Author Archives: Jay Verney

Have You Saved Your Life Today? Confronting Fear, One Bug At A Time



Have you saved your life today?  I only ask because I was reminded this morning that this is something I think we must try to do, actively, every day.  Saving your life is part, after all, of creating your legacy and developing your memoir mind*.  But back to the question and the event that prompted it.

I came in from my walk – delayed due to rain – and caught sight of a small flying creature near the front door.  The creatur was inside the house, banging against a big clear glass window pane.

Something you should know about me – I’m terrified of small – or large, for that matter – flying creatures – things with wings and/or feathers.  Sure, I’ve trained myself, with the unrelenting support of my partner, to go near birds without encountering palpitations – not as many as I used to anyway.  I can even feed magpies by hand, but I always have an escape route, and I always keep my sunglasses on.  Something to do with those sharp beaks and their proximity to what I interpret – should I happen to morph into a magpie momentarily – as the delicious, gooey, protein-rich orbs I call my eyes.

But the little flying creatures – bugs galore (excluding lady bugs, which are entirely adorable – it’s my phobia, I can be irrational), cockroaches, wasps, bees, moths, butterflies, grasshoppers, praying mantises, or manti – you get the picture – the little ones are a different kettle of, well, flying fish.  They’re scratchy, jumpy, bitey, fluttery, feathery.  They aren’t furry and snuggly, they aren’t cuddly and brushable.  They aren’t my cat.

However.  While I may not like these insects, and birds, I wish them no harm.  In fact, I wish them long and happily productive lives.  For all we know, they may be all that stands between us and annihilation, given the woozy state of the world.

The thing is, though, they aren’t always very canny about their surroundings, especially if those surroundings are artificial, from their point of view.  This little creature banging on the window pane, for instance, had no idea how to get out of its fix.  It looked something like a dragonfly, or it could have been a hornet.

Either way – clueless.

It could see the light outside and its plan was to bang against the glass until it – the glass – saw the light, too, and let it through via some sub-atomic miracle.

I walked past and tried to ignore it.  It’ll find its way out, I told myself, and reactively grabbed my cuddlesome cat.  She was feeling scratchy, so I put her down (in the nicest possible way, not the veterinary way) and faced the truth.  I was alone in the house for the time being; my cat can’t trap small flying creatures – not without killing them – and she can’t open doors and release them into the wild – yet.  I’m hopeful.

There was only one choice.

It took a while, and I was terrified, but eventually I managed to trap the little flying creature in a plastic container, slapped a sheet of paper over the top and took it out to the garden and freedom.  It disappeared without a trace.

My point?  It felt good to save that little thing flapping and crashing against the glass window, seeing the world waiting for it out there, all light and bright and airy, inviting it to come out and play, and live.

It felt good to challenge fear.  It made me wonder about the glass panes that you and I may not be canny enough to see, obstacles that prevent us from saving our own lives.  Do we keep doing the same old things, feeding the same old habits, following the same routines, honouring the traditions we’ve created or continued just for the mindless sake of it?  Are they still the right ones for us?  Or are we fearful of challenging and changing?

Here’s the thing: I challenged a fear and I came to no harm.  No palpitations, no bites, scratches, or feathery fluffing.  I’ve got a way to go to actually touch my feathery/wingy mates, and there was buzzing and perhaps a little too much proximity.  But the very least I can do is try.

So, try today to save your life.

Do something differently.  Don’t do something that you usually believe you must do.  Then watch as the world turns and doesn’t explode in your face.  Break a habit before it breaks you.  Change a routine before you’re rooted (to the spot).

Adopt the little flying creature inside your head, your heart, your soul, and put it in its place: out in the world of light and air and freedom.

NOTE:  *Memoir Mind – a state of mind in which you are calmly aware, from moment to moment, of your life and thoughts.  In this state of mind, you are able to see things from a different perspective.  You may be in a position to begin decluttering, discovering some important truths, and creating your legacy.

Memoir mind: a state of calm excitement.

SIGNS OF LIFE: What Are You Shovelling?

ShovellingManDSC02213(2) You never can tell how people will react to a little bit of attention.

A short while ago, I decided to create a project for The Memoir Detective using signs I found as I walked around the neighborhood or visited other parts of town.  The important thing about this project is that the signs are found signs, that is, I don’t construct them, I simply come upon them as they go about their business of informing, directing, and guiding people.

