Building Memory


It feels as though it has been a month since I last wrote. I was surprised to hear my husband say that he has been home from Europe for two weeks. When he returned home my new writing schedule fell through the cracks. Now it is time to get back in a rhythm.

Editing Sunlight is slow so I have been practicing a new journalling technique. It is helping me as much as memoir writing to review my past and see who I am. Some days it feels a bit tedious but it is a quick way to look at your life, build memory and over all feel confident and more in-charge.

What I am doing is reviewing each day in as much detail as possible. As I do this I see things – things that matter, things that annoy me, bad habits, things to work on, etc. It helps me to feel that each day was not a waste cause I have many days that I feel I didn’t accomplish much or what I wanted to but when I review it so much went on that I wasn’t really aware of.

As an example of this, I met my sister by the river for a visit. The mosquitos were getting a tad too friendly by the end of the evening. I didn’t realize until I got home and reviewed my day how much it was bothering me. How I really felt out of control of the situation and these mosquitos were dominating me, my life. Cause I wasn’t really ready to go home but felt I had to because of them. They were swarming me with their attention and I was feeling closed in, stuck. Hmmm … deep feelings for mosquitos.

I start at the end of my day and work backwards leaving blanks between each bullet point. As I work through my day I insert memories that return to me in the blank spaces. I go all the way to the beginning of my day and back down again. It is quite impressive how often I am not aware of my feelings during the day. I read somewhere that emotions are a window into the soul. It seems sad that I am not aware of my emotions throughout the day. Especially sad if they are a window into my soul.

It is important to note that while I do this remembering of my day I visualize myself moving through my day like a spectator. Not only does imagery increase my memory but it will “bring the fact into connection with the kernel of my essence.” (Anthroposophy in Everyday Life by Rudolf Steiner) While this sounds deep or perhaps corny I do believe it is true. Rehashing my day makes me very aware of what is going on as I have stated above. It is doing for me what memoir writing does for me. It resolves, heals, brings to light, lifts me, etc.

People have said to me that their favourite scenes from my writing is when I have detail, when it seems they are living right in that moment with me. That is what I do each day in my journal, relieve my day. Writing it like a scene I suppose, only in bullet form.

Speaking of scenes. I know one that I need to write for Sunlight. Back to work.

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Last fall I hired a writing coach to help me finish my book Sunlight, my memoir of how I found myself. It was hard to hear that I needed to have it more focused – re-write the whole thing – there are too many themes. Yet I am not surprised. I knew something was not right.

I have stopped working on Sunlight because of this daunting idea of redoing it all. My dear husband hears me complain that it is not done yet does not see me taking any effort to complete it so he refers me to a book called “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield. He has been suggesting this book for about a year now. Usually I sluff off the stuff he tells me to read. Why? Cause it is our relationship. He always tells me what I need and I always feel he has no idea. Well, this time he was right.

I borrowed the book from the library and it is very motivating. Quick short chapters. Pressfield’s language is one that kicks me in the butt – easy and to the point. It also is giving me a new story to tell myself when I don’t want to write and recognize when the “Resistance” is taking control. Strangely perhaps, I now talk to my muse. This is not something Pressfield says to do but it is helping me.

I began setting my alarm for 4 or 5 in the morning so I can get up and write. Now, I have done this before and the result was me turning off the alarm, telling myself I was crazy and going back to sleep. Then I would wake up at a later hour regretting it. Aching all day.

This goes on for months but now after some Pressfield inspiration I hear the alarm and then lay there asking, “Muse? Are you there?” It is a feeling of a presence, of not being alone. I don’t see a face or picture anyone in particular. it is more like a nebulous but I feel her more than see her.

When writers block kicks in I can simply write, “Why are you stuck, Muse?” This helps to keep the pen moving. This is something Pressfield says, he says that we are not to take our writing personally. It comes from a source outside of ourselves. I agree.

One thing I have realized in reading Rudolf Steiner’s work is the importance of feeling something with your entire body. You need to have a physical response to what you learn. So, when I read Pressfield talking about writing in this way my heart started beating faster and my reading sped up. I was excited. My body was physically responding but so was my mind. His words reached me. No writing tip will help you unless you feel it with all of your being.

This is off topic but last night I was helping my oldest with an essay. She is bored to tears with the topic. She has no interest in history because she can not identify with it in any way. Her essay is about “Who Is Lousi Riel?” As I read I shared with her interesting things that I discover. She found it very intriguing that she did an essay not too long ago on J. A. MacDonald and now sees how he is connected to Louis Riel. She smiled and you could see her body bounce a bit due to this realization. She may not remember much about J. A. MacDonald or Louis Riel but she will always  remember they were in the same time period because she had a physical reaction. If you react physically it is an outward expression that something has entered into your body on a more spiritual level.

