Writing Memories 2

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Writing Memories 2

Thoughts and exercises on the role of memory as we grow and age.
“We are not just writers, we are re-writers.”

“Every attempt
is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
because one has only learnt to get the better of words
for the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
one is no longer disposed to say it.” (T. S. Eliot, East Coker)

Module 1.1: Triumphs

I began this section with a poem, quiet short. When I wrote it, I liked it. I revised it a couple of times. Here it is.

Triumphs

Waking to birdsong in the morning,
making it safely to the bathroom
without tripping on the rug in the hall,
shaving without cutting my face,

getting in and out of the shower
with neither a slip nor a fall,
drying those parts of the body
that are now so difficult to reach,

especially between my far-off toes,
pulling my shirt over wet and sticky
patches still damp from the shower,
negotiating each leg of my pants,

tugging the pulleys of the plastic mold
that allows my socks to glide onto my feet,
forcing swollen toes into undersized shoes,
hobbling to the top of the stairs

and lurching down them, cautiously,
one step at a time … on guard for the cat,
the edge of the steps, the worn patches
where my stick might catch or slip …
one more step, and I’ve made it down.

Commentary: Triumphs in our daily lives. That is the theme for this first module. For many of us, at our age in life, just surviving from day to day is a triumph. I welcome each dawn. I am happy to get out of bed. I love my early morning sit at the computer, my first cup of de-caffeinated green tea, my breakfast. However, I did not know how many of you, if any, wrote prose rather than poetry, so for the purpose of this workshop, I turned my poem into a prose poem by eliminating the line spacing and running the lines together. This is the result. At first it doesn’t seem that different, but really the pieces are now miles apart.

Triumphs [Prose 1]

Waking to birdsong in the morning, making it safely to the bathroom without tripping on the rug in the hall, shaving without cutting my face, getting in and out of the shower with neither a slip nor a fall, drying those parts of the body that are now so difficult to reach, especially between my far-off toes, pulling my shirt over wet and sticky patches still damp from the shower, negotiating each leg of my pants, tugging the pulleys of the plastic mold that allows my socks to glide onto my feet, forcing swollen toes into shoes now much too small, hobbling to the top of the stairs and lurching down them, cautiously, one step at a time … on guard for the cat, the edge of the steps, the worn patches where my stick might catch or slip … one more step, and I’ve made it down.

Commentary: In many ways, it’s the same piece. However, I have eliminated a word or two and expanded on a couple of things. “The olde order changeth lest one good custom should corrupt the world.” (Tennyson, The Idylls of the King, I think. Memory sometimes fails me). Does the poem function as a prose piece? I didn’t think so and I decided to change it.

Triumphs [Prose 2]

    Waking to moonlight in the middle of the night, making it safely to the bathroom without tripping on the rug in the hall, managing to pee without splattering the floor, the seat, the wall, or my pajamas, climbing back into bed, staring at the stars’ diminishing light until I manage to fall back to sleep. Waking to birdsong in the morning, walking to the bathroom without bruising my left arm against the door latch, shaving without cutting my face, getting in and out of the shower with neither a slip nor a fall and without dropping the soap, drying those parts of my body that are now so difficult to reach, especially between those far-off toes that I no longer see with regularity, pulling my shirt over those wet and sticky patches of skin still damp from the shower, negotiating each leg of my pants hanging on to the arm of the rocking-chair so I won’t fall over,  tugging the pulleys of the plastic mold that allows each sock to glide onto my feet, hoping my toe-nails, uncut for so long, will not catch in the wool and that the heel will end up in the right spot, forcing swollen toes into shoes now much too small, hobbling to the top of the stairs and lurching down them, one step at a time, with my stick in one hand and the balustrade in the other, … always on guard for the quick, unsuspected rush of the cat, the edge of the steps, the worn patches where my cane might catch or slip … one more step, and I’ve made it down. The first of today’s tiny triumphs.

Commentary: Which version is best? Does each version improve upon its model? I think that the answer to those questions will vary with each writer / reader. The author of this piece must choose between poetry and prose, between a brief prose version or a longer one, between a fairly straight-forward version and one that employs layered rhetorical techniques.

The most important thing is for the writer to be aware of the possibilities inherent in each of the three versions. Equally important is for the writer to know that s/he can experiment, write, revise, rewrite. In the workshop, I read the third version and invited the participants to write about triumphs in their own lives. I also suggested that they experiment with different forms of writing. Here are some examples.

Suggestions for the writing exercise included in each module:

Write a prose memoir, just reminiscing.

Use 1st, 2nd, or 3rd person narrative.

Choose 6-12 words from the reading and expand on them using associative fields.

Write from an image or a metaphor.

Journal style: automatic writing, but try to select the gems.

Letter style: write to a friend.

It is easy to experiment with pieces such as these. I have used first person singular [I]. Try using the second person [you]. Try using the third person [he or she]. Change the person, change the point of view. Each writer will say something different and add something different when observing from a different position. And it’s fun to take out the personal and add in things that are more objective.

“You awoke to moonlight in the middle of the night. You made it safely to the bathroom without tripping on the rug in the hall. You manged to pee without the sound of floor splatter. When you came back to bed, your pajamas were still dry. When your head hit the pillow, you went straight back to sleep and  started to snore. I lay there staring at the stars, hoping to be visited by sleep.”

The observing “I” creeps in at the end, but it doesn’t have to. Different story, different people. But remember: Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. And remember, too, that writing is fun. If there’s no fun, there’s no future.

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