Struggling to remember anything about my past I opened up one of my shoe boxes of photos. I started running through them until one of them felt like it pulled at me. It was almost like an ache, a string attached to my heart and it was being tugged. I had to write what I was feeling.
This is the picture that tugged me.
“Mom was a mean and untrusting woman. She didn’t cook for us or take care of us in anyway. There was no help from her for homework. She never folded our laundry. She never cleaned. We took care of ourselves. Scrounging for food where we could. Often stealing money from her coat pockets to be able to buy something to eat. The strangest thing is that this was normal to me. I never questioned it. Although I did comment to my friends occasionally that ‘my mom would never do that’.
I became attached to my grade 8 teacher, Mrs. Didur. She was my step-in-mother. She had no idea of this of course. At least not until I moved back to Rose Valley the summer after grade eight and I sent her a letter. I had wanted to keep in touch with her. She never replied. For the best really. She couldn’t fill those shoes that I needed filled. I was looking for someone that could be my mom. Only no one around me, older women that is, knew I needed a mother, that I needed a hug. I needed someone I could go to. I don’t think I even knew what was missing. But I know now what it would’ve meant to me to be hugged by a mother.”
That photo led to 3.5 pages of writing, about 800 words. Using a photo to stimulate your memories can be powerful.
Here are some tools and tricks for examining old photos for inspiration. It is taken from the book Writing as a Road to Self Discovery by Barry Lane.
- Find an old photograph. Now Lane suggests in his book one of you as a child. I say grab anything that ignites a spark inside you. You really can not predict where it will lead you.
- Describe the photo with physical sensations as much as possible. Write what you remember through your senses. The feel of fabric, a smell in the air, the feeling of lips touching your lips … get in the moment.
- Ask yourself some questions. For example: What is in the background? What is everyone wearing? Where are your hands?
- Write from the point of view of you as a child experiencing that. Sit back. Relax and let yourself sink into the moment. Take a thoughtshot. “A thoughtshot is like a snapshot but focused on thoughts rather than sense perceptions.”
- Now take a thoughtshot of you in present day looking at the photograph. Write a list of questions you have about the thoughtshot or the photograph or anything else that comes to mind. Answer the questions that tugs you the most.
In addition Barry Lane suggests going deeper by asking yourself these questions:
- What is your the tone of voice you write with as a child? Scared? Silly? Curious? Angry? Confused.
- What do you notice when you compare your child voice to your adult voice?