A few years ago, I attended a talk by Hugh Lunn, an Australian journalist and author, who’d been a war correspondent in Vietnam and, later, a highly successful memoirist with a series of books, including Over the Top with Jim, a very funny account of his childhood and adolescence in Queensland.
What you remember. I only remember two things from that talk, and that’s down to my grey cells, not Hugh’s presentation. The first was the euphemism ‘collateral damage,’ used by the military at their daily briefings to the press to describe the deaths of civilians in the war zone. It was, Hugh said, a way of creating distance, through abstract language, from the human carnage that occurs in any armed conflict. Information like that would leave an impression on anyone.
The Notebook Rule. The other thing I remember from Hugh’s talk was his advice to carry a notebook and pencil (or pen) with you if you want to capture those great ideas and memories that suddenly appear unannounced on your mental radar. You can be certain, he said, that they’ll disappear by the time you get home and find a piece of paper to write them on, no matter how much think you’ll remember.
He’s right, as anyone who’s ever been caught short with a head full of creative, imaginative, wonderful thoughts, and nowhere to record them, knows. So I try to follow Hugh’s advice (whenever I’m not in a fugue state). I slip a notebook into the back pocket of my jeans and hook a pencil (or pen) onto some convenient part of a shirt or jacket before I leave the house.
Rather like – all right, very unlike – a police officer’s official notebook, my notebook contains all sorts of messages to myself about ideas for everything to do with writing. Consider it an external brain drive – primitive, yes, but exceptionally handy and versatile – in which you, the Memoir Detective, can record your keen observations for later upload to your PC.
Notebooks in Action. If you check out my other web site (glutton for punishment), my blog Veranda Life you’ll see that I’ve begun a project there called 999 Verandakus: A Memoir of Now. I got the idea when I was out on my daily walk.
When I started walking, I was happy to get through the half hour and make it home without cardiac symptoms. After a few weeks, though, I realised I was enjoying the walking – most unusual for a lifelong avoider of exercise and sweat. Once the enjoyment, and fitness, developed, I looked forward to going each day and I began to notice my surroundings rather than struggle through them. In Scandal in Bohemia, Sherlock Holmes notes: You see but you do not observe.
Most of the time, I realised, I’d been thinking of other things when I walked. Worrying is a word that comes to mind. So I actively decided that the walks would be for mindful observation of what was around me, rather than mindlessly working myself into a frenzy over some imaginary worry or other, none of which I could control anyway. Every day, by the way, I tell myself what Shakespeare told us centuries ago: There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. Time to think of now on the walk.
Meditation by another name. And once I reconnected myself to the world around me, I remembered that I used to write haiku poetry when I was a teenager, hundreds of years ago (I burned them all, but that’s another story). So on my everyday walks, I decided that if thoughts came to me about what I was seeing and feeling, I’d guide them into haiku form if I could, and see how it turned out.
As it happens, it’s turning out well so far. I write two or three Verandakus a day, usually, sometimes more, sometimes fewer, and I post one a day on Veranda Life. I’ve added photos to each one as well, but they aren’t mandatory – I just enjoy taking shots (more on the wonders and versatility of photos in memoir in future posts).
Extra-Memory Protection (EMP). If you’re a bib and braces personality, you might like to take a recording device with you as well. Some of us are more articulate with talking than writing when we’re out and away from our usual surroundings and quietness. I sometimes take my mp3 player, which has a recording function. Make sure it isn’t full of music and it is full of battery power. Remember to download your recordings regularly – don’t rely on your recorder to last forever or for it to refrain from corrupting your good work. (I like to transcribe my recordings so I have a paper document to work with.)
The take home is this: when you take yourself out, not just on walks but everywhere, take your trusty notebook and pen(cil), and don’t be afraid to use them. Stop and write, sit and write, walk and write (watch your step!). Your notebook and pen(cil) may be the best investments you’ll ever make in basic resources for your Memoir Detective life, and you’ll help keep a stationer in business (buy recycled if possible).
PS: Don’t use your Detective notebook for anything else: it’s a dedicated memoir resource, so no grocery lists, or appointment dates, or 101 thing to do with a dead cellphone. OK? OK.
Next time at The Memoir Detective: Routine or Gay Abandon – It’s all in the Attitude, Toots.