Remembering is risky business, or so we are warned. We’ve been taught that memories can be dangerous. Who hasn’t been told, “Going back will only bring you hurt,” “You must only move forward” or “You can’t change what happened?”
My role as a writing coach means I’m in the business of memory-tugging. I call it story-pulling because that sounds less painful (and makes me think of taffy.) I spend many coaching hours trying to undo the advice aspiring memoir writers have been given their entire lives.
By the time people seek my help, at a writing workshop, on a Skype call or with a tentative, toe-dipping email; they’ve been embroiled in the wrestling match, mired in the quandary that is at good memoir’s essence for a long time. They tell me that they need help deciding if they want the writing badly enough to revisit their memories. They’ve struggled so long, encumbered by the belief that the act of remembering itself could harm their emotional well being.
Fear gets writers stuck and stops up the flow of ink faster than anything.
Years of working with memoir writers have taught me that remembering is ultimately a self-kindness, with a few exceptions of course. Memories come in all colors and forms. There are typically far fewer gray ones than sunflower yellow ones, far more puppies, hugs and “I love you’s” than mistakes and hurts. But still, going back often feels foreboding, doesn’t it? I find that willing people feel less resistance as pages evolve into drafts complete with setting details, dialogue and action. With gentle pulling at memories, my clients come to see that our wonderful brains dispose of and highlight cherished bits of encoded information in a selective bias.
One of the things I tell my clients is: We should be kinder to our memories. Time doesn’t just heal; it softens the edges of disquieting memories while it pumps up the tones and nuances of the celebratory ones. Remembering can be self-kindness – a boost to our confidence that we should be proud to have survived, a nudge to our hearts to be thrilled that we have been loved so well. This doesn’t just apply to writing about your life, but it does make for a riveting memoir!
Settle into the armchair with your coffee and a notebook and put down whatever keeps popping into your mind. The way the light came through the window, your father’s laugh, the smell of pies baking and a dog’s white breath on a snowy day. Then step by figurative step, pull the next detail from the archives of your mind. Inviting yourself on a walk into the past may be a self-kindness you’ve not known you were waiting for.