Monday, June 12, 2017

Memoir Writing and Memories Then and Now

This summer marks the 7th anniversary of my memoir, Again in a Heartbeat. Would I write it today as I wrote it seven years ago? Maybe not. But on the other hand, the story holds true for it captured that journey in that time when I wrote it.

Memory is tinged with longing, nostalgia, traumatic and life-changing events. Perspectives change as we age and time etches its imprint.

For me personally, a former journalist trained to observe details and chronicle other peoples' lives, I've learned when I became the subject of my own remembrance, observation and contemplation, it is a difficult process.

The writer chronicles both the inner and the outer life ... and her own faults, fears, sadness. Solitude, reflection and moving forward on a spiritual journey ... all helped me understand memory is intricate, shape-shifting as we age.

As I think about memory and how to break through to what May Sarton calls "its rough, rocky depths," I offer thoughts from other writers about memory, along with some writing I've done in recent days.

“What could be simpler to understand than the act of people writing about what they know best, their own lives? But this apparently simple act is anything but simple, for the writer becomes, in the act of writing, both the observing subject and the object of investigation, remembrance, and contemplation.” ~ Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson, Reading Autobiography: A Guide for Interpreting Life Narratives

Sultry summers and shimmering autumns… two dogs you will never know, faithful companions and sources of comfort and joy. Friends who have come and gone, crises large and small, all passed through the window of time.

Love affairs dabbled in ... there had to be something to look forward to or I couldn’t go on living without you, although, of course, they weren't you.

Our little boys are men now. They travel in their father’s footsteps, quietly, silently in moments when your spirit brushes theirs with a whisper of your name­─John─and you and they become one.
“I gather together the dreams, fantasies, experiences that preoccupied me as a girl, that stay with me and appear and reappear in different shapes and forms in all my work. Without telling everything that happened, they document all that remains most vivid.” ~ Bell Hooks, author of Bone Black
One chance meeting altered the course of my life. I was twenty-six, so young, searching for romance and that one true love. I remember seeing you for the first time as if it were yesterday. But now I understand something I didn't then. Your sadness was palatable in your gentle, intelligent disposition rendered expendable by those you once idolized and who almost destroyed you.

What did we feel and why did we feel it?  I know this. My heart was open. I loved seeing myself through your eyes.

We had seventeen years. Twilight evenings of lovemaking; a blizzard that winter I was miserable and pregnant; August by the shore, the sea stretching beyond the farthest horizon toward a future never to be.
“Looking back over sixty-odd years, life is like a piece of string with knots in it, the knots being those moments that live in the mind forever, and the intervals being hazy, half-recalled times when I have a fair idea of what was happening, in a general way, but cannot be sure of dates or places or even the exact order in which events took place.” ~ George MacDonald Fraser, Quartered Safe Out Here: A Recollection of the War in Burma
Life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant. Your death forever changed my life, my journey ... society’s crushing expectations of the single mother, the widow … the woman alone. Widowhood has shaped my belief that out of great loss comes great abundance, if we―I―allow it. Part of me felt rearranged after you died, never to be the same.

Now ... a rose in bloom, the coo of a mourning dove, my dog’s velvet blond muzzle, a word artfully arranged here and there and read to others; something akin to satisfactory acceptance that this is life, my life, and remembering is enough.

How about you? Can you offer an experience or technique to tap into memories?

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