I’m currently reading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, the bestselling author of Traveling Mercies. Subtitled, Some Instructions on Writing and Life, it’s turning out to be far more about the latter than the former.
As a writer, I’m always reading books that will help me fine tune my craft, especially since I consider myself sorely lacking in the craft department. I figured Lamott’s book would be a good resource. Little did I know that her memory exercises would not only spur me on to be a better writer, but would pull from the moth balls of my mind memories I’d long forgotten.
An exercise that can be both poignant and painful.
An exercise I’d like to challenge you to take.
For example, when was the last time you thought about your school lunches? And if you stop now to think about school lunches, how can that be of any benefit whatsoever to writing or life? Or what about the books you read as a kid? Think really hard about the first book you can recall reading…come on, you can do it.
Those two exercises had me writing pages and pages of thoughts and dialogue. In fact, I’m certain a short story will be birthed from the exercise.
And how about Polaroid photos? Remember how fascinated we were when we watched the yucky grey-green color turn into a photo before our very eyes? Today, we can download and send entire photo scrapbooks via email and think nothing of it—but for many of us the simple act of watching a Polaroid photo develop brought amazement and awe.
Those were the days.
As I sat back in my chair reading, I frequently found myself putting down Lamott’s book and thinking about the questions she asked. Not just ‘thinking,’ but seriously searching long-forgotten places in my memory. Soon, my brain felt taxed…as though I’d done about one hundred sit-ups (considering I’d probably pass out and die after six sit-ups, this is saying a lot.) It wasn’t easy to conjure up those grade school memories but once accomplished, they began to flood my consciousness like an exploded water balloon…once the water bursts forth, there’s no putting it back.
I pulled out a notebook and began writing down random thoughts that came across my brain like ticker tape on a stock market message board. The random thoughts became paragraphs and then short stories.
I remembered placing orders from Scholastic Books when the book lady came to our class, and then searched back further for what books I’d ordered. I remembered writing my first love letter to Kenny somebody, I’m sure he had a last name but for the life of me I couldn’t recall that tidbit. I did, however, recall how he’d posted my letter on the fence of Cameron playground on West 105th Street in Cleveland where I felt both horror and elation. Horror because others would know how I felt about young Mr. No Last Name, and elation when folks commented on how much fun it was to read my letter. They thought it was a story.
A writer was born.
This focused memory search was a fun exercise—a series of exercises, actually, and while some of the memories were a bit painful, mostly I found myself thanking God for the ability to recall them, and for the lessons I had eventually learned because of them.
As a boomer babe it’s no secret that I’m getting older.
“Big deal,” I say, we’re all going to get older. Fact of life, eh?
But it’s what we do with the knowledge we’ve learned that counts. It’s what we do with the blessings the good Lord has given us that really matters. Like the subtitle reads for the God Allows U-Turns book series, “It’s the choices we make that change the story of our life.”
“Choose this day whom you will serve,” Scripture teaches us.
Long story short…we are the sum total of the experiences we’ve had and the choices we’ve made. And sometimes it’s good to sit back and think about those long forgotten memories like school lunches, first books, old love letters, and the experiences that have made us who we are today.
And sometimes it’s good to share those memories by writing down our stories.
As “rockin’ boomer babes,” let’s record our precious memories before they’re forever lost.
Eva Marie Everson is one of our boomer babe co-bloggers. She’s a master at sharing her memory stories. Hope you enjoy this one.
Until next month, here’s to memories…write yours down soon.
IS SHE THE MOTHER OR THE DAUGHTER?
By Eva Marie Everson
Do you remember the commercial for Ivory face soap? I do. It ran in the late 60s early 70s and boasted a lineup of young women, their mothers, and enough show and glow to make us all run out and buy the bar that’s 99.44% pure.
I’ve always taken good care of my skin. My entire body I may have abused (you know, with chocolate, coffee, a lack of exercise when I needed it most) but my skin… I come from a long line of women who have always done so. “Take care of your skin when you are young,” my mother used to say, “and you’ll have beautiful skin the rest of your life.” She should know; in her 70s, she has the skin of a woman years younger.
So, here’s the rest of my story (you were wondering, no?): I’m on an airplane not too long ago. Airplanes, let me just give you a clue, are not good for your skin. If you looked young when you boarded, you most assuredly will not when you deplane. So, I’m sitting on the plane, exit row so I have plenty of leg room, between two men who promise me if the plane goes down, they can and will open the 50 pound door to our left. I pull out my Bible and open the well-worn pages. A photo marks the spot I want to read from. It is a photo of my granddaughter and me, taken about four years ago.
The man to my right–a brave soul–points to the photo and says, “Is that your daughter?”
I turn to him and beam. “No,” I say. “That’s my granddaughter.”
He furrows his brow. He is clearly confused. Then he shakes his head and says, “No…not her” (pointing to the image of my granddaughter)…”HER!” (pointing to the image of me).
I blink several times. When my wits are finally back with me, I say, “Noooooo… that’s me.”
He blinks several times. By this point, we can have our own blinking competition, go down in the Guinness Book of World Records for blinking, for crying out loud.
He dares open his mouth. “Wow,” he says, obviously stupid or stupefied. Take your pick.
“It must have been taken a long time ago,” he continues.
I purse my lips. “Nooooooo. It was taken just four years ago.”
He dares open his mouth again. “Wow.” Then he smiles. “You sure have changed.”
I nod, turning my head toward the man on my left, who is pretending to be asleep. Shaking his head he mouths, “Dumb, dumb, dumb….” while I’m thinking, “You open that door…and I’ll shove him out of it.”
The last few years of my life have been more than difficult and the results have been that I look older than I should or even want to. Some days I look in the mirror and I think, “WHO are you???” The joys of being a boomer babe is that we’re also a part of that generation that has all the means of staying younger looking and no way to actually stay young.
Short of death.
We look at the photos of younger girls and women and think, “I used to look like that…no wrinkles…no sagging…no little laugh lines….”
Yeah, and you used to have zits, too.
Ahem. Still do sometimes.
But, that’s another story…for another week. Now, it’s time for my facial….