Updated: Sep 11, 2019
There are a number of approaches to writing life-story, and we tried three of them in Tuesday's session:
1. An excellent warmup is to freewrite from the phrase 'I remember'. A list, mindmap or stream of consciousness can provide a good resource of material that can later be developed and shaped.
I remember . . . my father used to takes us to the hills and mountains of the Scottish Highlands, usually on a Sunday. Us being my mother and my three sisters Anne, Susan and Jean. Ski-ing was often on the agenda, my dad being in the ski club. We’d go to place like Glenshee, Glencoe and the Cairngorms. Put our ski boots on, take the chair lift up the slope, skis on and down the slope we'd go.
Read Alex's completed poem at the end of this post!
Sometimes the freewrite is itself a draft poem:
I remember hard earth below my feet
I remember the way stones gave off heat.
Not a word I understood.
Bag over head
shackles bind me
I stumble time upon time.
The dust found its way through
I felt my throat creak and my mouth clag.
I struggle not with space but mind.
There are no walls to close in
no words fair or foul.
I hold to the shackles as hard as they hold me.
2. The memories uncovered can be used in a technique called Story Swap. People pair up and briefly tell their partner a memory (it's best not to use anything very troublesome - an apparently small, insignificant detail can often work really well). Pre-generating a list of memories, as in the freewriting exercise above, gives everyone an initial range of topics to choose from - rather than having to pluck something out of mid-air!
Next, both write down what they've heard, and then read back to each other and discuss the process. If it's not your own memory you're writing (or even if it is), what decisions do you need to make about what to include and exclude? Do you want to add anything? Are you going to write in the first person ('I'), or third ('s/he'), as a more neutral observer? In the present tense or past?
How do you feel about having your own story /memory written and read back to you by someone else?
In a small group, everyone can have a go at creatively writing each other member's story. Here's Alex's and my responses to one of Raiste's memories ,'Tatooed Eye-Liner' followed by his own take on / development of the story he originally told us:
Grandmother had her eyes tattooed with eyeliner. I was just a kid at the time and this has stayed in my memory all these years . . . strange thinking about it now. The years have rolled on . . . (Alex)
When he visited his grandma in the morgue
the first thing he noticed
was her eyeliner, a think underscore
of black kohl. 'The mortician'
(a word he learned yesterday)
'has done a good job', he remarked to his mum
and wondered why she laughed.
At the funeral eulogy he found out:
mum described how granny had eyeliner
tattooed on at seventy
ten years before her death (Helen)
She lay atop a wooden table
no rise and fall of breath
limbs would no more create and strain.
I could not help but notice her perfect eye-liner.
My parent half-laughed that she had had
it tattooed on to save time years ago.