While I was vacuuming my family room late last night, I thought about what drives me to write. Like flipping through old photo albums, my memory filled with clear images from the age of three. I let my thoughts freefall, wondering which mental pictures would loom largest.
A pattern emerged — the savoured, inconsequential moments appeared more brilliantly in my memory bank than the important, predictable events in my life.
I can retrieve them at will.
It is fascinating how our minds can be accessed for our written work. I had never consciously realised this mental savouring technique until last night; now I understand why my dreams are easy to remember — I have perfected the art of recollection.
For example, my three-year-old self emerges in my thoughts as vividly as if I were that toddler. I can clearly see myself standing in the driveway of our duplex, four bungalow apartments situated on one lot, in the California San Fernando Valley on a crisp, fall day.
I am wearing a royal blue jacket with wooden barrel buttons and powder blue corduroy pants. My golden brown hair is pulled back in a ponytail, heavy bangs shield my eyes from the sun. In my cupped hands, I am caressing a tiny white mouse with my thumbs, careful not to squeeze too hard.
I carry Mr. Mouse with me everywhere, always pinned into my jacket pocket, his pink nose poking out to sniff the air. Old Mrs. Knight, who lives on a tiny fruit ranch next door, allows Mr. Mouse into her home because she can’t visit with me at her antique dressing table without him in tow. I still remember that mouse as if I had captured his essence with a camera. It is no coincidence that I have been a devotee of animal causes.
Remembering with all senses
It is in these focused snapshots where all of my senses remain sharp.
I remember the click of innocuous moments that weren’t pivotal to the direction of my life, but for some reason the images remain brilliant.
I was sixteen, alone in the house one evening, feeling exhilarated. While cleaning our tiny home that housed six people, it dawned on me: I have my whole glorious life ahead of me and it will be sensational!
The movie, Sex and the Single Girl, with Natalie Wood, was playing on the television. I wore hip-hugger, bell bottom jeans with a white halter top, my long hair parted down the middle. I can even smell the grilled cheese sandwich that was sizzling in a black iron pan on the stove. In the throes of my unabashed adolescence, I willed my life to be spectacular in the click of that moment. I have, indeed, accomplished all my dreams.
At twenty-one, I snapped a mental picture of a stained glass window in an ornate front door in the stately neighborhood of Hampstead Heath, England. I came upon that door by way of a chance encounter with a fellow traveler who invited me to share her flat for a few days before my flight back to the States. I was on my way to the airport that day, after six weeks of solo travel through Western Europe.
With an army-green, aluminum-framed pack strapped to my back, I stroked that antique door one last time. It represented my penchant for travel, world cultures, and living life to the fullest, the stained-glass symbolising my fierce independence.
During my teaching career, I often visited my folks for the weekend. One particular Friday night, just like all the rest of the evenings with my parents, my mother announced her leave to bed before I was ready to retire. I bid my goodnight from the kitchen table where I was grading papers.
When I looked up at the darkened picture window, I caught my mother’s reflection. I took a mental snapshot of her walking toward the hallway in her blue cotton nightgown.
A sudden thought took my breath away: Someday, I won’t be able to watch my mother walk down that hallway. That was forty years ago. My mother, at 89, is still hobbling down that hallway to her bedroom in a similar blue nightgown.
All I see is her youth reflected in that same window.
A treasure trove of moments
When I mark the joyful and sad moments of my life with a sacred appreciation, my senses never dim. I recently told a fellow blogger to play with her memories when she lamented her mother’s loss.
I explained how I replay my memories in chronological order of my life in bed, just before sleep arrives. Invariably, a buried memory comes alive, visiting my dreams.
When memories and dreams collide, there is no end to the creativity of our imaginings.
As writers, we can build a treasure trove of these savoured moments to try on, mix and match, and present on the runways of our stories.