Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Importance of Memories

Memoirs have become very popular of late, and I think that is due, in part, on the fact that so many Boomers are becoming "of a certain age" and discovering the importance of that connection between now and the past. Kim Pearson has written several posts here at The Blood Red Pencil about memoir writing, and here is a link to one of her more recent posts about dealing with the facts. If you are inclined to write a memoir, her series is most helpful.

The following is taken from a memoir I have been working on in between my fiction projects, and in looking at this piece I realize how quickly we can forget those things that molded us into the people we are today. Perhaps capturing the memories is more important than we ever thought.

"One day when I was reminiscing about high school, I dug out my high school yearbooks – I won’t tell you how old they were, but it was a relief to find the pages didn't crumble. Anyway, my intent was just to look for a picture of someone I'd gone to school with, but I got caught up in a trip through my past.


"My kids were immediately interested in this chronicle of a part of my life that came before them, and they all wanted to see my senior picture. Obligingly, I leafed through the pages, but I couldn't find my picture. It wasn't there between the Ls and the Ns like it should have been. I couldn't understand it. I had my senior picture taken for Pete’s sake. Why wasn’t it there? Then my husband reminded me that my last name wasn't Miller then. 

"How silly. I'd forgotten. But who could blame me? At that juncture in my life I'd been a Miller longer than I’d been a Van Gilder.

I'm on the bottom, second from the left. My kids thought I was pretty, but the glasses were ugly.
"As I looked through the rest of the book, I found in some ways I was meeting this Van Gilder person almost as a stranger. Weird! I mean, that was me, but I'd forgotten so many things. Like being a photographer for the school newspaper. I remember working on layout and being a reporter. I was also on the yearbook staff, but a photographer? This is a person who doesn't know an aperture from a lens cap.

"I did remember participating in the Model United Nations at the University of Detroit. Who could ever forget the first time they stood up in front of 1,500 people and offered an opinion?

"It's so much easier doing it on paper.

"However, I'd forgotten I was a finalist for a National Merit Scholarship. (I left that page prominently displayed for my children who were of the combined opinion a mother's intelligence quotient is equivalent to that of an armadillo.)

"In spending that time with a part of my personal history, I found an odd dichotomy between what I remembered and what I didn't. On one hand, some of my memories were definite distortions of the past. Yet some of the memories, those that centered on incidents and people who influenced me greatly, were very true to the reality of then.

"Obviously, I was never meant to be a photographer. But I was meant to be the kind of person I've become, and in some ways that new person isn't so different from the person I was in high school. I'm still idealistic, almost to a fault. I still daydream. I'm still interested in people and social issues, wishing for a world with no injustice or evil. And I'm still on the "out" side more than I'm "in." But that's OK, because it's by choice, and I enjoy the view so much better from out here."

Are you interested in writing a memoir? Have you ever sat down with siblings and shared memories of the past, only to discover that you all remember the same incident a bit differently? Do you think it is important to capture these memories, even if we don't intend to write a complete memoir?
Posted by Maryann Miller - novelist, editor and sometimes actress. Her most recent book releases are Doubletake and Boxes For Beds, both mysteries that are available for Kindle and in paper.  Stalking Season is the second book in the Seasons Mystery Series, also now available as an e-book, along with Open Season, the first book in the Season's Series. To check out her editing rates visit her website. When not working, Maryann likes to take her dog for a walk and work outside on her little ranch in East Texas. She believes in the value of memories and connecting with your past.

16 comments :

  1. Memory; an unreliable guide to reality. But an essential starting point for any personal memoir. What we see, in common with what we saw then, is always filtered through the person we are at that moment. We change; memories change and adjust to match the current 'me' that we all become. Like you, Maryann, I recall an idealist seeker of justice in my youth, but for reasons I won't bore you with here, I now lack any evidence of that distant time. If I write a memoir, and I might, I'll have to do so entirely from memory and include a disclaimer about the bias of the years.
    Thanks for this piece; it got me thinking of times past.

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    1. You're welcome, Stuart. I have found it interesting that we do have different filters as the years pass. The human psyche is so fascinating, which is probably why most of us got into this writing game. I know that is true for me. Playing with characters is just one way to try to figure out humankind. If figuring out is even possible. (smile)

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  2. Sometimes we lose our loved ones before we are old enough to be curious about who they were as people. Even though a memoir is "history as remembered," and (if the goal is to publish) spruced up and photoshopped, it can be a gift to your family. How I would love to go back and ask my grandparents all those questions I have now about who they were and what they did. There are no surviving pages written by them, so I don't have even a sample of their handwriting (and it seems the future generations won't for a different reason). There are so many ways to present your personal narrative nowadays: videos, vlogs, blogs, journals. Share your stories with your future family, even if your kids or grandkids aren't old enough to ask the questions.

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    1. That family history is so important, Diana, and that is another factor in this interest in memoirs. As you said, one does not have to write a family narrative for publication, but having something for future generations is important.

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  3. I have always found it fascinating what we remember from our high school years. I have to remind myself that I'm seeing it through a 16 year old's eyes and emotions. It can be quite a filter!

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    1. Some of my "later year" memories of high school are better than the first years following graduation. In many ways, high school was not some of my more pleasant childhood years for a lot of reasons. It took some years away for me to be able to focus on the good experiences. :-)

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  4. Great post, Maryann! Looking at photos can certainly trigger memories! And I lament all the family history that has been lost because no one thought to record it in some way.

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    1. You are so right about getting that history before it is forgotten. I made some memory books for my older grandchildren when they graduated high school, giving them some background on my family and my husband's. I need to find my copies of what I wrote and add to it for younger grandchildren.

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  5. Hi Maryann! I have a hard time putting that girl in my high school yearbook alongside my today self and finding any resemblance at all. That girl served on the Scrapbook committee? Really? I worry I wouldn't remember enough to write a mini-memoir.

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    1. In many ways I know what you mean, Patricia. Some of what we were remains, but not all. LOL

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  6. I did a family history book in the late 90s, before my dad died. It took many months of interviewing the oldest relatives still living at that time, digging into a Midwest library's morgue files to find obits from decades past when they were actually short histories of the deceased one, gathering photographs from as far back as the mid to late 1800s, and going through piles of documents accumulated by a great-aunt when she wanted to join the DAR. This wasn't exactly a memoir, but its 80-some pages probably are as close as I'll ever get to writing one.

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    1. That is an important family history, Linda. Good for you.

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  7. Great post, Maryann! As you know I finished my memoir in November 2013. When I first "announced" that I was going to write my memoir, I really didn't know what all I would include in it, how long it would/should take, etc. A few times as I wrote I began to see things differently than the way I saw them then.I also discovered feelings I didn't know I had. I love writing memoir and am working on a sequel now. AND in answer to your question about capturing these moments even for people who don't intend to write their memoir, I say YES! It's very healing to "get it out" and write it (or type it)...Thanks again!

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    1. Thanks for coming over to add to the discussion, Becky. You are right about the cathartic benefit of writing the memories, but some of that writing should be burned after we get it all out. LOL I think that might be what Kim meant in her post about not confusing fact with truth. For example on Friday on my blog I am going to write a piece about my daughter who overcame great obstacles to finish college. I don't have to detail those obstacles for the message to come across.

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  8. LOVE this post, Maryann. Memories are so vital to us. Those memories help to create the people we are now.

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  9. I would never write a memoir, my life would not be interesting enough. But, I love writing down memories from the past. I also have written our family history - but I would love to add to it.

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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