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Memory is a slippery thing. It can fade with time and it’s often subjective. I’ve been reading a bit about writing memoir lately and one of the things that writers often struggle with as they attempt it, is the fact that what one person remembers may not be at all similar to what others remember about the same event. No two people will see a thing the same way and sometimes those we write about may not agree with our perspective.
This became apparent to me when I wrote a piece about my mom called Dancing in the Kitchen, published in A Second Cup of HotApple Cider. I gave the book to my mom as a gift. She said nothing about the story so while visiting one day I asked if she liked it. “Yes,” she said, “but that’s not how I remember it.”
When I asked her to explain she said she didn’t think the incident was in any way significant. But to me, the moment when my mom taught my two small daughters how to tap dance, even though she had a brace on her leg and a cane in her hand, was a moment I will never forget. It was my memory. My job was to record what I felt at that moment.
Sometimes memories can be blocked or change significantly if a traumatic event has happened. And then there are all those pesky details to worry about – did that walk out of the jungle in Papua New Guinea take five hours or six? When did my mother start working out of our home? It seemed she always did, but my sister says she didn’t start until I was in school.
All of these things can prevent a writer from trying to write memoir because they are afraid they won’t get it right. Or perhaps there are things they would rather not have written down in black and white.
I had those fears until I attended a short workshop with Sigmund Brouwer and his wife, Cindy Morgan, just after Sigmund’s book Thief of Glory, (a story based on his father’s life), was published. Sigmund talked about the fact that memoir is not autobiography. Not every detail needs to be, nor should be, recorded, and if some of the details aren’t true, that’s okay. Being true to yourself and to your own memories, and to the story, is what’s key. Sigmund commentedd that what you leave out is sometimes just as important as what you leave in and will be determined by what you want your readers to feel.
As I wrote my play, A Pattern in Blue, about my father’s experience during WW2, I was very conscious of trying to get it right, trying to fit all the scattered pieces of that historical event together into a whole that would tell my father’s story and move those who read it or saw it on the stage. At times I despaired of ever getting it exactly right. I was careful with the historical detail but how could I really know what my father felt as he stood at the gates of Bergen-Belsen? How could I really know what he felt in the psychiatric hospital where he spent several months?
I had to imagine it. The story has been told. It has been read and seen on a stage and the response of those who saw it told me that I accomplished what I set out to do. I told the truth as I believed it would have been.
It’s all about the story. It’s all about making it come alive for the reader and audience.
It’s all about memory ... but then, it’s not.
Marcia Lee Laycock writes from central Alberta Canada where she is a pastor's wife and mother of three adult daughters. She was the winner of The Best New Canadian Christian Author Award for her novel, One Smooth Stone. The sequel, A Tumbled Stone was short listed in The Word Awards. Marcia also has two devotional books in print and has contributed to several anthologies. Her work has been endorsed by Sigmund Brouwer, Janette Oke, Phil Callaway and Mark Buchanan.
Abundant Rain, an ebook devotional for writers can be downloaded on Smashwords or on Amazon. It is also now available in Journal format on Amazon.
Her most recent release is the first book in a fantasy series, The Ambassadors
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