The Road to Memory and Where It Leads

“Memory doesn’t work directly. . . . You might stub your toe one morning and your mind tumbles back to an old friend, who wrote poems, and introduced you one May to peonies. The buds secreted a sticky sweet juice that attracted ants. The ants crawled in and opened the big petals. The flowers couldn’t do it on their own, he said. With the sharp ache of your big toe, you remember everything about him. He died too young. You cry from the bottom of a dark well you didn’t know you had.

“You can’t will a memory. Sure, you can doggedly recall details, but the true moment when the details merge with feeling—when the scene is alive—cannot be artificially born. It’s like combing the ocean, calling up an abyss—you don’t know what you will receive.”

—Natalie Goldberg, Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir

Choose a vivid sensory memory from childhood: a smell, a sound, or a taste that is emblematic of your childhood. Write about it holding the reins loosely. Don’t try to stick with a story. Just let the associations flow; let your writing wander. See where it takes you.

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