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.

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?

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.

Life is Adventuring – Colour Outside the Lines

WHEN MISS NORMA WAS DIAGNOSED WITH UTERINE CANCER AT THE AGE OF 90, SHORTLY AFTER THE DEATH OF HER HUSBAND OF NEARLY SEVEN DECADES, SHE WAS ADVISED TO UNDERGO SURGERY, RADIATION, AND CHEMOTHERAPY. BUT INSTEAD OF CONFINING HERSELF TO A HOSPITAL BED FOR WHAT COULD BE HER LAST STAY, NORMA ROSE TO HER FULL HEIGHT OF FIVE FEET AND TOLD HER DOCTOR, “I’M NINETY YEARS OLD. I’M HITTING THE ROAD.”
— DRIVING MISS NORMA – ONE FAMILY’S JOURNEY TO SAYING “YES” TO LIVING

If you own this story, you get to write the ending.
~Brené Brown

After reading Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande Miss Norma’s family decided to take her on the road with them and spend an extended period of time travelling all over the United States.

When my husband was first diagnosed with cancer and had recovered from the operation to remove the mass in his bowel we spontaneously booked flights to Europe and spent six months travelling around the United Kingdom, Scandinavia and Western Europe. We hired a car and, at a time when there were no GPS or Google Maps on our mobiles, navigated our way, through countless countries. We never had a specific destination, only finding accommodation when our day was done. Sometimes we stayed in one place for a few days but generally, we kept moving.

Ours was an amazing trip of a lifetime where my husband got to visit all those places friends had talked about. Needless to say, I can totally relate to the families decision to hit the road.

In our case cancer returned with an aggressive vengeance. Having borne witness to my husband’s long, futile battle which involved coping with the devastating effect of chemotherapy and radiation treatment on his wellbeing, I applaud Miss Norma’s decision to give surgery and treatment a miss.

Miss Norma has passed now but, as reviews such as this reveal, her legacy lives on, inspiring others to make the choice to live.

You can purchase a copy of Driving Miss Norma at Book Depository or other bookstores. Driving Miss Norma’s Facebook, which recorded much of the families journey can still be found online and there is also a Miss Norma web site.

The Magic Gate,
Elizabeth Layton
1987

Depression is an affliction Elizabeth Layton overcame. Art enabled her to say ‘yes’ to living. Mrs Layton, a native of Wellsville, Kansas…a few miles north of Ottawa, took her first art class at the age of 67. She had heard from a sister in California that art might help depression, which she had suffered from most of her life, so she enrolled in a drawing class at Ottawa University. The instructor, Pal Wright, just happened to be teaching contour drawing. He encouraged her to draw, and draw she did. For up to eighteen hours a day, she hovered over her makeshift drawing table set up in a corner of her bedroom, pouring out the fears, guilt and anger of her troubled life. Six months later, she announced to her family that she was no longer depressed. She felt free at last.

It is said that what distinguishes Elizabeth Layton’s drawings from others is their breadth, their freshness, and their expression of hope. Few artists have depicted such far-reaching social concerns such as capital punishment, homelessness, hunger, racial prejudice, AIDS, ageing and the right to die.

How will you, how have you said yes to living? What steps are you taking to own your ending?