Marching to the Beat
I magine, for a moment, that you have just given a child his first traditional (versus digital) camera, complete with several rolls of film. Imagine, too, that the child already knows how to look through the viewfinder and how to push the button that releases the shutter and snaps the picture. What he doesn’t know is how to find good subjects to photograph. So, after wasting several rolls of film on meaningless objects that no one else cares to look at, he comes back to you. Now he asks how to find subjects that others may want to see, simply because the subjects are so different, or so similar, to what they know.
You could tell the child that there is a process called trial and error and that he’ll learn, as time goes by, what types of subjects make good pictures. Or you could pick up the camera and say, “Like this,” as you click a close-up of the questioning look on his face. Of course, showing is much more effective than telling, and that’s exactly what I hope to do in this book—to show, rather than tell, how anyone short of having a diagnosed memory problem can find good writing materials for their personal journals and/or memoirs.
This book is merely one more attempt to answer the age-old questions posed by every would-be writer who actually wants to put pen to paper: Where do you get your ideas? or How do you find so many things to write about? Either of which might be interpreted as Show me how you do it so that I can do it too. Enter, the beat of the “show, don’t tell” drum that sets the tone and synchronizes the steps of writers who’ve learned that anything short of showing how to find things to write about leaves would-be writers hanging from the threads of their next thoughts: that they don’t have any interesting experiences to write about; or that they can’t remember enough of their past to write about it. On the contrary, I believe that even children who have lived in this world and are capable of reading and writing have something to write about, if not for the whole world to read, at least for their own satisfaction and as a way of preserving whatever history they have experienced. Their only problem lies in thinking that their experiences don’t count.
My husband and I had a dear poet friend (a poet buddy, we called him) who had experienced a whopping measure of history, including years of military service during World War II. But, although he wrote beautiful Edgar Guest type poetry that everyone loved and waited to hear, he rarely read one of his poems aloud without apologizing for it first, even as he was making his way to the microphone. I often gave him a friendly scolding for putting himself and his poetry down.
When he claimed that he had nothing more to write about, I could only imagine the oodles of childhood memories and wartime experiences that he wasn’t writing about. And sure enough, when he died unexpectedly, those of us who had heard him speak so modestly of himself and his poetry were shocked to find that he had received several military medals, including the Purple Heart.
We all have memories that are too painful to write about, simply because we can’t distance ourselves from them. Until we can, those memories are best left alone. However, for those of you who do want to write about past experiences but think you’ve already lost too many memories to make that possible, or that you have little or nothing interesting to write about, my goal is to show that some (or most) of your memories may not be lost at all. They may just be waiting for you to reveal their hiding places, to bring them out into the light and record them in any way you see fit.
The Getting the Picture exercises throughout this book are aimed at doing just that—literally getting you up out of your chair to search for forgotten memories because, whether you draw from the past, concentrate on the present, or dream about the future, there are memories out there to write about. The challenge lies in finding those that have, until now, been lying just beyond your reach, in some secret corner of your mind; in dragging them out into the open, kicking and screaming, if necessary; and in preserving them to the best of your ability. As you’re about to see, memories do hide in all sorts of places.…
As an added incentive, you may want to consider reserving a special binder for your Getting the Picture exercises.
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