Sometimes memoir writing transforms your memory. The summer that I was fifteen, my friend Hope, who I’d known for a few years, ran away from blind camp with three guy friends during an overnight camping trip in the woods. They had planned this escape for a year and once they were found, they were all kicked out of camp. I thought I’d never see Hope again. Years later, writing about my summers at blind camp, I wanted to write about this incident but I couldn’t remember how I found out that Hope ran away. I talked with other friends from blind camp but nothing jarred my memory. I started writing about that summer, starting from arriving at Fox Cabin with its blue vinyl couches and orange, white and yellow checked curtains.
As I got closer in the writing to Monday, the night Hope went missing, I decided to just make it up. How I found out wasn’t that important to the overall story, I reasoned. I remembered that our cabin had shucked corn early that afternoon for a cookout we were having that night and I was just going to write in someone coming up to us while we were in the back of the dining hall complaining about the corn. But then, as I wrote into the scene, felt the New Jersey early August heat, remembered the bales of corn, recalled my friend Robyn doing Beavis and Butthead impressions, it suddenly came to me. It was later that afternoon, after we were done with the corn. We were having free swim, frolicking in the L-shaped, cyan-colored pool when Molly, the arts and crafts instructor, called me over to the side of the pool and asked if I knew where Hope might go if she was upset and wanted to get away. That’s how I found out she was missing. Nothing I had tried had helped me remember except writing right into it.
Here’s another little excerpt from “Blue Alchemy.” Read a previous excerpt here. This is an essay that’s about memoir writing, and how memory and writing both get transformed in the process. And this little snippet is about how the act of writing can help us remember.
Don’t forget you can find other Friday samples here, and you can always read Older Works and Published pieces.
- Writing as Time-Travel – Blue Alchemy
- The Colors – Dark As Roses
- Albino – Seeing and Not Seeing 2
- Memoir Labyrinth – Write Through Series – Number 1 (wordscomeezine.wordpress.com)
- National Novel Writing Month is here again! (susanscribes.wordpress.com)
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I love that you don’t remember how you found out about your friend being missing, and your honesty about it. The border between memoir and fiction really is less a line than a DMZ of sorts. How’s the NaNo going? I’m 4400 words in on Day 4, and having fun with a totally new character. Peace…
Yeah it was pretty amazing that the only way I remembered was writing about it. Nothing else worked. I’m finding that in my NaNo project too (writing about a certain someone in my life and I’m sure you know who I mean). It wasn’t even that long ago, but through writing about it, so many more details are coming back!
I’m only at about 2100 so far, so I’ve got my work cut out for me! Who’s your new character?