A Memory Museum

Museums today are more than familiar cultural institutions and showplaces of accumulated objects; they are the sites of interaction between personal and collective identities, between memory and history.
Susan Crane

I created this small museum to remember them, so people can see it and we can remind ourselves that our loved ones were here once.”

Between 1947 and 1971, the border village of Hundarman Broq in the district of Kargil, was located in Pakistan’s territory. But when the dust settled after a seven-day war in 1971, the village was incorporated into India. The result of the war was that those who had been in Pakistan at the time remained Pakistani citizens, while those who had stayed in the village became Indian citizens overnight, with no way to cross the borders. For years, many villagers from Hundarman Broq have been separated from their families, with no way to see them again.

To grapple with this reality, one man, Mohd Ilyas Ansari, has taken it upon himself to create Hundarman Broq’s Museum of Memories, which encompasses the objects left behind by the villagers who never returned home to this small border town. The museum is a way for Ansari—and the rest of the villagers who still remain in this ghost village—to remember all the divided families that still exist in India and Pakistan, and offer younger generations a way to know their ancestors.

Objects Tell Micro-Stories and Biographies

“They are objects of everyday life in the female world and are extraordinary because they tell micro-stories and biographies of the inhabitants of the city who tried to escape the eruption,” said Pompeii’s general director, Massimo Osanna, in a statement.

“Experts in Pompeii Have Discovered a Female Sorcerer’s Mysterious Arsenal of Charms” from ArtNet.

It is believed that these tiny amulets were used to bring fortune and fertility, and protect against bad luck. There is no doubt that when they found these items at Pompeii they found a treasure trove of items, each of which has a powerful story to tell.

When Enchanteur prepared bags for travellers she always slipped in a few of her dream seeds.

When le Enchanteur led travellers into Lemuria she gave them a special bag filled with talismans, each with a specific purpose and urged recipients to take great care of their bags as they journeyed deep into this mysterious land. In my classes, I reveal the power of my little red suitcase to draw out memories and I have encouraged participants to create creative medicine boxes and bags and fill them with precious objects.

I was exploring a collectable place and found this lamp which was just like the one that stood alongside my bed when I was a child. Whenever I look at this I am transported back in time to the home of my childhood.

In my most recent course participants bought along with them, boxes containing precious items. We used these to kick start writing. A simple House Captain’s Badge, an old photograph taken at an orphanage in India induced a flow of words.  As Osanna, Pompeii’s director, says in this ArtNet article, “objects of everyday life… tell micro-stories and biographies”. Certainly, the same lamp that stood by my bed when I was a child brings back memories of the room in that house that I shared with my sister, of the doorway that led into what had been a nursemaid’s quarters, a storeroom where I spent solitary hours playing.

Designate a notebook where you sketch or include photographs of memory-filled items. Allow a memory-filled item to take you on the wings of time and travel back to the past. Simply make random notes. This notebook is only a repository that you may turn to when you want to begin writing, so you do not need to adhere to rules of grammar or even construct sentences. Later you can zoom in on a word or phrase and begin to write.

  • Take the time to find the right bag and create a creative medicine bag, or box of wonder, filled with objects which will inspire you.
  • Consider using the amulets belonging to the female sorcerer and write using her voice.

Recalling School Days

I remember the first day I walked into the classroom. I thought I was in heaven, all those books and so much to learn. I was like a sponge, thirsty for knowledge. I loved school from before I even started and could easily have been a professional student.
D Forster 

Hopefully these two students, in complete uniform, will help members of my Lived Experience class recall their school days.

Whether it’s Wordsworth recalling his schooldays in The Prelude, or Shakespeare’s Jaques describing the schoolboy ‘creeping like snail / Unwillingly to school’, poets have often written about school, whether fondly or critically, from the teacher’s or the pupil’s perspective.

Those who were fortunate enough to have lived before the digital age would remember a completely different time where life was lived in a simple way and time passed by in a calmer manner than it does now. ‘The good old days’ is a favourite topic of conversation for many who remember their childhood before the age of television and mobile phones.

School, schooldays, teachers and pupils, classrooms and chalkboards provide a place to begin lived experience narratives.

A Thread To Weave

George Chale Watson
George Chale Watson, complete with a long beard, in the foreground of the photograph with other Queensland Surveyors.

A challenge when writing an autobiography is identifying a place to begin. When I run my Lived Experience courses I provide participants with a number of exercises to help them tap into the vast reservoir of memories that each of us has.

Invariably a single thread materializes, long enough to begin weaving. The writing of George Chale Watson, my Great Grandfather provides a thread I am repeatedly urged to pick up.

