Searchlights & Signal Flares


Tiny Lights' On-line Writer's Exchange

What makes us forget or remember? (11/15/10)



Featured writer: Susan Bono



Contributors this month:
Arlene L. Mandell
Becky Povich
Claudia Larson
Don Edgers
Elaine Webster
Jean Wong
Marilyn Petty
Susan Bono
Theresa Sanders


Forgetting to Remember

by Susan Bono

I wrote the wrong date in my journal the other day. My hand made an "8" instead of an "11," as if whatever part of my brain that controls my pen wanted it to be August again. What does my hand want to forget? That November is almost over? What would it like to remember? That August is a time to head for the hills, the lakes, the forest and the beaches, to lie on striped towels, hike wooded trails, spit watermelon seeds and sit around campfires? That's not how I spent August. What made me forget to do that?

I grew up in a world that helped me remember. Every Dingle Elementary School classroom had a picture of George Washington or Abe Lincoln and a silken flag we saluted every day. Kids wore their back-to-school clothes and teachers assigned the making of seasonal decorations, starting with paper jack o'lanterns and black cats. Mom would have autumn leaves tucked here and there around the house, which would be full of the smell of oven-roasting by the time I got off the yellow school bus. There was Halloween to prepare for, and after that night of sugared debauchery, on to the turkey and pilgrim hats of Thanksgiving.

It was that way all year. We knew when it was time to get a new hat and when to stop wearing white shoes. We knew to dress up for airplane travel, but to wear our pajamas to the drive-in movies. Stores were closed on Sundays and holidays; there was a season for artichokes and strawberries; every night the TV signal turned to snow after jet trails and the national anthem or the reading of a stirring poem. When someone died, men took off their hats as the funeral procession passed by. These simple things helped me feel part of something bigger. Whatever made the world stop being that way has made me forget to remember.




That Day in Tangiers

  by Arlene L. Mandell

I'm searching for a local outlet for Cape Cod Metal Polishing Cloths when I remember a beautiful brass candelabra I once owned with folding arms and elegant scrolls. Could I have sold it in that garage sale in Wayne, NJ, in 1975? Why? Had I bought it in Tangiers when I bought the brass tray, where I saw a real snake charmer with an asp coiled in a basket and petted a baby camel whose coat was a refuge for fleas?

This is what fills my mind and therefore it's both understandable and excusable that I don't recall whether Gatsby the cat is somewhere in the meadow or asleep on a bookshelf in the next room. If I forget to feed him, he yowls, so I'm not too concerned as I go back to remembering that day in Tangiers where the belly dancer sat on my soon-to-be ex-husband's lap, which is part of what I choose to forget.


Arlene L. Mandell is often startled by all she remembers and works very, very hard at the things she needs to forget.


Getting it Down

  by Becky Povich

What makes us forget or remember?

According to psychiatric studies, traumatic events can cause people to completely block out unpleasant memories. At other times, painful recollections may never go away, which can create serious problems for individuals. Whichever way you look at it, memories are very powerful.
For those of us who write creative non-fiction, personal essays, and memoirs, our memories are a huge part of who we are: It has a role in our daily lives. It's where we go every time we sit at our desk and place fingers on our laptop keys. It's our meditative place.

What makes us forget? Sometimes it's the blocking out of our sad memories. Sometimes it's our age. We can't remember the way we used to. We haven't talked about those topics in so long, they've left our mind. That must be where that expression, I'm losing my mind comes from! Bit by bit those memory cells begin to dry up and disappear. It's as if our mind has four seasons, and one is fall. The memories become so old, they behave like autumn leaves. They wither up and die.

But, what makes us remember? Oh, so many things, especially when the memories are happy ones! A song, a smell, a book, a movie or TV show, a tree, a holiday, a voice, a touch, a color, a piece of clothing, a flower, photographs, a memento, a certain meal, antiques, an everyday sound such as a barking dog.

One particular sound that always transports me back to my childhood is that of a prop plane. It's not very common to see or hear one flying overhead these days and I suppose that's what makes it extra special. But when I was a little girl, that's just about the only noise we heard coming from an airplane. There weren't many jet engines at that time and we lived near an aeronautical college, where small propeller planes would take off and land frequently. And because my dad was a professor there, I was deeply enamored with airplanes, and still am to this day.

Because all of my memories obviously aren't happy ones, I thrive on the ones that are. I also accept and allow the not-so-pleasant ones to have a moment of my time. I want to remember them, too. I want to remember them all, so I can get them written down and included in my memoir, before it's too late, and I've forgotten how to remember.

