early sensory memory: a memoir exercise

Friday, February 22, 2013

A few minutes ago, while searching for a slip of paper I had carried home with me from Florence, I found a folder full of exercises I'd given a private student years ago. We'd had a week together, eight hours each day, and I had given every day a name—Childhood Remembered, Place as Poetry, Beyond Life Itself, that sort of thing.  The readings I'd assembled for each day were to serve as both inspiration and prompt.

Oh, I thought, as I rediscovered this folder. I should write a book about teaching, a book that would allow me to celebrate all the books I've loved. Or at least some of them. A fraction.

And then I remembered: I already did.

So here, for those of you seeking a prompt on this day, is a small simple thing. Return to your favorite passages in books (fiction or memoir, even poems—in this case it doesn't matter) that limn an early childhood scene. For my student I chose the early pages of Paul Horgan's The Richard Trilogy, A. Manette Ansay in Limbo, and Sue Monk Kidd from The Secret Life of Bees. We read the pages together and then considered:

* the physical details that surfaced most quickly when my student was asked to remember his childhood home;
* the nature of childhood memories that he considered most dear; and
* the first event in his life that he considered tragic.

He then wrote a fragment of memoir that returned to that time and place.

Here's a paragraph from Sue Monk Kidd to get you started:
At night I would lie in bed and watch the show, how bees squeezed through the cracks of my bedroom wall and flew circles around the room, making that propeller sound, a high-pitched zzzzz that hummed along my skin. I watched their wings shining like bits of chrome in the dark and felt longing build in my chest. The way those bees flew, not even looking for a flower, just flying for the feel of the wind, split my heart down its seam.
For more thoughts on memoirs, memoir making, and prompt exercises, please visit my dedicated Handling the Truth page.


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