Now back to the topic at hand, me rewriting Sunlight. To my dismay when I write lately, in the last week, I am only able to write for 20 minutes at a time. When I wrote Sunlight I was writing for 90 minutes. This bums me out a bit because I want to finish this project and rewriting it in its entirety seems daunting. The muse does what she needs to do I guess. Balancing this idea with me working through the emotions and baggage of what a memoir brings this may be all the writing I can do which is better than none at all. Moving forward at a snails pace is better than not moving at all.

Pressfield tells a story in the above mentioned book about living in a house for a year to finish a writing project. He moved away from everyone he knew with the goal of writing, or die trying. Writing was all he did. No TV. No telephone. Just writing. The determination to do this inspires me.

I move forward.

Another week is upon me. What will my writing give me this week?

Memory Burst

Memories come in bursts sometimes. I wonders if they are trying to push their way out and just waiting for an opportunity for you to stop thinking, just for a second, so they could come forth.

I am in the midst of washing sunshine yellow walls, something the previous owners left and we have lived with it for five and a half years. As I wash a memory breaks through the confines of my self-conscious.

mudroom

There is a wooden structure in front of me. It is the two sides of a triangle with the front missing so we can sit in there and have our picnic out of the rain or out of the hot sun if we choose. I can feel, just for one millisecond the air and the breeze. Mostly this flash is about the building. I know where I am when I see that building – Round Lake, Saskatchewan. I am in ‘bear country’ as my mom calls it. This is where my mom grew up and where my parents met.

My mom's mom

My mom’s mom

Moving from my hunched up washing position I stand up and think about what just jumped out at me. I tell myself to file it away to reflect on it later, and go back to work. Only I think about this structure and am curious about why this memory would pop out now and what the significance is of this wooden structure.

Actually, I feel, I don’t think.

This building makes me feel warm. Weiner roasts and my family all together by the water’s edge. My parents relaxed. The lake is quite. There isn’t a beach. You come for the scenery – forest all around you. I have been in forest before. This forest feels different but I can not put why I feel that way into words. Maybe it is because it is my forest. My family has a history with it. I don’t know.

Round Lake is a special place to me. It is a quiet lake. There is a small army base just down from where the campground is. Although I have never seen anyone there and have ever heard the faintest of noise from them. That is the height of activity.

The water is usually so green with algae that no one has ever gone in it. I have never heard of anyone fishing in it either. People have told me on occasion that they have seen it clear. For that is why you walk to the water – too see how bad it is:)

No matter, my mom grew up three kilometers down the road. She has told me stories of how as a young woman she would bring the cows there for water, even in winter, smashing a hole in the ice for them to take a drink.

There are stories of bears. Hunting bears, bear cubs living in their yard, my uncles walking up to bears. Bears. Bears. Bears. So many nature stories. My mom’s brothers and father were big hunters. They hunted bears, rabbits, beavers and muskrats. Funny, now that I think about it, I don’t recall ever hearing them hunt deer or geese which is so common now.

Mom with Dead Beaver

My mom snuggling a kitten with a dead animal on the hood of the car.

My parents met there. While their story ended in divorce their meeting was romantic. My dad had bought land close to the lake campground and was clearing it. My mom would walk the road leading to the lake, picking berries from the shrubs that lined a forest on the opposite side of the farm land. I imagine the berries, a hot summer day, the forest, a young man working hard in the field … They would look at each other, infatuation striking them. Alas, courting would begin.

Mom at her farm

Mom with her horses.

As a child we went there a couple of times. We only camped there once and had an amazing time. My mom and I went there about ten years ago for a trip down memory lane. She wanted to see her old house. It is long gone now and she admits it felt strange to not be able to even walk in the yard. It still felt like it was hers.

Mom and I at Round Lake, Saskatchewan.

Mom and I at Round Lake, Saskatchewan.

Reflecting on the memory flash made me realize how much I care about Round Lake. It isn’t that I have any direct childhood memories but I have lived through my mom’s I suppose. She has so many stories to tell of growing up there. Most are sad and troublesome but they reflect her life. I guess I am attracted to the woman who grew up there. She loved animals and nature, she ran with the wind, she was carefree. Now she is dependent on others opinions of herself, full of vanity, and status. She is so far from nature.  Maybe I hold onto her past for her?

I have digressed. What is my point here?

  1. pay attention to your memories
  2. don’t rationalize your memory bursts but feel them
  3. write about them over and over again until you get all that you need to get out of them

Why the memory of Round Lake would jump out of my subconscious while washing yellow walls I do not know. The fact that my memory was of a building, just a building, shows how little I have of the place on my own accord. My attachment is through my mother. I am thankful for the memory burst as it gave me an opportunity to explore this side of myself. I have often thought of this place, wanting to take my kids there, my nieces and nephews, show them where my mom grew up and where her and dad met. Try and paint the picture for them. I am very attached to my roots.

