Tag Archive | memory

Music Takes Me Back – Camp Marcella 1993

campmarcellarechallindexOn the Sunday that marked the midway point of the camp session, the routine changed. We got to sleep in an extra hour, and after breakfast, we had Sunday Morning Program. Phil opened the program with a new song, a slower song than the whale song or “Great Balls of Fire” or the aorta song.

“Welcome to my morning
Welcome to my day
I’m the one responsible
I made it just this way
I made myself some pictures
To see what they might bring
I think I made it perfectly
I wouldn’t change a thing
La-la-la, La-la-la-la-la-la…”

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Writing as Memory Window – Blue Alchemy 2

Sometimes memoir writing transforms your memory. The summer that I was fifteen, my friend Hope, who I’d known for a few years, ran away from blind camp with three guy friends during an overnight camping trip in the woods. They had planned this escape for a year and once they were found, they were all kicked out of camp. I thought I’d never see Hope again. Years later, writing about my summers at blind camp, I wanted to write about this incident but I couldn’t remember how I found out that Hope ran away. I talked with other friends from blind camp but nothing jarred my memory. I started writing about that summer, starting from arriving at Fox Cabin with its blue vinyl couches and orange, white and yellow checked curtains.

As I got closer in the writing to Monday, the night Hope went missing, I decided to just make it up. How I found out wasn’t that important to the overall story, I reasoned. I remembered that our cabin had shucked corn early that afternoon for a cookout we were having that night and I was just going to write in someone coming up to us while we were in the back of the dining hall complaining about the corn. But then, as I wrote into the scene, felt the New Jersey early August heat, remembered the bales of corn, recalled my friend Robyn doing Beavis and Butthead impressions, it suddenly came to me. It was later that afternoon, after we were done with the corn. We were having free swim, frolicking in the L-shaped, cyan-colored pool when Molly, the arts and crafts instructor, called me over to the side of the pool and asked if I knew where Hope might go if she was upset and wanted to get away. That’s how I found out she was missing. Nothing I had tried had helped me remember except writing right into it.

~~~

Here’s another little excerpt from “Blue Alchemy.” Read a previous excerpt here. This is an essay that’s about memoir writing, and how memory and writing both get transformed in the process. And this little snippet is about how the act of writing can help us remember.

Don’t forget you can find other Friday samples here, and you can always read Older Works and Published pieces.

~Emilia J

Writing as Time Travel – Blue Alchemy 1

Writing about your own past is surreal. You’re reliving it. You’re at Fox Cabin at blind camp with the blue vinyl couches in the living room and the orange, white and yellow checked curtains in the bedrooms. You’re eight years old, unable to sleep because you’re terrified of your parents because Mom was getting hysterical again today and maybe this time she’ll really lose it or Dad’s smoldering rage will erupt, so you’re reading Nancy Drew by the night of your night light. You’re riding King County Metro after being rejected from both blood plasma donation for cash (your temperature was too low) and staying at the Green Tortoise Hostel for work-trade, knowing you only have three days until you and your roommates get evicted. You stare out the window watching as the bus passes through the hilly streets of downtown Seattle, thinking dark thoughts like maybe homelessness would suit you because you’ve always felt like an orphan anyway. You’re skulking by a payphone outside 7-11 in the outskirts of Seattle while your roommate is across the parking lot buying pot. You’re swimming in Puget Sound, not long after sunset, and the water is so cold that you’ve never felt more alive, and it suddenly, truly, deeply feels like all you’ve been through was somehow worth it to be here now, in the water, your limbs feeling heavier as you get closer to shore, and you’re unable to stop looking back at the cerulean dusk and the fading pink on the western horizon.

You’re all of these places but you’re also sitting on your bed writing in your little room with your books and notebooks stacked in milk crates, your window slightly open to let in the sounds of the Orcas ocean and the slow creak of cedar trees swaying in the wind, trying not to think about the boy who lives down the hall from you or the girl in his room. Or you’re writing in the fluffy brown chair in your apartment, wondering if you should get rid of it because your ex-boyfriend left it when he went to jail and do you really need any more reminders of him? But on the other hand it really fits the color scheme of your room and is really comfortable to write in.

In the story you are writing it might be fall while in reality when you are writing it, it’s summer solstice. And yet, the more you write, the more you swear that the light coming in through your windows is so distinctly autumnnal. You can almost smell the foliage.

There is something haunting about being in more than one experience at once. It’s like how it felt when I first came home from college after months of being away. Walking into the living room with its dark blue patterned furniture and light blue pleated blinds felt almost like an out-of-body experience. Everything was always slightly off from what I remembered, like all the colors or the feelings I associated with them had all made the slightest of wavelength shifts on the electromagnetic spectrum, just a few angstroms, nothing you could quite articulate or measure but sense nonetheless. Writing memoir is like that, I’m in two places in time, two times at once, memory and present tense, and they are so distinct and yet so muddled that it’s hard to tell which one I’m living in more.

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For more samples, look here.

This is an excerpt from my most recent piece of writing, a personal essay called “Blue Alchemy,” about writing memoir, and the slipperiness of writing and memory.

~Emilia J

Perils, Pitfalls and Pleasures of Writing Memoir

Writing about your own life is like walking through murky water. On one hand, you are employing some of the techniques of fiction. Dialogue. Description. Setting. Character Development. Theme. Symbolism. Story arc and plot. Scene, scene, scene. Internal monologue. All of these come into play. And then there are the smaller, detail-oriented things like cadence, sentence variation, and playing with language in an artful way that expresses what you want to say.

And yet, it’s not fiction.  There are limits on all of the above elements (except perhaps the language and sentence levels). Your dialog has to match, more or less, the dialogue as you remember it from real life. Your character development is limited to how much you’ve developed your insights and observations about the people around you, how closely and in how many dimensions you’ve paid attention.

Your story arc often won’t fit the more linear traditional arc. That can be one of the trickier things to work with. I think you do need a fair amount of crafting to make the raw material of your life into a story worth telling. You can’t just vomit out exactly as you remember it happening because life is so messy that your story would end up that way too. At the same time, I think it’s dangerous to control the messiness too much, to work too hard to fit things into and expected and accepted story arc. Doing so can push you too far into fiction. There has to be a balance between free-flowing creative energy and craft. And the more you write, the more both come naturally.

More on writing memoir