Becky Povich attempts to work on her memoir daily, but that sometimes just doesn’t happen. Life seems to get in the way of writing about life. She’s also been submitting to a few anthologies and has been fortunate to have stories published in three newer ones. You can learn a lot about Becky on her blog: www.beckypovich.blogspot.com. You can also e-mail her at:
Writergal53@aol.com. She thrives on hearing from other writers and always has room for one more friend.


Warped Time

  by Claudia Larson

Thoughts sit down on waxed paper, slide down a steep slope and land in a pile. Some bounce into a secondhand bin; others melt into oblivion. Still others bounce back to the top of thought processes. It may be a quick bounce or a reverberation that's not recognized for a day or two.

Call it milk brain, the accompaniment to mothering a just-birthed baby. Call it grief amnesia. Or simply call it standing-on-the-shady-side-of-fifty-nine. Whatever name it's called, forgetfulness blithely slips thoughts right out from under your nose.

Memories are different. They're fear's arrows, sloping road reminders of an overturned vehicle. They arrive unexpectedly with a nickel, unfolding the memory of Sunday school offering tied up in a white cotton hankie. Sometimes they punch you in the belly, a mean reminder of someone's cruelty. Other times, a 70 degree breeze on a bare arm turns eyes towards summer-fallowed fields and Dad on the orange Case tractor.

The thing forgetfulness and remembering have in common is time and the way it melts in their presence.

Claudia Larson lives in Sebastopol, CA where she’s spinning memories into yarn, then knitting them into a bag so she won’t forget them.


Involuntary Forgetfulness

  by Don Edgers

What makes us remember are our senses, the accumulation of our knowledge, the intensity and variety of experiences, and how we react to them. But wait, how we communicate also involves memory!

The key to what makes us forget or remember lies in a 2 ¼ - 3 ¼ # glob of fat - aka the brain. The brain has two sides - each side controls (remembers) different functions of our body. If one has a brain blockage (stroke) on the left side, the ability to write, speak, etc. gets messed up. Dick Clark and Kirk Douglas had left-side strokes affecting their speech

My stroke was set in motion by a tiny blockage on the right side of my brain causing my left limbs and digits to forget how to function. It was frustrating yet fascinating to see my leg, arm and hand revert to infantile coordination and strength. Through months of rehabilitation my right-side limbs taught my baby-minded, left-side limbs "how it is done."

Because I was in the middle of writing An Island In Time II: Coming of age in the 1950s and I could barely use the index finger on my left hand to type, my computer and software expert son-in-law installed a voice recognition software program on my computer to help me along in my quest - which worked like magic. However, my Occupational (hand) Therapist forbade me to use it, with the caveat: "It will become a crutch, and your recovery will be slowed." I followed her advice, finished writing the book, and gave her credit in the acknowledgments.

Through constant practice and peer pressure from my right hand, five years later, I'm back to about a 90% skill and 75% speed level for my left hand.

I used to know what made me forget, but since my stroke I can't remember!

Don forgets & remembers in Port Orchard, WA.
Check out his memorable stories, books, photos and maps at www.anislandintime.com.


What makes us forget or remember?

  by Elaine Webster

I forgot last week's anger against my attacker. To hold the pain makes no sense. It inhibits.

Atomic Energy

Anger can be good . . .
letting go of it even better.
Anger is hot,
it wells up and explodes.
Let it blow up your hurt,
like an atom bomb
obliterating the negative.
Then let the winds of war
clear the air
and you move on,
stronger, faster . . .
free.

I remember how the old hurt welled up from my abdomen. I remember what caused it to swell. I remember three years from my birth—huddled in the corner, thumb in mouth, blanket to nose, alone, shaking and scared. The person who hurt me last week had no way of knowing my pain.






Elaine Webster, is a staff writer for the on-line publication, Greener Living Today.
Her book, Jesse’s Tale: Overcoming Fear Aggression and Separation Anxiety in an Adopted Greyhound, is available for purchase on Amazon.com. She lives in Windsor, CA and her e-mail address is Elaine@mediadesign-mds.com.


What Makes Us Forget or Remember?

  by Jean Wong


by Jean Wong


If only I had known that pot runs off with your memory cells, I would never have touched the stuff. ‘Cause I never had much of a memory in the first place. I yearn to sprinkle social conversations with brilliant tidbits gleamed from the hundreds (thousands!?) of books I've enjoyed. But this will never happen as I forget anything I read by the next day.