I figure that these signs can be a way into discovering more about ourselves and our motives for doing what we do.  They can act as an imagistic form of shorthand for how we live, and maybe they can point us towards something meaningful and worthwhile beyond their original use.  They can help us discover our truth.  Everything has the potential for recycling into something even more useful at The Memoir Detective.

A Little Bit of Attention – 1

So last week, I was out and about taking photographs of things that took my fancy, when I came across a sign I’d been chasing: Caution, it said, If You Can’t See My Mirrors I Can’t See You.  Ironic when you consider what happened.  It was on the back of a truck parked near a service station.  I snapped off a picture and continued walking as I stashed the camera.

Then I heard a voice from way up in the truck’s cabin.  I hadn’t seen his mirrors, but as it happened, he’d seen me after all.

Is everything all right?” the voice called over the engine’s noise.

I was the only person within cooee, so I called back, “Yes.”  A busy truck driver wanting to make conversation.  Who’d had thought?

I’m not parked in a bus stop, am I?”  He smiled down at me, but he wasn’t happy.  He looked a bit afraid.

Bus stop?  Afraid?  Of moi, a happy snapping stroller?  Perish the thought?

No,” I said.  “I don’t think so.”

Only, you took a photo.  I thought I must be doing something wrong.”

Something wrong.  I quickly explained that I was doing an art project taking pictures of signs – it seemed the easiest way to tell the story of Signs of Life.  Otherwise, we could have been there until the truckie’s and my No-Doze wore off.

I really like your sign,” I concluded, pointing towards the back of his truck, smiling a cheesy, cheesy smile, glad to be fit enough to walk away fairly briskly should the driver decide to let fly at me for upsetting his tea break.

But he didn’t His next smile was relief and brief.  We both took off, him for lunches unknown, me to make my second mistake of the day.

A Little Bit of Attention – 2

Further along on my route, a truck was parked outside the library: one of my favourite places, a smorgasbord of free books, as many as you can read as far as the eye can ABC.

The truck featured a great sign beneath its front window – Dual Control Vehicle – and I wanted that sign in my Cybershot.  But the letters were a bit faded and I knew they wouldn’t come out very well, so I continued to the back and there it was again, a little the worse for wear but clearer, white against black.  I did the deed, and continued walking.  Until I heard a voice from behind asking, “Is everything all right?”  Damn those rear view mirrors.

Yes,” I said, “as far as I know.”  But what did I know?  Nada.

I just stopped for morning tea,” he said.

Did I care?  I was looking forward to my morning tea if I ever got home and away from these talkative truck drivers.

There’s nowhere else to go unless I drive back to the depot – it’s an hour and a half there and back.”  He was imploring.  He was very big and he wore a fluorescent yellow safety vest.  He looked like a gigantic canary with peculiarly superior driving skills.  He stared at my camera.  He looked afraid.

The penny dropped.  Or rather, the shutter opened.

Oh,” I said, “I’m doing an art project.  I took a shot of your sign – dual control vehicle?  It’s an art project.”  Did I mention that?

I blathered an apology for interrupting his morning tea and he blathered about residents who phoned the council to complain about trucks parked in their streets.  Residents who thought that any idling truck must be shamefully and not gainfully idling.  Residents who thought that any council worker munching lunch in their vehicles’ cabin or standing with their thermos in the shade of a tree must surely be bludging.  Residents who couldn’t comprehend the notion that council workers, too, were entitled to breaks.  Residents who sent photos of idling trucks to the council administration.  Yikes.

I apologised again, and again;  I told him I had no interest whatsoever in calling the council about anything (other than burst sewerage pipes – now that’s something to get exercised about) or of sending snapshots of his truck to them.  I wished him well and hoped I hadn’t given him indigestion.  I walked fairly briskly up the hill towards home, and the sanity of my idle cat and an unobserved and unremarked upon morning tea.

A Little Bit of Paranoia

Two paranoid truckies in one day?  Coincidence?  I think not.  I think something not very nice is afoot, and it’s moving more than fairly briskly.

