Making Meaning Through Journal Writing: Stories of Our Memories 9

THIS YEAR I began the habit, at the beginning of each month, of reading my journal entries for the same month of the previous year. It’s so interesting to recall where I was a year ago at this time, to read about my hopes and dreams and fears. I always want to know: Have I made any progress? What was I working on? What was going on for me emotionally? Are there any patterns related to time of year?

So here I am, at the start of October, 2010, reading my journal entries for October of 2009. And I came across a passage I thought I would share with you because it struck me as profound. (Who knew that I could write something profound?) At the time, I was writing about the concept of simplicity — trying to understand why I make my life so complicated and to remember a time when my life was simple. Here is what I wrote:

I can’t think of a simple time in my life, except perhaps when I was a very young child. And that image, the image of me dancing on a hill feeling the wind on my skin, is such a fleeting, long-ago thing. It’s an image I manufactured. I know, because I can see myself from the outside as though in a movie. How can I do that, if it’s truly a memory? Yes, I can remember the feelings, the sensations, the joy. But I can also see myself from the outside. I don’t think one can really do that. That’s not a memory — it’s a story of a memory.

Perhaps that’s what writing is. Memories as examined from the outside, externalized so that they become a fixed part of one’s stories about life, about one’s experience and development. I could have chosen anything as a hallmark of my young childhood. I could have chosen the time my brother Michael spray-painted my favorite teddy bear yellow and threw it in the bushes for me to find months later. I remember it quite clearly; I was heartbroken when I found it. But the poster child of memories, for me, is that dance on the hill. Really a mound in the lawn — not a hill — but to my childish mind, a height I had conquered so that I could feel the sky.

One of my MFA professors says that writing is an attempt to stop time. What do you think? Do we write, in part, to stop time, create stories of our memories in order to externalize them and to make meaning of our experiences?

What kinds of memories do you have, like mine, that have been externalized so that you see yourself from the outside? What kinds of memories do we choose to define who we are? (That dancing child of my memory became the dancing teenager and eventually the ballroom dancer of my adulthood.)

I would love to hear your stories. Share them in the comment section below.


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9 thoughts on “Making Meaning Through Journal Writing: Stories of Our Memories

  • WysWoods

    Good Morning! I am teaching a class at my church on “Ministering to the Sick and Chronically Ill.” I am working to help them start journaling as a way to remember events and environments that are meaningful. I started by having them write in greeting cards and sending them to the sick and those who have had a recent grief experience. This is a satifying and learning process for all involved. Thank you for increasing my knowledge with your entries.

  • Amber Lea Starfire

    WysWoods, thank you for your comment. What wonderful and satisfying work you are doing! Another thing your group might be able to do is to interview those who are ill and write down their memories for them. This can be a satisfying and learning experience for both. Please keep us updated regarding your class and your work.

  • Kristin

    Oooh – I love this idea! I re-read my older journals several times a year, but never thought of comparing this period of time with the same time last year. Of course, I’m a little afraid that I won’t see enough progress to make myself happy – perhaps I’ll have to compare two years back. 😉 I’m going to give this one a shot. Thanks for the inspiration!

  • Amber Lea Starfire

    Kristin, I just about never feel that I’m making enough progress! Mostly, I discover the patterns I’m stuck in. But this discovery is a good thing. It allows me to think about the patterns, their underlying issues, and what I might need to do to move out of them. This practice is not always encouraging, but it is always enlightening.

  • Susan Godwin

    Your statement of “trying to understand why I make my life so complicated” really resonates with me! I’ve asked this of myself over many years and have yet to answer or seem to change it. I appreciate your comment about studying the underlying issues which is a GREAT suggestion for enlightenment and, hopefully, moving forward!
    Thank you!

  • Marlene Samuels

    Most of us traditionally do reflect during this season about our past year – assessing where we succeeded or failed, what needs improvement or what made us feel accomplished, acts for which we received recognition or that were rewarding (lest I be guilty of focusing only on negatives) and exactly what made us happy, leads to making new resolutions.

    Perhaps we resolve to be kinder, less judgemental, more productive, more responsible or to be less stressed and pursue a healthier lifestyle? Whatever we do conclude, I’ve developed my own “mid-course” personal evaluation/resolution process….

    Because I’m Jewish, I tend to celebrate the Jewish New Year – Rosh Hashonah, that occurs in early fall. Part of the High Holidays for Jews everywhere involves repenting and resolving to take the steps necessary to become an all around “better” human being. While I’m not particularly religious, I do use that holiday as a time to reflect and set some goals.

    By the time January 1st has rolled onto my calendar, I’ve had my test run – about four months in which to try living my resolutions. So, on New Year’s Day, I review how I fared and make some realistic adjustments! How lucky is that?