Care to share any of your memory bursts?

NOTE: Round Lake is the epitome of nature. I tried to google Round Lake to get an image for you but came up with a different Round Lake. If you google-map-it ask for directions from Greenwater Lake to Round Lake. Then you will get the right one. No cottages here.) 

NOTE: I have spent hours writing this post. It has taken me about a week piddling at it every day. Not quite sure what I want to say and exploring it like crazy. These type of posts frustrate me the most. All I had to go on is this darn building and why it is so significant to me. But this memory burst allowed me to really explore my feelings and attachment to this place as well as my relationship with my mother. I still don’t feel done with it. Funny how small things are the hinges to the universe. I urge you to write even when it seems like there is nothing there. You get these bursts for a reason:)

Once a month I lead a storytelling group at a nursing home in Saskatoon, my closest city. I bring a topic with me and a prop or two to aid discussion. I find it thoroughly enjoyable listening to my elders tell there stories and see their faces fill with delight that someone is listening.

In February I went with the theme of love. With Valentines Day approaching at the time I thought it would be great for us to talk about marriage and all the good and bad stuff that goes with it.

Only I lost my way. The problem with finding that you lost your intention is that it happens after the fact. I knew I felt disappointment during our time together but I ignored those feelings because I thought I was experiencing the moment where a time did not meet my expectations.

And this is true, I was experiencing that but this time it was a bit more. My expectations failed because I did not honour my intentions. I wanted to talk about the good and the bad yet I began the conversation passing around a picture of my mom and dad slicing their wedding cake. If you have read any of my other blog posts you will know that their marriage did not end well. It wasn’t horrible but it did end.

I began the topic talking about how charmed their life was at the beginning and left it that way. There was a voice in my head saying to tell the group that they divorced but I didn’t want to be taboo. I said nothing.

As the conversation and time went on I realized it was a struggle to keep everyone on the subject of marriage. People wanted to talk about anything but. I let this go cause perhaps they had other things on their mind they needed to share. After it was over the nursing home coordinator told me that they all have either lost their husbands already, divorced or had bad marriages. Only two at the table were still married. For one of them it was her second husband.

Well, I could have handled that. I have had my experiences of bad marriage – one my own and others I have watched. Even my current marriage is not bliss. So why do I not talk about the bad stuff? Why did I not listen to that tiny voice in me that said “Tell them they divorced and that it broke your heart driving away from your dad as a child” as I passed the picture of them around?

Well, I didn’t want to upset the apple cart which isn’t really like me. I don’t mind upsetting the apple cart if it is to advocate for someone else but I guess I won’t do it where I am involved.  Hmmm… this isn’t a self-help blog.  Well indirectly it is I guess.

What I want to say is that we need honesty. We need to tell the truth and not be shy about being judged. We need to make ourselves vulnerable in our writing and perhaps eventually learn to be vulnerable outside of our writing/storytelling lives.  Also, listen to those voices! They are so smart. I am not talking about ego who will criticize and praise you. I am talking about the other voice, the one that suggests things to you. The one that feels like it is floating and not a weight on your chest. Listen. Be brave.

Do You Believe In Signs?

Prairie Sky

Do you believe in signs? I do. Little ‘reminders’ have been dropping into my life like little packages of food dropped into war-torn countries. Perhaps I am in need of signs as much as those people are in need of food.

Some of my signs include having people randomly like some of my blog posts, start following my blog, “like” my Facebook page, respond to my ad for a memoir writing group, and finally I’ve been asked to write someone’s memoir.

All of these events which seems so small keep popping up in my mailbox like little reminders that say “Memoir writing… Memoir writing… Memoir writing. ” over and over again. Little nudges for me to get back to writing and exploring; thinking and evaluating.

So I’ve asked myself what am I supposed to do? It seems as though the universe is asking me to start writing again but yet I do not have the desire to do so. I buy a book to help motivate me (The Plot Whisperer Book of Writing Prompts by Martha Alderson). I set my alarm to see if I can trick myself into writing by being to tired to know what I am doing. It doesn’t work. My writing-self has not outsmarted my logical-self.

Then I started thinking that maybe I’m not necessarily suppose to write. Maybe I’m supposed to help someone. Maybe I just need to get back into some life-story-rhythm and see what happens.

No, that is not entirely true. Writing is my voice. It is how I make sense of my thoughts. I can feel the writing version of me inside me. She is trapped. She is patient though. Quietly waiting. Sitting in her cage observing me. She watches but I know she is paying keen attention. She is smarter than me.