Renowned choreographer, Twyla Tharp endorses the importance of establishing creative habits. Bancroft Manor is a virtual workspace for artists and writers alike. It offers a safe haven where creativity flourishes. An extension of the Soul Food Cafe Bancroft Manor provides a base for creative people seeking a rich assortment of reminders, routines, visual activities and writing prompts.
The Manor provides a space for people to ritually come to, a place where they can make it their daily practice to work on artistic projects.
At the end of each session of a Lived Experience, Memoir Writing course I do set homework and have the expectation that participants will come ready to share a piece at the next session. At a recent session where we undertook a memory building exercise that can be done repeatedly, I asked participants to set aside 20 minutes each day for the following week and come ready to share what they had achieved as they established a solid habit.
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
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.
Design a Memory Museum of your own. This can be done by making a simple diorama in a shoebox or devoting a notebook to recording the micro-stories of the objects that you will put on display.
“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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Who will you interview? Who will you develop a portrait for?
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!
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)
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.
On the wings of the black crow come the spirits of old, treasured, discarded, lost, forgotten, dearly beloved toys who have made a significant contribution to our lives.
I was twelve as I recall, old enough to leave him far behind,
but he’d spent every day with me for as long as I remember.
His fur was worn, his ear torn, but his love was true and pure.
He was my ally, my closest friend.
When I was whipped and that was often,
not saying I didn’t deserve it,
he was there to comfort me.
He romped with me in meadow and in woodland,
snugly riding in my knapsack.
He slept with me and listened to my chatter.
When I was sick with measles and with mumps
he sat patiently and waited till I was well again.
His name was Teddy,
just plain Teddy.
When my father passed beyond and my world turned upside down,
Teddy was ready to console.
When we were forced to move from the country into town,
“Toys must go,” my mother said, “you’ll play no more.”
She snatched Teddy from my arms and put him on the trash.
All I remember clearly is the fire
and Teddy on the trash heap with flames licking all around.
His beady eyes turned black and blistered as he stared in pain at me.
Through tears I watched as Teddy turned to ash.
I have other Teddies now, collector bears with moving limbs all dressed in finery.
I never have forgotten though and often think of him and the joy he brought the child in me.
If there is a Teddy Heaven and he is looking down,
he knows I love him very much, did, and always will.
Whether we loved or hated family dinners, they were an important part of childhood. Some of us ate food made from recipes handed down from generation to generation. Others of us ate dinners in which the secret recipes came off the back of boxes and one of the main ingredients was a can of cream of mushroom soup. Often when extended family gathered or we ate at our grandparents’ homes, the menu was different.
Family recipes can trigger childhood memories and can serve as a useful framework for organizing family remembrances. Cookbook memoirs are relatively simple to write and can be easily illustrated with family photos and duplicated at your local copy centre if you wish to give them as presents.
Go through your recipe file and pull your tried and true recipes (the ones you and your children loved) as well as those that were passed down to you. Make notes about any memories those recipes bring up. Are there any family stories that were handed down with the recipes? If so, write them down.
Brainstorm about the food you ate growing up, both around the family dining table and larger family gatherings, church socials, and dinner parties. If you need to do some research, contact older relatives and ask them for their memories as well as their recipes.
Don’t forget comfort food. My favourite was always bread and butter pudding.
Did your parents or grandparents survive the Great Depression or live on a farm? Did your grandparents or great grandparents come here from another country? If so, how did that affect their attitudes about and tastes in food?
What were your mealtime rituals as a family? Do you have pleasant memories of them or less than pleasant memories? What was your favourite table to gather around? How was it set and what did the room look like? By adding sights, sounds, tastes and smells to your stories, you’ll make them come alive.
Write about how you learned how to cook. Who taught you? What was your biggest kitchen disaster? Your biggest triumph? How has meal preparation changed from when you were younger to now?
Remember that you are probably writing for a younger generation of readers who haven’t even seen a flour sifter or a turkey baster. Don’t take cooking expertise for granted. When you copy the recipe directions, you may need to amplify them.
Find a way to organize the recipes by putting them into categories. You might choose to divide them into desserts, main dishes, salads and the like, or you can organize them into sections that focus on the cook in question. My own memoir cookbook has a few unique food groups: Stick to Your Ribs Vittles, Second Breakfasts, The Way to a Man’s Heart, Sunday Dinners, Celebrations, Funeral Food and Putting Food By.
Dear Heather I would like to be remembered for looking after my grandma. These are some of the things that I do for her. I get my grandma tea. I massage her back, I put cream on her legs and I help put her duck away.
