J. Lex Butler chronicles tales from decades of his life

by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - J. Lex Butler flips through the pages of his new book 'Without a Compass: A Memoir.'J. Lex Butler never knew why he remembered so many details of his life — he just did. After years of telling story after story about what life was like way back when, the now 65-year-old decided it was time he wrote it all down.

Initially, his memoir “Without a Compass” began simply as a chance to pass his memories on to his three grown children. But, with encouragement and some coercion from the members of his writing group, the Tualatin resident’s memoir was published in June and available to an audience much wider than his children.

“I thought, we always talked about our parents not having a story written down about their past. I figured well, I don’t want (my kids) to say that about me. And I wanted to connect these stories — these crazy stories. It just flowed,” said Butler. “I had purpose to the book as well as being information and a history for the kids. I didn’t just write a memoir about events. There were themes.”

Among these themes are survival, growing up with divorce and adolescent issues of the heart. Self-described as a “wild child,” Butler got into numerous life-threatening situations that he recounts in his memoir. Among those are being hit in the head with a brick, nearly drowning, a car crash at nearly 100 miles per hour and a close call with a lightening strike. On top of these events, Butler discusses his years of trouble in college, and even failing out of the draft.

With so many events to choose from, Butler started with the beginning, and wrote down his earliest memory. And then another. And another. Eventually, he had a sequenced timeline that wove through the first few decades of his life. He then turned the timeline into full stories, which he’d finished compiling in just nine months.

Little did he know, writing his story was only the beginning — the St. Louis, Mo., native still had four edits to tackle. What began as a nice project quickly started devouring much of Butler’s spare time.

Once he had a completed draft, the retired Tigard-Tualatin School District employee passed several copies around to friends and family. One copy went to his eldest daughter, who was “brutal” in her critique, and another to an author who “butchered” it. They demanded changes, they wanted more, and they prompted the first big edit of his tale, though it wouldn’t be the last.

While Butler was hit with several weeks of discouragement from the feedback, he remembered thinking, “Just like everything else I did, I’ll chip away at it. I’ll chip away, and I’ll chip away, and I’ll redo it again.”

With the help of a Beaverton editor, Butler also secured a publisher in Ink Water Press. Now that the book is complete and ready for public consumption, Butler is happy with wherever it goes from here. What he hopes is that people will read it and come away with a better understanding of the lives his generation grew up living, or to remember themselves what life used to be like.

“We didn’t worry about a meal even, back then. If we were hungry, we were hungry until we got home. We took care of ourselves, totally, from a very young age on,” he said. “I was really trying to make a point of the freedom we had. We didn’t have the same fears. We had more dangerous situations that we got into — that we got ourselves into — but the fear, the external fears of something happening to you because somebody is gonna do something to you? It wasn’t there.”

“Without a Compass” can be purchased online through Amazon, Barnes and Noble or Ink Water, and is also available for Kindle. by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Tualatin resident J. Lex Butler talks about the writing process of his new book 'Without a Compass: A Memoir.'

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