A few weeks ago, I told you that I was going to North Carolina to empty out my mother’s home. On August 20 (her 96th birthday had she made it to that landmark), we completed the task. I say “we,” but really I was under the supervision of Robbie, my sister-in-law, who was able to mastermind the entire operation. She brought one of her friends over, and we hired a couple of other people to help us. And soon it was all done. Except for the things we kept aside for ourselves, we virtually gave away everything to other family members, friends, and the Salvation Army.
Now as I sit at home here in Minneapolis, I have six boxes and one huge suitcase full of memorabilia: old notebooks and journals, letters, art supplies, books, photos, and a thimble collection.
I fear that these objects will become more of the “piles and files” that Janet Sunderland wrote about in an earlier blog.
Yet I want to use what I’ve brought home to help me write about her life. My goal is to write as honestly as I can and not coat the past in the rosy glow of some old movie. I don’t want simply to record details or re-tell old stories or even write a family history. I’ve already written a suite of poems about Ruth. I think that what these boxes hold will not fit into the compact confines of a poem. Yet the idea of writing a novel or a mother-daughter memoir seems a little bigger than I can fathom right now.
I don’t know where to start.
So I’m turning to you who are reading these words to tell me how you’ve used memory in your writing. Now that we have lived so long, how do we work with all that material from the past to create something new and fresh and honest?
In the next guest blog, Cleo Fellers Kocol writes about how she transformed memory into a short story. Her story, “My Cousin Olivia,” was included in the anthology, When Last on the Mountain: The View from Writers over 50. (See excerpt.) The story seems almost like memoir, but Cleo was quick to confirm that it is fiction. In her guest essay, she tells about the transformative power of memory.
Send your ideas about memory and writing to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll include some of them in future blogs. Or add your comments to the blogs.
Tell us about a memory and how it worked its way into your writing, or what happened as you tried to write about memories. We look forward to hearing from you.