Travel Inside Artwork

Before lockdown I used to take my writing groups to the Castlemaine Art Gallery and encouraged them to sit with art work and imagine themselves entering the scene that the artist had created or talk to the character whose portrait had been painted. At a time when so many places are closed or restricting entrance there are an abundance of virtual galleries that we can visit. 

Transpose yourself inside Paul Joseph Constantin Gabriël ‘s “In the month of July” painting! Visit Netherlands windmills farms in 1889.

As Good a Time as Any to Make a Start

Today is a good day to do what we have been talking about doing – to begin creating our new journal.

The Muddle-headed Wombat – Ruth Park

After a frost it is a bright and sunny day today! What to do? Alas! It is another Covid day and we are all supposed to be staying at home. At least in the Muddle Headed Wombat’s world the rain that saw them pull out their paints and pencils was eventually going to stop.

This Covid business is lingering on and on, with no end in sight.

It is the perfect time to get out the paints and pencils and make a start on that journal we all promised to start.

I draw a card from the Australian Animal Wisdom Cards and the Fairy Penguin reminds me that whatever is going on, we are here to work at living, not, as so many would have me believe, here to be serious and living just to work.

If you are reading this, do that thing you have been talking about doing right now! Let yourself play! Start the journal by creating a notebook to put your first ideas in! Go on! Just do it!

Establishing Creative Habits

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.

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.

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.

Who will you interview? Who will you develop a portrait for?

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.

Remembering Beloved Toys

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. 

 

Teddy

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.

Vi (c)February 2002

Cook Up A Memoir

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.

Source:  Kay Marie Porterfield, M.A. 2001