Life / Lines

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.

(Alex)


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.

We walked.

They talked.

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.

(Raiste)




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.


She was always about saving time.

Salt and pepper in one shaker - time.

Closed a door on her own foot to try and save time.


She had lived.

Travelled.

Fought through all times.

My daughter bears her name.


Africa was in her blood.

The arid dry heat.

The Belgian Congo. (Raiste)





3. Focusing on place is a great way of obliquely working with memories:

a. Make a list of places that are / have been significant to you

b. Draw a map that contains these places - it doesn't need to be realistic, and you don't need to have great drawing skills to do this. Imaginative impressions are great! You can uses symbols and colours.

c. List the places on the map (it may not turn out to be exactly the same list as your initial one), and then an attribute or emotion that you associate with each.

d. Write a piece that 'joins up' some of the places on the map (or write about one or more of the associations.)

(Exercise adapted from Gerry Loose)


Raiste:

Granada

Newcastle

Manchester

Edinburgh

Pennsylvania

Disney World

Graniers

Raiste's Map



With regret, pity and hope I watch her go by.


In the heat of the blinding white buildings

the Alhambra sits like a jewel

it shimmers like a tarmac road flying towards the horizon.

Snowfall measure in feet. Distance in thousands of miles away.

Deer carcasses commonplace.


I fled Manchester and will never return.


My home town in the north is not my home or my town.


Edinburgh was spelt e-x-cess.


Graniers almost a home

crickets, frogs, scorpions aplenty.

Spiders in the wood shed.

Fabulous view to the north.

Shady terrace for a coffee or cigarette.



Alex:

Important Places

Blair Drive > Thistle St > Commercial School > Queen Anne School > Bognor Regis > Dad's shop > Bruce St


Europe - France, Italy > Corfu> Greece-Yugoslavia, Austria, Germany, Holland (Amsterdam), Brodeaux, France





I did a backpacking trip round Europe aged 19 on £200 which I had saved up from years of working in my dad's antique / jewellery shop. Me and my mate Rob got down to Dover and got the boat to Calais. Got to the south of France. He went to Spain, me to Italy. I thumbed my way through Florence then down to Bari, caught a hovercraft to Corfu, 2 weeks, then Athens - then went through what was Yugoslavia . . . Austria, Vienna. Ran out of money so got a job in a newspaper company, then thumbed my way through Germany . . . then on to Amerstdam - got a job in a brewery . . . tbc.


Over the following week, Alex wrote this poem:



Glenshee

Sun shining

Through freezing cold air

Clouds streaking above

Mountain Range

Glenshee indeed

High up in the sky

Where father passed away

I remember that day

He was at the top…

I was peddling pictures

Door to door

North and South Queensferry

At the time

Sun shining through

Lights up the shades

Slivers of clouds

Wisp’s over the view

Feeling the chilly air

Just like being there

Time has moved on…

RIP Father (9/7/2019)

Alexander Shand Hudson



In the final meetings of the Survive & Recover Project we will think about editing and refining writing, using examples from this post - watch this space . . .

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