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An Occasional Post

Fictoir, Memoir, Memory

Situation: writing workshop. Leader asks participants to describe the bedroom—or the living room—or any room—of the place they lived when they were five. Heads bow and pens scribble or keyboards click.

I cry, or I suddenly need to go to the bathroom, or I begin to whisper and make idiotic remarks to the person next to me as if I were still in Mr. Harrison’s high school biology class, when I and two friends were banished to the back of the room for giggling. (Not for the first time—I was also kicked out of girl scouts for the same reason.)

Why do I react in such a juvenile fashion? Because I have very little memory. I cannot picture those rooms. I cannot remember the names of many of my teachers. I cannot remember my piano lessons, or my ballet classes, or my first librarians, or the books my parents read to me. I have a few scattered images, but maybe they’re from photographs. My memory gaps fill my entire life, in fact.

Can writers write without memory? Apparently it is possible. Evidence: I have done it. But those early childhood memories are so informing, so powerful, so catalytic, that I am extremely envious of those of you who have them—and can remember (for example) the plot and characters of the books you’ve read (forgotten even if I read the book as recently as last week), when you had your colonoscopy (I don’t answer any questions that begin with ‘when’), or whether you are repeating for the umpteenth time some story you are telling to friends (soon to be former friends if it really is the umpteenth time. Unless they are very patient).

Even memories of my beloved summer camp, which I have written about so often here, are vague. At the Big Camp Reunion, others were able to summon specific conversations that occurred decades ago. How do they do it? What happened to me? No trauma, really. And we won’t discuss other possibilities in a public place.

An editor suggested I think about making my novel into a memoir. I can’t. It would be only three pages long. So I have created the term fictoir, and if my novel ever gets published, that’s what I’m going to call it. No doubt others have come up with this term as well, but I made it up all by myself.

Memoirs: I’ve read a lot of them. What? People write about the moment of birth! Their first words! What they wore to a birthday party when they were two!

Worse yet: I am an only child, no siblings, both parents dead, no aunts or uncles. So when I forget something, it’s gone. Gone, I say.

I hope this doesn’t sound like a whine. Not my intention. I am ever so cheery. I mostly remember things I need to. I know the names of my dogs. I’m a lucky person indeed.

But I'm curious. I’d love to hear from any of you who write without a strong memory, as I do. What are your tricks?

On a cheery note, happy spring! Today’s the first real day, so it’s snowing in Vermont. As you know, I love snow.
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