Having a quick coffee with my youngest brother this morning, I gained new insights into the phenomena of collective memory and personal memoir, one of the things I’m writing, writing about, and researching and presenting as part of my work as a Writer-in-Residence at Strathcona County Library.
To boil it down, I realized perspective is everything and our memories, despite being shared with family members, are as unique as the markings on our own skin. What events struck and stayed with me, in those long, and decidedly dark, night of our shared childhood, flew off my brother’s back or imprinted upon him in an entirely different way. We may well have been raised by separate parents: an odd fact, given the scant year and a half that separates our births.
But this is the mystery of memoir. As Betsy Warland so eloquently put it in her instructive book Breathing the Page, “Our memory is our material.” And, perhaps our material is also our memory. In looking further into something I’m calling “the ownership of experience,” the who-sees-what-and-why, I’ve discovered there exists a different and more profound symbolic truth in the necessary inventions that support the unequivocally true memory (if such a thing exists). This is what shapes our writing, gives us the greater truth that underpins all good memoirs. It’s as though in the writing we discover what it is we want to say. And, here’s, the rub: the inevitable inventions around memory are as essential as the windy, vague, punctured, whirling memory bank itself.
Come to my first RWiR workshop, How to Write About Your Family….and Still Have One, Thursday January 16th at SCLibrary to engage in dialogue about this incredibly interesting topic and explore your own collective memories.
“One thing I do know for sure,” said my brother, at the conclusion of our enlivening coffee conversation. “You’ve sure got the title of your workshop right. You’ve written about us, and you still have us.”
Reassuring, but, maybe, I’m remembering it wrongly and that’s not what he said at all.