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.

Extract Those Everyday Life Memories of Teenage Years

You’re my knight in shimmering armour. Did you know that?’
‘I think you mean shining.’
‘No shimmering. You shimmer, and you glow.’

What’s Eating Gilbert Grape was a movie I often showed senior students back in the day. It is beautifully told and, in my mind remains one of DiCaprio’s finest performances.

A prisoner of his dysfunctional family’s broken dreams in tiny Endora, IA, Gilbert (Depp) serves as breadwinner and caretaker for his mother and siblings following his father’s suicide and his older brother’s defection. Momma (Darlene Cates) is a morbidly obese shut-in who hasn’t left the house in seven years; her children include Arnie (DiCaprio), who’s about to turn 18 despite a host of negative medical forecasts, and terminally embarrassed Ellen (Mary Kate Schellhardt), who is emerging from awkward adolescence.

When he’s not taking care of the difficult but tender Arnie, Gilbert spends his time fixing up the family’s tattered farmhouse, working at a failing mom-and-pop grocery store and hanging with local misfits Bobby (Crispin Glover), an overly ambitious junior undertaker, and Tucker (John C. Reilly), a handyman who hankers after a job at the new burger franchise.

Into this complicated but essentially unchanging social universe steps Becky (Juliette Lewis), a thoughtful young woman who’s been escorting her nomadic grandmother from state to state in a mobile-home caravan. As Becky teaches Gilbert to finally consider his own happiness for a change, she disrupts both his family obligations and his long-running affair with a lonely housewife (Mary Steenburgen).

Gilbert’s life, his future, is thwarted. He was not able to let go until …..

This 1993 classic is available for free online or with SBS in Australia.

Grab your notebook. Make sure you have some wine and nibbles you enjoy. Settle down to really see this movie and make notes about what really is eating Gilbert. Take particular notice of Ellen and Amy and the everyday chores they are engaged in. As memories of your own teenage years rise up don’t let them escape. Make sure to capture these by writing them down. Make lists of random thoughts and memories of lived experiences! Consider the things that have bound you, the things you have not been able to let go of, sibling rivalry and memories of young love.

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.

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!