Hello to all who have kept up with this series. I hope you’re enjoying getting into a regular journal habit. You can always go back to any month and re-do the questions in any order, of course.
September’s journaling theme is “memories.” The memory faculty is one of our most important ones because the information we store away and retrieve from time to time influences our present behaviors and future actions. Memory helps us with all our relationships, learning, personal identity, and more. We have both short-term and long-term memory and they function differently. Working memory — where we manipulate and process stored information — is separate and useful in fields like cognitive psychology, neuropsychology, and neuroscience.
Memories matter because they remind us of the sum of what has made us. They can function as both a way to escape the present as well as to spur us to a different future. The best memories are also, often, the ones that engage all our senses.
And, of course, memories aren’t static things. They evolve in our minds as time goes on. Sometimes, they fade for a while and then come back sharper than ever. Even when we think we’re fully in the present, our senses are experiencing that present based on deeply-coded memories of how they should respond. So they are more than mere, idle nostalgia — they are living, breathing entities affecting our lives on an ongoing basis.
For writers, particularly, memory isn’t simply about ourselves. It is also about memories of other people, places, things, etc., that we try to then recreate — with or without embellishments — using words. Easier said than done, of course.
The questions below are more for limbering up the memory muscles. Free-write as much as you can. Go off on tangents from memories to ideas to opinions to fantasies. The goal is to use the memory simply as a starting point for making something more out of it rather than simply wallowing in it. That’s not too productive even if it may be a bit of fun.
Enjoy. [Note: As usual, the questions are not necessarily in any strict order.]
1/ For each decade of your life, list out the most important memory you have.
2/ For each of the listed memories, write a few words on why it means so much to you.
3/ Describe a memory you have that others tend to remember differently.
4/ Describe a shared memory with others that you mostly remember differently.
5/ Describe a memory that you do not remember at all but others in your life insist it happened.
6/ In general, with the memories that stay with you the longest, what are the common features/aspects? Places? People? Activities? Emotions? Words?
7/ Describe a memory that you’d rather forget.
8/ If you could relive a particular memory all over again, which one would it be, why, and would you change anything?
9/ Typically, what triggers memories for you? Being with friends/family who remind you? Writing about them? Seeing old photos? Sensory triggers?
10/ What are some things you do to preserve memories?
11/ What interests you most about other people’s memories?
12/ What bores you most about other people’s memories?
13/ If you could hold on to one memory for your entire life, what would that be?
14/ Go back to your earliest memory and describe it as best you can.
15/ Think about your favorite pleasure — could be reading, eating, sex, walking, whatever. Now describe of your favorite memory associated with that pleasure.
16/ What is the one memory-story that your family likes to repeatedly tell about you?
17/ What is the one memory-story that you wish your family would tell about you instead of the above?
18/ Describe an unforgettable memory someone else has shared with you about themselves (not about you.)
19/ If you could pass on certain memories to the next generation, which ones would they be?
20/ What are the memories you would most like to create next and why?
21/ Describe a favorite school-related memory.
22/ Describe a favorite work-related memory.
23/ Describe a favorite book-related memory.
24/ Describe your first falling-in-love memory.
25/ Describe a memory of the most surreal experience you’ve ever had.
26/ Describe an illness-related memory.
27/ Describe a death-related memory.
28/ Describe an accomplishment-related memory.
29/ Describe a favorite memory of a loved person who is no longer in your life.
30/ Describe a memory of a socio-cultural or historical or political event that you can never forget.
Let’s end with a couple of quotes about memories:
You see that life will become a thing made of holes. Absences. Losses. Things that were there and are no longer. And you realise, too, that you have to grow around and between the gaps, though you can put your hand out to where things were and feel that tense, shining dullness of the space where the memories are.
― Helen Macdonald, H is for Hawk
And this is about remembering what happened to others. It’s actually a Judaic prayer and included in one of Primo Levi’s memoirs. You can read more here.
You who live safe
In your warm houses,
You who find, returning in the evening,
Hot food and friendly faces:
Consider if this is a man
Who works in the mud
Who does not know peace
Who fights for a scrap of bread
Who dies because of a yes or a no.
Consider if this is a woman,
Without hair and without name
With no more strength to remember,
Her eyes empty and her womb cold
Like a frog in winter.
Meditate that this came about:
I commend these words to you.
Carve them in your hearts
At home, in the street,
Going to bed, rising;
Repeat them to your children,
Or may your house fall apart,
May illness impede you,
May your children turn their faces from you.
― Primo Levi, If This Is A Man