Monday, September 24, 2018

Revisiting Our Past and Reflecting On Its Riches

When we talk about memories it is important to honor them, good or bad. Revisiting the past can either lift you up or break your heart (a quote I heard from Anthony Bourdain about travel), and it’s true. Vivid memories encapsulate defining moments of our lives. And that's worth a lot.

We hear about "fake news" these days. Stories are always made up with an agenda in mind. Don’t investigate, since everyone has a story, but who knows what is true and what isn’t? That is anathema to the writer. If we don't ascribe truth to our memories, we have lost significant moments of reflection and self-discovery—ones we can impart to our readers, whether through fiction or memoir.

Remembering and revisiting the past is not about revision, it's about reflection and the riches inherent in that. Reflection is a learning process. It takes time and patience because it involves ascribing meaning to an event or a person.

At our Women's Writing Circle Childhood Memories workshop on Saturday, our group remembered the past and wrote about parents and family. I said I never felt my childhood held much of interest, until now, in later writings I have done for my work-in-progress autofiction. I always saw myself as an ordinary girl growing up in ordinary way.

"I've felt that too," another woman said. But, still she wanted to learn more about writing her memories, using the sensory details of smell and touch and capturing that moment of meaning of growing up in a large Catholic family. "I have special memories about my childhood, but none seem to make an interesting story to anyone outside my family. I came away from the workshop with techniques to create an interesting memory—use of sensory images and characters," she wrote.

During our free write, a writer said she stumbled upon a memory she hadn't thought about in years, or may have thought about but never wrote down. She left with ideas to write more of her childhood memories in more detail.

Remembering isn't just looking at a photograph—although we brought those to the workshop. It is not a static experience, but one that begs richness of detail...what did the person say, what were the aromas in the room, how does the memory offer a doorway into understanding yourself and others?  We offered each other examples of authors who write from childhood memories; for example, Mississippi Sissy by Kevin Sessums.

Honor your memories. Honor your stories. Honor the honesty and the truth of the child still within you. Writing about my childhood, for example, led to understanding why—and how—a little girl became a writer. I was nine years old, alone in my bedroom, lost in my imagination and my solitary life of being virtually an only child with parents who were not interested in children and childish activities. I began keeping a diary, a journal, a companion of thoughts and events.

Maybe one way we can recapture the joy of ourselves is by letting our adult egos go and follow an uncensored pen across the blank page. Write drunk, edit sober, as the saying goes. It means not worrying about how well it is written or whether all the accuracies have been captured, but focusing on reflection—what it all means. Recapturing the child within us allows us to shed light on the adult world with all its ego-limiting expectations.

One of our writers Saturday presented us with this quote by CS Lewis:

“Critics who treat 'adult' as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”

And this from Madeleine L’Engle:

“I am still every age that I have been. Because I was once a child, I am always a child. Because I was once a searching adolescent, given to moods and ecstasies, these are still part of me, and always will be... This does not mean that I ought to be trapped or enclosed in any of these ages...the delayed adolescent, the childish adult, but that they are in me to be drawn on; to forget is a form of suicide... Far too many people misunderstand what *putting away childish things* means, and think that forgetting what it is like to think and feel and touch and smell and taste and see and hear like a three-year-old or a thirteen-year-old or a twenty-three-year-old means being grownup. When I'm with these people I, like the kids, feel that if this is what it means to be a grown-up, then I don't ever want to be one. Instead of which, if I can retain a child's awareness and joy, and *be* fifty-one, then I will really learn what it means to be grownup."
As always, I am grateful to our writers for helping me find my path and enriching each other. Said one writer, "What I came for today: Techniques, knowledge, ideas. What I take from today: An amazing feeling of belonging to this world of women writers."

Brava and job well done, writers!

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