Objects, Memories, Stories, Writing

Thursday, July 23, 2020
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.


Margo Dill said...

I have heard this is true about so many writers--how an object inspires them to write. I'm not sure it has ever happened to me. I know experiences definitely do and sometimes, one sentence that I hear someone say.

While I was reading this, I wondered if your mother's black cloak even helped you write this nonfiction blog post? :)

Nicole Pyles said...

Ah, this post reminds me of my own memory box! It's been so long since I've looked at it. I do love looking at my old notebooks, especially from my long time ago. There are even moments I remember where I was when I wrote certain pages. It can be so inspiring to back and walk down memory lane.

Beautiful post!

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

A fossilized clam the size of a grapefruit. A cherry bookcase. My grandmother's china and tea cups. A print of two doves. A sewing box. History always inspires me.

Cathy C. Hall said...

The Junior Halls make fun of me every Christmas because every ornament that goes on the tree tells a story...and I feel compelled to tell that story EVERY YEAR. :-)

So much in my home comforts me with memories...my mother's china, a toothpick holder from my mother-in-law's house, quilts, embroidered pillowcases, a bottle of sand, Mister Man's desk...

*sigh* That little stroll just cheered me up. Thanks, Jeanine!

Angela Mackintosh said...

What a beautiful post, Jeanine. :) Your mother’s black cape is such a great thing to have, and definitely a symbol of a superwoman!

It’s so true, objects can bring back a rush of memories, and are often a catalyst for writing. A writer in my memoir group recently used a string of a thousand paper cranes she folded and an old photograph with a scratched-out face as a through-line in an essay about her challenging relationships with her relatives. I’ve written several essays inspired by a letter from my mom. I have her wedding kimono in a box in my closet, and I feel motivated to see if it inspires a story. Reading about your shelf of wedding favors and the sheer organza pouch just reminded me of the organza bag in my office of my cat’s paw print in clay we took before she passed away. I’m already thinking about stories.

I’ve heard from writing instructors that focusing on an object can help writers move away from over-abstraction and lead them to write more descriptively.

Jeanine DeHoney said...

Yes, Margo, I do think my mother's cloak inspired me. I had been trying to reorganize my closet the week before having not yet decided a topic for this blog post, but once I saw it, I knew instantly what I would write about.

Jeanine DeHoney said...

Thanks Nicole. I too love looking through my old notebooks. It is inspiring to revisit things in our memory box and take a walk down memory lane. It can also help us heal some things from our past.

Jeanine DeHoney said...

Sue, you too have many cherished objects to inspire you, along with being inspired by history. When you mentioned sewing box I remembered the one my grandmother had and the pretty buttons she kept in it.

Jeanine DeHoney said...

You are so welcome Cathy. I'm sure Christmas wouldn't be the same without your stories about every ornament. That's part of your holiday tradition. And all the objects in your home are indeed comfort for the heart and soul. I'm glad I brought you some cheer.

Jeanine DeHoney said...

Thank you Angela. Yes, objects can instantly bring back a rush of memories. Wow, how wonderful to have your Mom's wedding kimono. I know there are so many stories waiting to spring forth from it once you take it out of its box and sit with it for awhile, and although bittersweet, also your cat's paw print. I hope we all can read those stories soon.

Sioux Roslawski said...

Jeanine--I have nothing from my parents except lots of photographs... and one special bracelet--the bracelet my mother had made for me. The bracelet is old watch faces, cuff links and cameos from my grandparents and great grandparents. In the box with the bracelet was a sheet of paper telling where each "part" of the bracelet came from. It's something I treasure, and sometimes I will get it out and look at each memento... and think of the family members that came before me.

What a rich and wonderful post, as usual. ;)

Jeanine DeHoney said...

Thank you Sioux. Your bracelet is indeed something to treasure and gaze at because of not only the memories but because of all the different parts of it from family members that make it so unique. I can also see for you dozens of stories coming from memories, real and fictional, about this bracelet.

Felicity Dark said...

I'm suffering from having to clear out my late mum's home to sell. Family feuds- present and past, losses - my brother... So many objects, papers.. Clothes.. I am deeply enmeshed in the past so try to keep 1, throw the rest... Mum literally kept EVERYTHING! I've filled 2 skips,recently. Before covid I was donating or going to the tip, every day. I'm sick of it. I'm glad to have the experience. I'm losing my mind, I'm gaining self-knowledge.. It's CRAZY!! overwhelming. Nearly at the end but when I unpack in my new home, as yet unknown.. What is going to emerge?? Hopefully a narrative of love, with room for new ways, but please help me to not hoarde!!

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