech.  To be of truly commercial import, the bio should in my opinion say more than the stock and expected rubbish about consummation. There are two ways down a river; viz., where to go and where not to go. Both have their peculiar elucidations.