Memoir: Gaining Hindsight Might Change Your Future

By: Marilyn L. Davis

Start with your childhood, I tell them. Plug your nose and jump in, and write down all your memories as truthfully as you can. Flannery O’Connor said that anyone who has survived childhood has enough material to write for the rest of his or her life.

Maybe your childhood was grim and horrible, but grim and horrible is okay if it is well done. Don’t worry about doing it well yet, though. Just get it down.”  Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Confessing: Risky Business or Healing?

once-upon-a-time-in-pencil-2Why do we need to have a cathartic experience Taken from the Greek word,  κάθαρσις, it is the purification and purging of emotions, especially self-pity, and fear. Both of those emotions and attitudes can prevent us from becoming all that we can be, find closure on our past, or replace resentments with understanding.
Socrates’ statement that “The unexamined life is not worth living”, demonstrates early understanding of the benefits of examining our nature to change our actions; thus preventing what another philosopher, Santayana predicted, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
However, our memories of the past do not fade so much over time but become facts. The memories are often distorted and shaded by other experiences, wishes for how it could have been, or stories we tell to elicit responses and reactions from others.
We do not necessarily remember what happened; today, we remember what we present, altered by our subsequent life experiences or to validate our past feelings and thoughts.

I’ll Tell You Mine, If You Tell Me Yours

I was four and beginning to understand the concept of writing.  I loved books from a young age.  I knew that the black squiggly lines represented words that told me a story or described the picture. My mother read to me daily, and although I could not read all of the words, I knew the word, “cat.” Each person begins learning somewhere.
As Christmas approached, my mother explained to me that we would have a special day together; just the two of us going for lunch and to see Santa. She told me that I could make a list of things I wanted from Santa and gave me a piece of her stationery. I was so excited and felt important. I sat at the dining room table and started making loops and lines on the pink surface.  No, you couldn’t read them, but I knew what they represented.
When my day arrived; I was dressed up in a red coat and mittens. I remember having to take my mittens off to get my list for Santa into my pocket. Now, I was ready to go. Before we went to see him, we ate in the tea room. I ordered the chicken; served in a covered milk-glass casserole dish.  The bottom of the dish, filled with mashed potatoes and chicken, with fresh peas, neatly ringing the edge was reminiscent of grass and eggs.

half-doll for dessert

For dessert, I got The Snow Princess— an ice cream scoop decorated with whipped cream and sugar flowers, then topped with a china half-doll figurine and a tiny paper parasol. At forty-one, I vividly remembered this meal.

After lunch, I got my crumpled, sweaty list for Santa out of my coat pocket. I did not want to forget anything when I visited Santa.  When it was my turn, I unfolded my list. I knew Santa would be impressed with this written summation of all that I wanted for Christmas.

Instead of taking my note, Santa asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I told him all of the things, with the most important being a puppy.  Santa asked me if I had been a good girl, and in that self-serving voice of all, regardless of age, I informed him, “I have been very good.”  He told me that since I had been very good, I would get everything on my list. I got down and returned to my mother.

For weeks after this visit, my parents asked me what I had told Santa I wanted for Christmas.  A straightforward child, I informed them that I had already told Santa what I wanted.

On Christmas morning, I ran down the stairs; I could smell bacon cooking and knew that my mother would want us to eat before we opened presents. My baby sister was in her high chair at the table, and without food, would not be content very long, yet another nuisance as far as I was concerned. I went into the kitchen and asked to open my presents.  My mother gave in and told me I could open one and then we would have breakfast and open the rest after our meal. I ran to the living room and checked out the presents.

In our family, only parents wrapped presents; Santa’s were without trappings, so it was apparent that there was no puppy. I immediately got mad at Santa.  He told me I would get everything I wanted, and I specifically told him a puppy, and there was not one.

That jolly, fat, cheerful favorite of children everywhere was a liar.

Only when writing my life history for my recovery, did I wonder about a few of the situations the resulted from that day. When I was writing about this experience, I asked my parents about it; not for their interpretation of my feelings or thoughts, but for their recollection. Both of my parents were surprised that I could remember that event. My mother told me that she and my father tried numerous times to get me to tell them what I wanted for Christmas. Each of them felt badly that they had no idea what I wanted for Christmas, and as my mother pointed out, only I could read the squiggly lines on my list.

It struck me at that moment, thirty-seven years later, that I had probably set in motion many situations in my life where I felt disappointed, hurt, resentful, and distrusting due to my assumptions, lack of awareness, and stubbornness.
If it happened at four, the likelihood of this pattern continuing in my life seemed like a safe bet. 
At that moment, I knew that I wanted to explore my life as the child writing, and the adult reflecting. I also reflected on J.D. Stroube: “All that is left to bring you pain are the memories. If you face those, you’ll be free. You can’t spend the rest of your life hiding from yourself; always afraid that your memories will incapacitate you, and they will if you continue to bury them.”
I knew that these introspective writings would help me live a better life, stop using drugs and alcohol to cover up, and to perhaps one day be able to tell a story that would allow another to tell theirs.
Many people write on websites and have blogs.  If you are one of those, reflective writing or a journal may be yet another way for you to write your memoir, tell a story that inspires, enlightens, and helps another in their quest to get better or even read it and learn how to write a better memoir.

 Two Drops of Ink: The Literary Home for Collaborative Writing



    • As always Marilyn, not only have you given me an education through your writing. I have gained valuable insight for me. I am amazed how much I have learned from self reflection. Your story inspires me to share mine. Thanks

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