Here are some lessons I learned on The Day of the Two Truckies and the Not So Happy Snaps:

  1. Isn’t life too short to whinge and bitch about strangers we don’t know, doing jobs for reasons best known to themselves and which we have no clue about, and which are clearly, furthermore (and take a breath), none of our business anyway?  Isn’t life just far too short for that nonsense?  Let’s focus our energy elsewhere, somewhere where the sun is shining.
  2. Let’s stop moaning about strangers who stray onto the periphery of our lives, and instead do something worthwhile for ourselves.  Save on bile, biterness, digital images of ugly trucks, and nagging phone calls.  Save on frowns, malice, and revenge.  Save on anxiety medications and botox for our wrinkled, angry foreheads.  Save and smile, silently.
  3. If I want to take photos of appealing signs, I’ll let the boys know that I don’t care about their munchies, or their work orders, or their idling machinery BEFORE I snap.

Are you the paranoid truckie, or the happily ignorant snapper, or the dobber?  Is this your memoir?

Worry less, get permission, stop with the kvetching. 

Ask yourself: What Am I Shovelling?

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Dilly Bag #1 – Declutter, Discover, Create – Dilly it Your Way, Because You Matter


Welcome to your virtual Dilly Bag

What’s a Dilly Bag, I hear you ask?  Good question.  The original Dilly Bag is a small or medium sized bag or basket used by indigenous Australians to carry food, tools or artefacts, or other items of personal value.  Or all of the above.  (Check our the Dilly Bag page under Regular Columns for a fuller description, and pictures).

In other words, the Dilly Bag is a carryall for useful, often indispensible stuff.  Think about what’s in your backpack, handbag, satchel, tote.  Useful things, things you love, comforting things, handy spare change.

So, why exactly do you need The Memoir Detective’s virtual Dilly Bag?  Because when you have your own Dilly, real or virtual, you decide what goes in and what stays out, what inspires and what provokes.  Who knows what may transpire when you have a Dilly friend to rely on?

The Memoir Detective’s virtual Dilly Bag is an ever-changing collection of inspiration, provocation, and demonstrations to encourage your memoir detective to come out and play.

Most of all, the MD’s vDB is for you, to help you declutter, discover, and createTake whatever you like from it and put it in your own Dilly.  Over time, you’ll accumulate a handy resource that takes up very little room but which may be a gentle catalyst for the changes you want to make in your life.

So, what’s in Dilly Bag Number One?

Today, a nano memoir, the meaning of life, and a novel beginning.


  • A sentence a day keeps the madness away, and the memoir a-okay, so why not sentence yourself to a nano memoir, right now?  What’s a nano memoir?  It’s one word that means something very specific and clear to you.  It may remind you of an event, or a person you love (or dare I say it, don’t love), an object, or a place.  It may even provoke something less concrete but still specific and clear: a set of thoughts around an idea, for instance, embodied in a word.
  • Whatever it is, it’s something that you’ll never forget, something you can write an entire story around – with the help of one important word.
  • Are there special words that have accompanied you through your life?  Is there a word that’s coming into your mind now?


  • One of my lifelong words is cumquat – you heard me, cumquat.  The humble cumquat will forever and instantly take me to my grandmother’s house and yard where she grew cumquat trees, from which she plucked the juiciest, tartest fruit to make us jars of cumquat jam (rather than apple, or choko, strangely enough), which we took home to slather on our toast and scones (and eat by the spoonful when no-one was watching).
  • I’ll be writing more about the nano memoir in future posts.


… may have been captured in a remark by the fabulous actor, Cary Grant (1904-1986), when he explained: My formula for living is quite simple.  I get up in the morning and I go to bed at night.  In between I occupy myself as best I can.

  • Today’s the day to occupy yourself as best you can: practically, truthfully, creatively (if you’re a shift-worker, of course, you’ll be doing all of this in reverse – keep a torch handy!).
  • Declutter a drawer somewhere in your house – it’ll only take a minute, and even if it’s several, I guarantee you’ll feel better – small investment, big return – SPACE.
  • Tell yourself, in the privacy of your own mind, a simple truth that applies to you: you’re kind, you never forget to pat your pets when you see them; you belong to the universe and you always will.
  • Write a line of prose, or poetry, or several – it’s up to you.  Create a moment now – check out Veranda Life if you’re after some inspiration.  I get most of my creative now moments for Veranda Life’s 999 Verandakus when I’m out walking.


In the waters of these islands, there is a certain fish whose eyes, like the eyes of the chameleon, are able to look in opposite directions at the same time.  This is the opening sentence of Beachmasters, a novel by award-winning author, Thea Astley, one of Australia’s and the world’s finest writers.