Slights, put downs, and painful times, however, are different. I don't need memory cells to store these devastations. They just head straight for my heart and are permanently lodged—becoming who I am, and like the ancient mariner, a burdensome sack I must forever carry.

What makes us forget or remember? It's sort of the same conundrum where people only buy newspapers with big doomsday headlines. Of course if you're in the dentist's office you'll try to recall your happy memories, but by and large our brain—grey in matter— is made of melancholy material. Even the wisest sage will tell you life is suffering and that it is imperative for a baby not to smile, but cry at the moment of his entry into human membership.

Thank goodness, though, there's always simmering stew smells, blazing autumn days, gestures of generosity. That's when a gurgle will run through our synapses, memory kick starts, and decides, "hmm…not bad…think I'll remember that."

Jean Wong loves the idea that she is a writer, but then has to shift out of her stay abed stew mode and cough something up. Visit her website at www.sonic.net/~marcjean/jean
to get an idea of her bucolic Kenwood life.


Unforgotten

  by Marilyn Petty

There is this damnable nightmare I wish I could forget. I am about six years old. Safe in bed, my big sister next to me, my parents not far away. And then a knock comes — one, two, three.

Let me in, he intones, a dark menacing shadow outside an other-world back door. He repeats the knock and his demand. And I know he has come to get me. To take me away- somewhere....

Now, decades later, each time I shut off my bedside light, I hear the faintest echo of that summoning, and I wonder — is this the night I see him, not in a dream, but framed in the doorway, no longer a shadow, but flesh and blood. He has come, at last, to fulfill his and my destiny.

Suppose, I had long ago forgotten this terrifying happening—and why, I remember it so vividly, I do not know— then when he comes to get me I'll invite him in, pour him a glass of wine, make him a peanut butter sandwich and let him unload the grief and loneliness of being forgotten. Soul mates we can be, friends, alter egos. After all, it is my dream. I'll make it whatever I want. Except I can't disremember the real one. Not the one where he comes to get me.

Marilyn Petty wakes in the middle of the night wondering, waiting in Santa Rosa.

Forgetting to Remember

  by Susan Bono

I wrote the wrong date in my journal the other day. My hand made an "8" instead of an "11," as if whatever part of my brain that controls my pen wanted it to be August again. What does my hand want to forget? That November is almost over? What would it like to remember? That August is a time to head for the hills, the lakes, the forest and the beaches, to lie on striped towels, hike wooded trails, spit watermelon seeds and sit around campfires? That's not how I spent August. What made me forget to do that?

I grew up in a world that helped me remember. Every Dingle Elementary School classroom had a picture of George Washington or Abe Lincoln and a silken flag we saluted every day. Kids wore their back-to-school clothes and teachers assigned the making of seasonal decorations, starting with paper jack o'lanterns and black cats. Mom would have autumn leaves tucked here and there around the house, which would be full of the smell of oven-roasting by the time I got off the yellow school bus. There was Halloween to prepare for, and after that night of sugared debauchery, on to the turkey and pilgrim hats of Thanksgiving.

It was that way all year. We knew when it was time to get a new hat and when to stop wearing white shoes. We knew to dress up for airplane travel, but to wear our pajamas to the drive-in movies. Stores were closed on Sundays and holidays; there was a season for artichokes and strawberries; every night the TV signal turned to snow after jet trails and the national anthem or the reading of a stirring poem. When someone died, men took off their hats as the funeral procession passed by. These simple things helped me feel part of something bigger. Whatever made the world stop being that way has made me forget to remember.




Little Quirks

  by Theresa Sanders

I'm meeting my dear friend Debbie for lunch. It's a cold, just-before-Christmas day, and as we enter the restaurant, I stop suddenly. "Wait, Deb. I can't remember if I locked the car."

She looks at me askance, eyes bright with mischief. We both know what's coming, but before she can utter a word, I speak. "I know, I know, just let me go make sure."

Never mind using the key remote; it wouldn't have satisfied me anyway. So I hurry back out, check the driver-side door, and just for good measure, I check the passenger door too. Both locked. Of course. Dear Deb is still laughing as we sit down at our table. "Well, you know what I always say, Ter. We all have our own little quirks."