It feels like he is demanding that I acknowledge the extent to which his thinking has been passed down to me. As I stand in his shoes for a moment  I understand why I have been driven to establish collectives, to give so freely. It is as if I am re-experiencing fragments of his memory.

The Bancroft Manor and Estate

The Woolloongabba Exemplars commune was on the western shore of Lake Weyba amidst the now rural residential area of Doonan. In 1894, about 200 people, led by a deeply religious land surveyor, George Chale Watson, (Heather Blakey’s Great Grandfather) established this socialist utopia where everything would be owned collectively, and each would work for their common good.

Taller Leñateros is Mexico’s first and only Tzotzil Maya book- and papermaking collective. Founded in 1975 by the Mexican-American poet Ambar Past, the workshop is dedicated to documenting and disseminating the endangered Tzotzil language, culture, and oral history. Read Jessica Vincents piece about this wonderful collective at Atlas Obscura.

“I hadn’t been walking long before I spotted an unusual sign outside a sad-looking, graffitied colonial house: a black-and-white etching of an ancient Maya riding a bicycle, wearing an enormous feathered headdress that fluttered in the wind behind him. Next, to it, a handwritten…

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Gathering Lived Experience Narratives

Len runs a small coffee house and offers a range of eclectic collectables in a historic building in a small Central Victorian town. When I called in for coffee we talked about the writing courses that I offer and he invited me to bring my coffee to the kitchen and observe some ‘performance art’. As he prepared a batch of his very popular scones we chatted and he told me that if I hadn’t seen the work of Agnes Varda then I really needed to check out her award-winning documentaries that focus on the lives of ordinary people.

Personally, I am not particularly interested in the lives of celebrities. Rather I am interested in building a small library that documents the lives of more humble folk, like Len, who lead lives away from the bright lights of flashing cameras.

Sarah Krasnostein is a writer and a legal researcher with a doctorate in criminal law. She clearly thinks similarly. Her book, The Trauma Cleaner documents one woman’s extraordinary life in death, decay and disaster. Husband, father, drag queen, sex worker, wife. This book is a love letter to an extraordinary ordinary life. In Sandra Pankhurst, Krasnostein discovered, purely by chance, a woman capable of taking a lifetime of hostility and transphobic abuse and using it to care for some of society’s most in-need people.

Who will you interview?

Establish a Memory Palace

It has become popular for people wanting to enhance their memory to learn how to create memory palaces. Sites like Insanity Mind Upgrade Your Brain explain that basically, a memory palace is a mental structure that can help you memorize anything in an easy and sticky way. By applying this technique, you can quickly memorize what you need and remember it at the time you need. offer step by step instructions.

My mind, functioning as it does, immediately turns over this idea and I begin thinking about how a writer, seeking to improve their memory and fill their pages with richer details, might apply this technique.

Did you know, for example, that the technique was employed by the fictional serial killer Hannibal Lecter in the novel series Hannibal written by an American author Thomas Harris? In several passages of the novel, Lecter was described as mentally walking through an elaborate Memory Palace to remember facts. That’s the basics of the Memory Palace technique.

I can come up with some more ideas of my own about how I might use this technique. In a recent class where we worked with Memoir Maps, we found we were literally pulling out extracts from our memory palace books. Postcard Memory Palace is an interesting application.

Check out history and science! What do you think? How will you stock your memory palace? How could you apply this method to art or writing? I am interested to hear how others might adapt this!

Memoir Mapping

Map by Roland Chambers for The Magicians, by Lev Grossman. Image from Roland Chambers.
The Milly Molly Mandy books always included a map of the neighbourhood.

One of life’s great treats, for a lover of books (especially fantasy books), is to open a cover to find a map secreted inside and filled with the details of a land about to be discovered. A writer’s map hints at a fully imagined world, and at the beginning of a book, it’s a promise. In the middle of a book, it’s a touchstone and a guide. And in the end, it’s a reminder of all the places the story has taken you. (Remainder of Article)

This is a memory map and also a memoir map, showing the six years the author lived in Annandale, from 1998 to 2003. The map mostly abandons geography in favour of slippery dips, which represent different avenues of memory. At the centre is the floorplan of the house she lived in, a crumbling and mouldy terrace house that she is surprised to see still standing.

What would a map of your life or a place you lived in for an extended period of time look like?

Draw a memory map of:

  • Your old neighbourhood
  • A secret childhood hideaway
  • A house you lived in as a child
  • Your childhood room

Dig out some books that included maps.

Take your time and put in as much detail as you can. Write about something you had forgotten and that emerged when you drew your map. Write about something that happened in the location you mapped.