Introduction to Memories
One of the hardest things to do when one begins writing their own story is asking, “What about my life is so important that anyone else would be interested in it?” This is why the need for cultural content; because even if the event doesn’t seem important, why the event happened usually is. What makes any event memorable? Usually the answer has to do with the senses, emotion, times, people, and the circumstances involved in the phenomenon.
As you start on your journey of remembering, remember that all of those stored up memories have shaped the person that you have become. You have internalized those memories; and they tell you what you have done over your lifetime. Memories will connect you with people and places that have crossed your path over time. They will tell you who has touched your life, both for good or bad, or neutral. Memories will also remind you of the lives that you may have touched in some special way, too. Unlike other animals, memories are crucial to being human. We remember the past, create memories in the present, and our memories affect our future.
The following memory joggers will help you to think about, visualize, and ponder those events that have somehow stayed in your memory. Be aware that there are memories hiding that you have not accessed for a very long time. Some may be painful, but others will be joyful. This is your life; and we know that reality is often both painful and joyful – and sometimes even at the same time. Some of the joggers are obvious, like where were you born? Others are not so obvious – and you may have a few of your own that jump out at you as you read through the lists below.
Childhood and Beyond
1) What is your birth date? When were you born and where? What were circumstances?
2) Who are your siblings? Where do you fit in the scheme of births? Did your parents play favorites?
3) What were your parents doing when you were born? Did they both work? Was your Mom home?
4) Think hard to claim your earliest memory. What were you doing? Who were you with? Where?
5) What was your childhood like? Were you happy? Were your parents happy? Where did you live?
6) Describe yourself during your early childhood. What were the relationships to your siblings like?
7) Did you interact with extended family members? Aunts? Uncles? Grandparents? Cousins?
8) What about vacations? Where did you go? Who went with you? How did you travel?
9) Did you have best friends? How would your friends have described you? What did you look like?
10) Were your parents divorced? Was it civil? Did you end up living in a blended family situation?
World Events and Your Story
Many of the memory joggers above are about culture. The year you were born must have had many world events going on that were important. World events are more about culture than anything else, unless they are natural catastrophic events. We may not realize how much those things play into our everyday lives and thoughts, when we are children.
For instance on September 11, 2001 most every television in America was replaying the scenes from the terrible tragedy that was a terrorist attack in New York City. The one video clip that seemed to never end was the second airplane hitting the second tower. It just kept happening over and over, the same plane flying into the same building as it exploded. Click on the pictures for a larger view.
A few weeks later my daughter took her two sons to the park to play. While they were playing, one of her boys pointed up to the sky where an airliner was flying overhead, and asked his mom, “Is that plane going to fly into those buildings?” As adults, we knew it for what it was, a one-time thing; but the children did not put it into that perspective. It was a memory they associated with all airplanes at the time. So world events are very important as a background to your stories. They make your story real.
Siblings or no siblings play a huge part in who we are. An only child’s life is very different from those children’s lives who are born into large families. In large families there are many more moments of drama, which affect both personalities and play times. Scrutinize (observe) these events and write the details down as accurately as you remember them.
Parents’ lives are very important to how a baby is welcomed into the world. If parents are married, or not married; if they are happy or not happy; if they are rich or if they are poor. If the child is anticipated with excitement, or just the opposite. These are cultural things that matter in a child’s life. Were you born into a religious or non-religious home? Were parents the same or different religions? How was the relationship between you and your parents; between your siblings and your parents? Do you think you are like either of your parents? Why? or Why not? Which parent do you cling to the most, respect the most, admire the most? Which one did you want to be like? Do you feel you are like either one of them?
As you begin to collect items, thoughts related to those items will be important for your autobiography. You will find that your life fits into stages; early childhood, adolescence, young adult, college, marriage and family, profession, etc. However, don’t try to move too fast from stage to stage. This is where participant observation is extremely important. You have already participated in those events, but now you have a chance to stand back and observe them in a way that you couldn’t when you were an actor in the event.
Observe each stage of your life very carefully, sort through all the photos, letters, documents, etc. that have to do with each stage. Sort them out and take a lot of “field notes,” for these will be very important as you move from stage to stage.
Within each stage you may even find themes that seem to jump out within those stages. Let those themes percolate – and ponder them – noting the details of culture that will make your story come alive for yourself (again), and those that may read it after you are gone.