  • Personally, I prefer my human, binocular vision, but I’m sure you know people who approximate that fish in the way they see life – multiple focal points.  They can be invaluable on occasion, but equally invaluable is the ability to focus on one thing at a time and see it through.
  • Today, say Multi-tasking, schmulti-tasking – for half an hour, I’m a one bit wonder: one thing, and one thing only. 
  • What might it be for you, sweet one bit wonder? 
  • Meditation?  Mindful walking?  Focussed reading of one, and only one text?

It’s all up to you – so don’t forget to Dilly it Your Way, Because You Matter.

Remember: Memoir = Life = Now

Creating Memoirs about Body Parts

No, this isn’t getting freaky.  I’ve been learning how to embed videos after I attended a blogging course at my local library this week, so I thought I’d try it out and venture into YouTube world again.

In July this year (2010), I participated, along with 80,000 others, in Ridley Scott and Kevin MacDonald’s project Life in a Day.  It’s designed to capture how people all over the world spent a particular day, in this case, July 24. 

So I grabbed my Handycam and made a few videos, one of which I’ve posted on this site, so you can see how easy it is to focus on something very specific, in this case my hands, and create a memoir about it.

Check it out by selecting the link on my header up there at the top of the page: Experimental Video Memoir.

More about specific focus memoirs in the next few posts, my friends.

Frugal Writing for Life, Love and Everything Besides

NowDSC01428(1)Ancient runic symbol for NOW, created by Lorrie Lawler

Film actor Meryl Streep says, Everything we say signifies, everything counts, that we put out into the world.  It impacts on kids, it impacts on the zeitgeist of the time.

If we try to live our lives in the now, the present moment, which is all we have – the rest is imagination, projection, fantasy, longing – we can be aware of our own zeitgeist.  We can write our own moments purposefully, and with heart and soul together, holding hands.

Where are you right now?  Write a sentence – a frugal one, short and sweet – that tells you how you feel.  Read it aloud.  Does it have rhythm?  Does it make you laugh, cry, sad?  Does it interest you?

What would you like to do with that sentence?  Keep it, erase it, tear it up?  Write another one so it has a friend to call its own?  Try that.  It’s your choice – you have the power to do something, or nothing.

Do the same thing in an hour, the writing thing, that is.  Write another sentence that tells you how you feel.  Try this thoughout the day, one an hour, surreptitiously if necessary (somethimes workplaces can be quite unhelpful where hearts and souls are concerned), and see how things look at the end of the day.

Do you want to keep going?  Good.  You don’t?  Never mind.  In either case, if you’ve come this far, you’ve written a frugal memoir of your feelings for the day.  Those sentences are snapshots of moments in your life that will never come again.  You’ve preserved them.  They aren’t photographs, they’re the purest of all – they’re Graphs – symbols on a line, of you in the moment.

What do you think?  Want to do it again tomorrow?  Maybe?  See you soon.

PS – Don’t forget to carry your notebook and pen(cil) with you as you experiment with the Feelings Frugal Memoir.

Angst for the Memoiries: what exactly is a memoir, anyway?



Life is unpredictable.  Easy to say and write, varyingly difficult to experience for most of us.  But one thing humans possess that enables us to compare our now with our yesterday and the days before, is memory.  We create our lives moment by moment, and at the same time we create our memories for current and future reference. 

Louise Bourgeois, the American sculptor (1911 – ) includes these words in one of her installations: I need my memories.  They are my documents. (Cell 1, 1991, [Mixed Media], Daros Collection, Switzerland). 

Memories as documents.  It’s a handy, tangible way to think of the images and words, the snatches of music and feeling, the dreams and nightmares that we recognise as parts of our memory, our selves.  Documents suggest something solid, something less ephemeral than colliding, electrified synapses and microscopic transmitter substances.  Neuroscientists still have no idea about how thoughts arise, how memories appear, disappear and reappear.  But it’s certain that they exist inside all of us, and we can do whatever we choose with them.

Memoir comes from the French for memory, and is variously defined as a note, a memorandum, a record, now specifically an official one.  A memoir can be a record of events or history from personal knowledge or from special sources of information; an autobiographical or biographical record.  And a memoir can be an essay or dissertation on a learned subject specially studied by the writer.  Thus speaks the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, a fantastic memoir of words.

