Posted by Kathleen Pooler /@kathypooler with Jane Hertenstein
“Our memory is a more perfect world than the universe: it gives back life to those who no longer exist.”
― Guy de Maupassant
I am very pleased to introduce you to Author Jane Hertenstein. Jane teaches memoir writing, leads a critique group, and volunteers at a homeless shelter where she facilitates a creative writing workshop for the women residents.
Her blog, Memoirous, is about memories. Her main concern is about “helping people put black on white, ink on paper. The rest—we can sort out later.” (from her website)
Jane is also the author of 70 published stories. Her latest book, Flash Memoir: Writing Prompts to Get You Flashing, and the role memory plays in writing are featured today.
Flash Memoir: Writing Prompts to Get You Flashing
What sparks memory? Something as simple as a whiff of lilac can summon up a scene from our past. That one memory may lead to others, setting off a cascade until suddenly we are lost. Remembering can be a type of daydreaming—or for others self-torture from which they can never escape.
Thank God there are limits to memory.
With long-term memory we are able to reach back to a pool of memories. Be they collective or individual, there are things we simply know. Some of us, mostly husbands, are afflicted with short-term memory, the ability to hold a certain amount of information for only a short time. Whether long or short, many of us contrive to retain a to-do list or study for tests or to order flowers for a special birthday. This is working memory.
Yet what about those memories which come to us unbidden, at the most inconvenient times, random, without logic? I call this flashing. Synapses set in motion or triggered by seemingly unrelated external prompts.
The five senses are some of the strongest agitators of memory. Recall Proust in In Search of Lost Time or also known as Remembrance of Things Past where he writes about involuntary memory instigated by a simple cookie. Dunking a tea biscuit can easily lead one on a journey into the past. Some call this nostalgia or déjà vu. Sometimes memories are aroused by conversation with another or with relatives around a table at Christmas time.
One thing is sure: We often have no control over what we remember or forget. Because of trauma some memories are suppressed or hidden until awoken by similar tragedy or uncovered by psychoanalysis.
Which leads us to false and true memories. Always our memories will be challenged by objective reality, by others. My sister will remember the exact same event much differently than me. Her perspective can accommodate or lend another aspect to the event, or run completely counter. I am not a psychologist or neurologist, able to point out which lobes or parts of the brain are in charge of what, though I know the hippocampus is thought to be the center of memory—and emotion. Much of what we remember is emotionally charged. Anne Sexton is quoted as saying: “It doesn’t matter who my father was; it matters who I remember he was.”
Sometimes this is all we have, and we must begin there.
Word counts vary, but generally flash is thought to be 1,000 words or less. Some journals in their submission guidelines can be very specific. Smokelong for instance asks for flash that can easily be consumed in the amount of time it takes to finish a cigarette. Flash as a form can be applied to almost any genre. There are flash mysteries. Postcard flash might only be about travel—you are limited to the amount of space typically taken up by the back of a postcard. Flash foodies write very small about . . . FOOD.
I write flash memoir.
In my new eBook Flash Memoir: Writing Prompts to Get You Flashing I offer over 90 pages of prompts and examples along with other resources to get the memoirist remembering. And, not just that, but writing. Using a process I call Write Right Now, I encourage readers to do just this: build a portfolio of small flash memories that will eventually be expanded upon or become the foundation for a scene. Memories are the building blocks to most everything we write.
For some of us sitting down to transcribe or pen a memoir can be an overwhelming task. I recommend approaching it in bite-size pieces or rather applying flash. By freeze framing a moment, a memory, like a camera snapshot, and dwelling there you are creating the foundation for longer memoir, a jumping off place to expand upon later. (see my other eBook, Freeze Frame: How to Write Flash Memoir)
The nice thing about flash is that it can be unresolved. There often isn’t enough space/word count to fully explore the memory. And, like so many of our memories, there is an undercurrent of lose threads, fuzzy blurred beginnings and endings with little or no significance. They simply are.
So write right now. Why not attempt a sketch, your impressions. Compose an impressionistic scene, a loose rendition of a recent experience or memory. The essence of the ordinary, though humble, reveals an extraordinary life. One built upon sublime moments that may add up to an epic memoir. If only you begin.
Write right now.
Sit down and recall all the places you’ve ever lived. There will likely be more than one anecdote produced from each place, record them. By brainstorming you stay in the moment. Later you can go back and fill in the blanks.
I have vague memories of falling into a ditch filled with water and my mother fishing me out. Or was it the story I heard her tell so often. “Janie fell into a culvert and one of the neighbor kids came and got me. I imagine Mom running like hell, hoping I’m still alive, only to pull me out and spank me and then hold me tight. We moved several times, so I had a plethora of memories from which to draw.
I wrote about a specific memory and then realized I could cut it, whereupon I submitted it as a 50-word vignette. Here from 50-Word Stories:
I was a childhood insomniac. Sometimes in the middle of the night, the quietest hour before dawn, I’d slip out of my bed and drop out the window to the spongy dew-grass—and under the wan light of the moon I’d twirl, my night dress lifting like a gypsy dancer.
Jane Hertenstein is the author of close to 70 published stories, a combination of fiction, creative non-fiction, and blurred genre both micro and macro. In addition she has published a YA novel, Beyond Paradise and a non-fiction project, Orphan Girl: The Memoir of a Chicago Bag Lady, which garnered national reviews. Jane is a 2-time recipient of a grant from the Illinois Arts Council. She also is in demand as a seminar teacher for Flash Memoir. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in: Hunger Mountain, Rosebud, Word Riot, Flashquake, Fiction Fix, Frostwriting, and several themed anthologies. She lives in Chicago where she facilitates a “happening” critique group.
Jane can be found at http//memoirouswrite.blogspot.com.
We begin with a sudden memory, follow it to see where it leads. Yet so many of us tend to ignore these flashes. We think later yet later on we might have forgotten or lost the relevance of the moment, the urgency that led us there. I recommend a process I call write right now. In the amount of time it takes you to brush your teeth, you can jot down the memory and an outline which can be filled in later. The prompts in this book are designed to spur memories, to get you writing. I’ll also direct you to resources, authors to read and study, and places to submit.
Thank you, Jane for sharing how “memories are the building block for everything we write” and for encouraging us to “write right now”. The idea that these vignettes can lead to a larger work makes the task of memoir writing seem more manageable.
How about you? How do you recapture your memories when you write?
We’d love to hear from you. Please join in the conversation!
“Finding Voice in Memoir: A Memoir Moment”
“Why Write a Book Such as My Eye Fell Into The Soup? by Denis Ledoux
Denis is the founder of The Memoir Network and has written a series of books about his wife Martha, who died of breast cancer. My Eye Fell Into The Soup is his latest story about his wife’s breast cancer diagnosis and includes her journal entries and his responses.