There is a black cape stuffed between my clothes in my bedroom closet. It belonged to my mother, her multi-purpose cloak for both weddings and funerals. After she died, it was one of the items I wanted of hers. I knew I would never wear it. My mother had great taste when it came to fashion but it wasn't my style. Still, sometimes I try it on like a little girl playing dress-up when I need to bask in her aura. Memories flood my mind and I am transported to a time and place when her voice rang close to my ear and her touch was at the ready.
Many of us hold on to objects for sentimental reasons and because they bring memories back to us in the quickness of a camera flash; be it a photograph, a love letter tucked away in an old book of poetry, a beautiful vintage brooch given to us by a favorite aunt, or a fancy silver tea set passed down to us that we stared in wide eyed wonderment at as a child.
These objects, that we store figuratively and literally in our memory boxes; objects we can touch, wrap our fingers around, or gaze upon at leisure; objects that hold the weight of yesterday's good and yes, bittersweet memories, are fodder for our storytelling as writers.
I recently read an article about memory boxes, and how objects that hold a special significance or have a meaningful past association to someone with memory loss, can be used to exercise that person's sense of touch and other senses, and to encourage verbal expression. How awesome that must be for the person with memory loss, and his or her caretaker or family, howbeit short-term. It demonstrates the power of objects when it comes to stirring one's memory to foster expression.
My mother's black cape is figuratively in my own memory box. When I look at it or try it on, I remember the occasions when she wore it, and soon after I am inspired to write stories about women and mothers who are symbolically superwomen. I write without borders; you know without that red pen hovering overhead, enjoying the process. My words flow more effortlessly and so does the dialogue of my female protagonists in my stories. Editing takes a back seat for that day.
It is the same with the multiplicity of other objects in my figurative memory box; they too help me reset emotionally, awaken my writing "spirit" and produce greater bodies of work:
Fragile old letters my grandmother wrote to my grandfather when he was in the Army. These letters encourage me to step out of my comfort zone of writing my preferred contemporary fiction and write about my grandmother's era. That in turn leads to me being knee deep in research; browsing online archives, watching documentaries, and reading articles, so that my stories will be accurate pertaining to historical facts during that era, and rich in details.
Family photographs, especially black and white photographs, are always stimuli for my writing. A photo is worth a thousand words rings true. I find after looking at family photographs, those thousand words and more come, for either a nonfiction article or essay about my own family, or a story that chronicles a fictional family's life.
Wedding favors that line the shelf of my etagere, those pastel almonds in sheer organza pouches, also inspire my stories. Whenever I remove them from its shelf to dust and hold them in my hands, I remember when a friend or family member Jumped the Broom; not just the love they had for each other but the bridges they crossed to get to that celebratory day. Soon I am jotting down a storyline and notes about the ebbs and flows in a fictional couple's marriage, which later turns into a few paragraphs, and eventually the first draft of a story or beginning pages of a novel.
Objects, memories, stories, writing...they are always interconnected. What meaningful objects are in your memory box that inspires your storytelling?
Jeanine DeHoney's writing has been published in several magazines, anthologies, and online blogs. Her stories are always "full" of the voices of the women who loved and nurtured her.