So, a memoir consists of memories of just about anything you care to put your mind to – simple enough.  You already knew that.  I’d like to suggest that memories are more than the past.  Memories are now, just as all of time – past, present, and future – exists now, is with us now.  Time, as we view it, is constructed so we can get to appointments, arrange our lives, know which shifts we’re working, make sure we put Lotto in before the deadline.  Time as only this moment can be a difficult concept to get our heads around – no past, no future, only now

Between the exhortation memento vivere: remember you have to live, and the warning memento mori: remember you have to die, you’ll find the memoir. 

In all of those moments, here is your life.  It’s happening now. 

What kind of memoir are you creating for yourself?  What are you up to at this moment?  Reading this article for one thing, on-screen or on paper – or maybe you’re remembering it.  Are you in your workplace or your playplace, or your womb-on-wheels (the car when all the windows are up, the sound system is on whalesong or Benny Goodman, and you’re getting the best run through the lights)?  Maybe you’re in a visiting space (the library, a shopping centre).  Are you listening to music, or a radio broadcast, watching TV or the net from the corner of your eye (those corners are underrated and very useful when you don’t want to check in but simply check out the situation)?

Whatever it is you’re doing when you’re doing all of that and more, is creating your memoir on the spot.  Here’s a simple equation: Memoir = Life = Now.  What’s your legacy going to be?  You get to choose from all of these moments, these strings of moments that we experience from birth – some people remember foetal moments: a continuous, comforting hot bath to a reassuring backbeat. 

Get hold of a stethoscope sometime and listen in to your inner beat; it sounds like poetry, and on good days, when it does exactly what it’s supposed to, it truly does have rhythm.  That’s your rhythm, my friend, that’s your memoir at the literal heart of the matter, counting the beat.

You need your memories.  They are your documents.  Why not begin a journal today – record 5 things that happened today in your life, or in the life of the world.  Record another 5 tomorrow.  At the end of the week, you’ll have a memoir of 35 moments you would otherwise have lost somewhere in those synaptic gaps, waiting to be be rediscovered. 

As Louise Bourgeois says: Art is the guarantee of sanity, so why not begin to create the art of your memoir, create the art that is your life.

A Moment in Time

Floral Arch DSC01412(1)

Here’s an example of a moment in time memoir.  I’ve successfully installed Windows Live Writer on my PC and I’m testing its efficacy.  It seems okay so far.  Windows Live Writer is an offline text editor useful for blogging when you’re not on the internet.  Seems like a good idea, so I’m trying it out right now.

Here’s a tip for bloggers: check out the information about Windows Live Writer and other text editors in Susan Gunelius’s Dummies book, Blogging All-in-one for Dummies.  I found it at my local library, and as I mentioned on Veranda Life it’s been very useful for me as a beginner.  There is so much to learn and the learning curve is very steep if you make it so.  That’s one of the reasons why I started 999 Verandakus: A Memoir of Now over at Veranda LifeI wanted a simple space and a simple place where I could pursue and demonstrate one way of creating and maintaining a memoir of the moment. 

999 Verandakus is my version of a memoir of my now moments.  You can do this, too.  You can choose any kind of succinct form of writing – perhaps you like haiku, or even my version of it, the Verandaku.  Check out the Verandaku page at Veranda Life for more details.

You could simply write a sentence whenever something worthwhile occurs to you during the day.  It doesn’t have to be fancy, or have a certain number of syllables.  In fact, some forms of haiku don’t worry about 17 syllables – their aim is to stay within, or up to 17 syllables.  So, you could have a haiku that consists of three lines and any number of syllables up to 17.  Brevity and insight are the aims – a reflection on the now that you’re experiencing that has meaning for you, and hopefully will be able to be interpreted by others, too. 

What’s important is your level of satisfaction with what you’re creating

It’s a small world or a big world, depending on your perspective, but either way, it can be overwhelming.  Decluttering your life, discovering your truth, and creating your legacy, can be worthy ways of cutting the overwhelming down to the right bite-size pieces that you can handle. 

Some time today, write a sentence about how you perceive that moment.  Is it a colour, is it a feeling, does one word come to mind?

Angst for the Memoiries is coming up – its moments are upon us.  Soon.  This post is a small and momentary inclusion/interruption from The Memoir Detective.

Routine or Gay Abandon – It’s All in the Attitude, Toots.

Some routines are essential and unavoidable

I met a woman who wanted to write a novel. Let’s call her Reba.  Reba said she knew she had a book in her and she’d wanted to write it for quite some time.  She asked me what I thought of the idea.  I said it sounded like a wonderful thing to do – what else would I say since I’d written several novels myself at that time, and had managed to get a couple published?

