It starts after I heft the last of the Christmas decorations into the garage attic. I look at the blank spaces in my house where the manger scene, Christmas village, and other decorations sat and realize I need to fill them with the pictures, flower arrangements, and other doo-dads that sit in those places the other months of the year.
Pulling those accessories out of their storage places makes me look at them in a new light. Maybe I ought to arrange them differently this year, I think. Why should the house look the same year after year? And so I create a new arrangement on the coffee table with photos, picture books, and a candle. It looks pretty nice, but it could use a little greenery to soften the effect, so I borrow a small arrangement from another room to see if it works. It does. Then I work on another area, soon moving things from room to room, rummaging through drawers for this and that, setting a few things aside for Good Will, and…I’m on a roll.
I can feel the buzz of an organizing binge taking on a life of its own. It can last for days as I move from tabletops to bookcases to drawers to closets. Sometimes I become so engaged in the process, I forget to eat, which is a good thing. You know, because of my Pioneer Woman escapade?
All that happened last week. And it’s mostly done. And it feels good, freeing my brain for tackling a new year of memoir-related work. You knew I was going to get around to the M-word, didn’t you? Still feeling the vestiges of my buzz, I’ve been thinking how some of this organizing energy could be applied to personal history projects. A little bit of memoir housekeeping can free your mind for greater creativity—maybe even spark some story ideas. Here are a few organizational projects you might consider…
- How about last year’s calendar? Do you still have it? Did you write down events and appointments on it? If so, you have a good resource for reconstructing your year and maybe have some material for a story or two. Go through last year’s calendar and make a list of all the things you did. Assign a date to each event and jot down a few notes. Is there any story material there? If you have calendars for previous years, do the same thing. What an interesting project this could be. Sometimes one year blends into the next–particularly as we age–and we don’t take note of interesting things that happen. My students tell me they don’t like to write about their adult years because they’re boring. Maybe not…check out last year’s calendar.
- In a similar vein, consider making lists of all the books you read last year or movies you saw, projects you completed, or places you visited, etc. I’d love to have lists like this from my grandparents. If you can’t remember much about last year, start keeping lists this year. For some years, I’ve tried to keep a list of the books I’ve read and post them on this blog and, because I’m a movie fan, I keep a list of all the movies I’ve seen each year and assign them a grade. My entire family does this and we have fun exchanging our lists every year.
- If you haven’t already done so, begin creating a life chronology (timeline), a surefire way to begin thinking about your life in story terms. My blog post here explains how to do it and why it’s important.
- Have you digitized all the important records that pertain to your life? I haven’t, but it’s on this year’s project list. I plan to scan and save on my computer all my school report cards, along with personal documents and certificates of various kinds so they’re all in one place. I may want to use some as illustrations in my personal history. Frankly, I haven’t foreseen all the ways I can use them, but I know this project will assure that I have a copy of everything in one place—a computer file or DVD—instead of spread around the house in scrapbooks and manila folders.
- Do you know what stories you intend to write this year? Do you know when you intend to write them? If you don’t have a plan, you won’t be as productive. The months will go by and another year will have passed and you won’t have finished your personal history. Make a list of stories you’re going to write and assign a completion date for each one. Be realistic, but be ambitious, too.
These are just a few ideas for getting organized in the memoir way. Some won’t fit your organizational needs or style, but they may spark other projects. If you have ideas that have worked for you, please share them with all of us.
All the best for a fruitful writing life in 2012,
Your Memoir Mentor