I would also like to be remembered for looking after my animals. Here are some of the things I do. I take my birds outside, I give them water and I fill up their food containers
from Laura K
Susan Varley’s ‘Badger’s Parting Gift’ is the book I turn to when I want to give a small gift to someone who is bereaved. It is also the book I pull out in a Lived Experience Narrative or Writing for Wellness Workshop when I want to touch on the sensitive subject of death
I encourage you to watch this video and spend some time remembering not only the parting gifts of those you have loved but your own legacy. What are some of the footprints you will leave in the sand?
To make a footprint take off your shoes and socks and put your foot on your journal page. Trace your foot and then carefully draw in the toenails.
Meditate upon your footprint and consider some of the footprints that you have left behind, the things that people will remember you for, your parting gift. On each toe, write an impression that you have made, a footprint that you have left behind.
Choose one toe and circle it. On the sole of your foot write more information about this particular event and why it stands out.
Now make a footmark in your visual journal and write a letter explaining why you will be remembered.
Footprints also provide a great way to set goals. On the soles of your feet write about the footprints you want to leave behind. Fill a shoebox, decorate insoles, make shoes, write on the bottoms of old shoes, pull out your baby shoes….. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination.
“Anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting his time. You have to write up, not down.”
E. B. White.
“I do not believe that I have ever written a children’s book,” Maurice Sendak
“Creative fantasy, because it is mainly trying to do something else … may open your hoard and let all the locked things fly away like cage-birds.”
We do ourselves and our children a disservice if we shield them and ourselves from difficult emotions. Happily many beautiful children’s books are now helping children make sense of loss and grief. One of my favourites is Badger’s Parting Giftsby Susan Varley. Varley’s book provides concrete ways to deal with the grief associated with the loss of a loved one.
Over at Brain Pickings there is a wonderful article about Oliver Jeffers poignant The Heart in the Bottle which also addresses how to cope with the emotions associated with a significant loss.
Another thread that can also be picked up when talking about unbottling emotions can be found in the work of Elizabeth Skye. Skye. Unbottling the Tragedy of Stolen Relatives, a project she initiated, explores the use of pottery to visualize data and tell stories on missing and murdered indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people.
In this work, Skye is consulting with families of MMIWG2 to create personalized, unique bottles representing individual MMIWG2 cases, with the aim of creating an impactful representation of MMIWG2 data, and fostering critical dialogue on this violence.
Skye is creating hand-casted bottles inspired by the shapes of liquor bottles, as a means of representing the history behind the epidemic of violence against indigenous women and girls. Colonization has led to indigenous women and girls being objectified, and like alcohol, consumed and discarded—as empty liquor bottles pollute our homelands, the grief and trauma of the violence against our women and girls pervade our communities.
The bottles created in this work are thus also a representation of the relationship between violation of Unčí Makhá (Mother Earth) and the violation of women and girls. Each bottle will have a label reminiscent of the missing person labels that historically were printed on milk cartons; this is to make the bottles recognizable as calling attention to stolen relatives, and to criticize the irresponsible negligence of federal and local law enforcement in handling MMIWG2 cases, many of which are missing person reports that they fail to adequately document or publicise. The care involved in consulting with families, hand-casting each bottle and creating personalized labels is a reclamation of the sacredness of MMIWG2, and an honouring of the unique spirit of each stolen relative. Bottles will only be made with families’ permission, and the information printed on each label will be determined through consultation with each family. Source: Sovereign Bodies Institute.
Promotional material for a conference about unbottling the vulnerabilities of cities facing the threat of natural disaster included this image of a bottled city, presumably shielded from disaster. Those of us who have read Edgar Allen Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death know that barricades are rarely impenetrable. Prince Prospero who reigned over the kingdom in this tale deluded himself when he thought you could keep out the dreaded Red Death. Even the youngest children who I read the opening of this story to know that this story is not going to end well and that the Red Death will prevail.
One way to unbottle emotions is to keep a journal and write unsent letters.
Consider how you will you unbottle some of the emotions that Bessel Van Der Kolk maintains are stored in various parts of the body?
Van der Kolk’s book ‘The Body Keeps the Score’ conjures, in my mind, the kind of scene we see on television when someone like Anthony Green is standing in front of visuals, keeping score as they come in from all over Australia.
One way that we begin to unbottle emotions in a Lived Experience Narrative Course is to undertake an extensive body scan. We systematically search, with a good torchlight, all the hidden crevices and locate all the hermetically sealed places where things which need to be unbottled are hiding, but emitting all sorts of toxins into the body.
Upon completion, we mark things on a template like the one shown here and then contemplate which hidden emotion we can unmask.