Friday, November 15, 2019

A Writing Prompt For All Ages

I always profess to have a pretty good memory. Don't get me wrong - I have wasted my fair share of time turning my house upside looking for where I left my car keys and cellphone (which are usually already in my jacket). However, when it comes to certain events, my long-term memory is pretty strong. I have memories dating back to when I was four, including relative context. As I get older, I start wondering why those memories stuck. That's when the writer in me comes out.

In my opinion, memories stick to us for a reason, and the best way to discover that reason is to write about them. Someone in one of my writing workshops wrote about conversations she would have as a child with her mother. She remembers the conversations well, which is even more striking since she was five years old, these conversations happened in the late 1940s, and her mother had recently passed away.

Yes - passed away. She remembers that her coping mechanism for losing her mother at the age of four was to think about her, visualize her, and talk with her. These conversations were very valuable, and she remembers them to this day. Now, skeptics might argue that there's no way to prove that the conversations were remembered verbatim or if there was some license taken over the decades. However, that's kind of the point. We start remembering the important parts - the context, the message, the purpose - and we see just why this memory stuck.

The earliest memory I have that contains value and information was sitting with my mother as she relaxed on the couch and wrote a news story on her ever-present yellow legal pad. She was a reporter at that time, and also a full-time parent, so quite often those two tasks would be combined. She would write her story, I would sit next to her and watch, and she would finish a paragraph and we would read it together. (I was literate at a very early age, and learned cursive by reading my mother's news stories.) No matter what the deadline was or how wrapped up she was in the reporting process, she would let me curl up next to her, lean in and watch her write, then read her story back to her, including talking through the big words. Even during the District 201-U teacher's strike, she let me read her story as she wrote it.

Maybe this is a little too on-point for why I remember this. Now that I write regularly. it's easy to see why such a memory stands out from all the other things I did when I was four. I don't remember what I got for my birthday or for Christmas, the status of my parents' marriage, or much of anything my brothers did, mostly because those memories aren't important (no offense to my brothers, parents, or Santa.) But I remember plenty of those moments learning to read from my mother's perfect cursive.

So where's the writing prompt? Simple. Write about the earliest memory you have. Explore it. Find every sight, sound and texture possible, and connect it to your life today. Search for why that one stood out while so many others fell by the wayside. It can be the simplest memory or a series of events, but explore it to see why it stuck for all those years.

Maybe yours has a simple connection like mine, but hopefully this simple prompt is also an exercise in discovery.

4 comments:

  1. My memories go back as far as 1944 and i value each of tham as I would a precious jewel. However, I find it almost impossible to put it all down on paper, mainly because I think it is a bit pretentious of me as my life is not that interesting. I love your blog though.

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    1. Thanks for your support.

      Let's be honest - most lives are not interesting. However, we don't write about a whole life. When we turn our focus from an entire life to to that one time at a bus stop in 1974 when we thought we saw Elvis but it was just a guy, that becomes a story, and writing makes it interesting. As we grow as writers, we can make a moment about us NOT seeing Elvis be interesting.

      Good luck and keep writing (and reading)!

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  2. I believe the earliest memories we have include an intense emotion which causes the memory to stick. Of course, not my earliest memory but one that pops to the forefront about every five years is watching the Watergate Hearings on TV at what was our "new" home at the time. I'm not sure why that memory has been so strong because all I "see" is the picture on the tube, no sound from the TV or family. I had just turned four, and we had moved into our home the month prior.

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    1. Powerful emotions can give memories traction and also bury them away. Whether that is testimony for the strength of emotion or of memory is up for writers to debate.

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