“A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory.” Leonard Nimoy posted this as his last comment on Twitter before his passing into the great beyond this week… a place where he is probably right at home. OK, he didn’t specifically refer to memoir writing but his words are such a perfect description of how we can use memoir writing to keep our life garden blooming and renewing.
Our memory is a technological miracle. It records every experience we have. Before the age of two, most of these experiences imprint as a sensation that remains in the body, a feeling that may arise later without our thinking it’s connected to anything from the past. It is a somatic, pre-cognitive memory. Around two years old, our memories become more cognitive and our memory may include a feeling that arises as well as images, words, messages. I saw this happen for the first time when my grandson Bodi was almost 18 months. Being a twin, it was not that noteworthy that his brother Asher bonked him on the head with a plastic car. What was extraordinary was that I saw the original event, then about a half hour later Bodi came over to me and re-enacted the event accompanied by his adorable but unrecognizable vocabulary. “Eh, eh,” he said, grabbing the sleeve of Asher’s t-shirt. Then he tapped himself on the head with his fist in the very spot Asher has previously bonked. Aha, from being just in the moment to moment experience to a narrative about something that occurred earlier. Cognitive memory!
Most of our memories just languish in the so-called subconscious, perhaps a great lake full of forgotten moments that lie on the bottom harmlessly letting time wash over them. Some memories remain with us because we took an interest when they occurred though they are neutral. And others are highly charged because they were pivotal moments and accompanied by strong feelings, positive or negative.
When we write about our memories, they emerge from their buried sleep and come back to life with a chance to evolve again. They are like the perennial flowers that seem to have died but awaken again the following spring. They draw their life force from a bulb or tuber stored in the ground over the winter. When they push their green shoots back into the sunlight, they keep their essential nature but can manifest in a fresh and new array.
Over and over in my memoir writing classes, I hear people say, “I haven’t thought of that in years,” or “I see it differently from this perspective,” or “I feel like I am right there living it again but I have my wise self with me.” When I wrote my own memoir about the search for my mother’s past, I felt like a re-opened my relationship with my mother and it got to evolve over the next decade and come to a new understanding and connection. By the way, The Woman in the Photograph is back on Kindle both for sale and free as part of Kindle Subscribe.
I will continue on this theme of how memoir writing can change your life in the months ahead. For now, thanks Dr. Spock. Live Long and Prosper.