There. She's delivered it, her "little quirks" line. It's a running joke between us, often prompted by me having to check and re-check things ad nauseum. In fact, I'm continually stranded at the foggy mental intersection of forgetting to remember or remembering to forget. Did I hit ‘save' before exiting? Let me just hit ‘save' again. Were the lights turned off before I came up to bed? Yes, it's dark downstairs, but I tiptoe back down if only to reassure myself—and yep, the oven is turned off too.

Is it hard-coded into our DNA, what we remember, what we forget? Are our brains like drafty old attics, with neurological cobwebs growing ever thick? Or is what we remember more about what our spirits need to carry us through life's journey, those inexplicable memories that get to the heart of our matter?

In the grand scope of life journeys, maybe we forget the details of the daily grind because they are simply too much for one soul to bear and we retain the things that impact us, that help us cross our intersections. For example, I've forgotten what was actually discussed that day at lunch; I've forgotten the server's name, or even what year it was. But in my Etch-a-Sketch mind's eye, I remember the essence: the sound of our laughter, mugs of coffee and shared dessert, candles guttering on tables.

As Deb and I leave the restaurant, we are hit by a snap of December air and the distant smell of wood smoke, conjuring memories that are ours for the taking. Suddenly, I stop. "Oh, gosh, Deb, my credit card. I don't remember putting it back in my purse."

She bursts out laughing, favoring me with a smile so warm, so brilliant, so I-love-you-in-spite-of-all-your-little-quirks. I'll never forget it, her smile.

Theresa Sanders lives in suburban St. Louis, Missouri, with her husband, and is the mother of four grown children, her greatest joy and accomplishment. An award-winning technical writer and consultant, she managed a documentation and training department before turning to her first love, creative writing. She contributes frequently to the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, and is completing a novel. Theresa welcomes email at:
TheresaLSanders@charter.net.


Searchlights Editor:

Susan Bono

Columnists:

C. Larson, B. Povich, M. Petty, C. Crawford, T. Sanders

Columnists Emeriti: Christine Falcone, David S. Johnson, Betty Rodgers, Jordan E. Rosenfeld, Betty Winslow


Susan Bono is a writing coach, editor and freelance writer living in Petaluma, CA. She has published Tiny Lights: A Journal of Personal Narrative since 1995, along with its online counterpart here at tiny-lights.com. She conducts creative writing classes in Petaluma and Santa Rosa and co-hosts the quarterly Speakeasy Literary Saloon at the Aqus Café in Petaluma. She's on the boards of Petaluma Readers Theatre and the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference. She is still writing a postcard a day. Her most recent publishing credits include Petaluma Readers Theatre, KRCB’s Mouthful, Milk and Ink, and Passager Magazine.

Marilyn Petty is a dyed-in-the wool Midwesterner, a long-ago émigré to California and a fortunate resident of Sonoma County, CA. She taught weaving through the SRJC for 8 years and was the reporter, essayist, editor and publisher of the Redwood Empire Handweavers and Spinners Guild for 10 years. When not tangling with yarns, she is unknotting words, writing poetry and personal essays. She putters in the garden when words fail her.

Catherine Crawford is a former technical writer, editor, and course materials developer for high tech industries. She has taught college English at the four-year degree level, published two award winning chapbooks of poetry, and written articles for 52perfectdays.com, a Portland, Oregon online travel magazine. She works as an editor in Vancouver, Washington. Her email: greenwriter1960@gmail.com

Claudia Larson, in her childhood, wrote long letters to her best-friend cousin and enthralled herself by writing a heart-rending story of two orphans. She writes fewer letters nowadays and prefers writing poetry and memoirs of her North Dakotan farm girl days. She is not yet an orphan, has six siblings and lives in Sebastopol, CA.

Becky Povich lives near St. Louis, Missouri. Although not young in "people years," she's only been writing for ten of those. Getting her first book completed, a memoir, is her current short-term goal. She can be reached at Writergal53@aol.com, or visit her blog at www.beckypovich.blogspot.com.

Theresa Sanders lives in suburban St. Louis, Missouri, where she is completing a novel. A former award-winning technical writer and consultant, she managed a Documentation and Training department before turning to her first love, creative writing. Her stories appear regularly in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. Theresa welcomes email and would love to hear from you. Contact her at: TheresaLSanders@charter.net

Thanks to all who participated this month. It's good to know you're out there! We're looking forward to hearing from you and those you inspired sometime soon! Check this column each month to see what's new. Return to Searchlights & Signal Flares menu for future topics and guidelines.

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