I asked Reba how much she’d written so far, general notes, background research, character development, plot structure, and so on.  She told me she hadn’t actually started yet.  But did she write something every day?  She said no, she didn’t, she was very busy with everything in her life and she didn’t get time to write every day.  Did she write every other day, or a couple of times a week?  No.  In fact, she didn’t write at all.

I asked the obvious question: how did she think she might write a novel if she wasn’t writing, and had no plans to write anytime soon?  Reba looked puzzled, and didn’t answer for a while.  Then she said she hadn’t thought of it like that.

I decided to accept the notion that I’d been transported to Dali’s surreal world of the Writer Who Doesn’t Write But Expects to Have Written – one day, some day.

Here’s the rub: just because you know your alphabet and it’s easy to buy a computer or pick up a pen and notepad, doesn’t mean it’s easy to write.

People don’t make the same assumption about learning the violin, for example.  They don’t presume that once they’ve bought the instrument, they’ll be able to play like Nigel Kennedy.  They accept that there will be practise and lessons, and more practise and more lessons, and that they’ll learn all the time, and fail all the time, and get better and fall back, and get better again, and reach for bigger challenges, and work still harder.

But only if they actually do it.  And doing it is hard, just as doing anything worthwhile is hard.  Starting is hard, continuing is hard, but there are ways of starting and ways to keep going.

Most of the books I’ve read about writing, for instance, emphasise the importance of routine in achieving your writing goals.  One of the earlier texts, from which so many other contemporary publications have derived their writing models and guidelines, is Dorothea Brande’s Becoming a Writer.

Dorothea published this seminal work in 1934 but it was out of print until 1981 when it was re-published with a foreword by John Gardner.  Gardner nails Brande’s approach when he explains that she addresses the root problems common to all writers of any era, whether experienced or beginners.

These root problems relate to the writer’s personality: the ability to get started (or not), getting started but then getting lost or losing heart; inconsistent writing quality; one-off brilliance unrepeated; excellent work during a creative writing course, for instance, and then nothing.  Gardner calls these issues, these root problems, “problems of confidence, self-respect, freedom.  The writer’s demon is imprisoned by the various ghosts in the unconscious.”

Brande offers various means by which writers can get in touch and deal with the ghosts and “cultivate a writer’s temperament.”  She is particularly strong on developing the routine of writing every day and to that end prescribes two exercises.

The first exercise is designed to get you in touch with your unconscious and develop the flow of writing.  Brande asserts that “the first step towards being a writer is to hitch your unconscious mind to your writing arm.”  Or in the case of most of us, to our writing digits and our keyboards.

The ideal time to do this, she says, is when the unconscious is “in the ascendant,” that is, when you first wake in the morning.  She suggests getting up half an hour, or an hour earlier than usual each day and devoting that time to writing.  If that seems too hard, and I must admit, I’m not a morning person, try starting with 15 minutes and build up by quarter-hour segments to an hour.

The trick is to begin as soon as you get up and not turn on the radio, or read the paper first.  Do it straight away while you’re fresh to the new day and your conscious state.

What do you write? Anything at all.  Describe your dreams if you remember them, or someone you met yesterday, what you’re planning to do today.  Or write a conversation you’ve heard, or whatever comes into your mind that allows you to fashion coherent sentences.

In this way, Brande explains, you can train yourself to write in the most basic, uncritical way.  Don’t censor yourself, and remember that this is for you alone, no one else will see it.  Do this every morning and don’t re-read the previous day’s work.  Simply write.  And keep this writing, because there will be ideas in it that you will be able to use without a doubt.

Gradually, you’ll write more in the same amount of time, and gradually, the task of writing will become less problematic and more natural.  Once the habit embeds itself, and you reach ‘on impulse’ for your keyboard or notebook when you wake, you’ll be ready for the next exercise.

The second exercise Brande prescribes to help develop the routine of writing, is to schedule writing periods into your day, apart from your morning writing.  A fifteen minute block is all you need at first, but you must decide on a time, 10am, 3pm, 7pm, and stick to it for that day without deviating – unless of course, God arrives to announce the rapture, in which case write about that while you’re waiting in the queue.

The important thing with this exercise is to vary the times at which you write each day, so that eventually you overcome the deep ‘inner resistance’ of the unconscious, which, Brande says, is ‘incorrigbly lazy … and given to finding the easiest way of satisfying itself.’  It prefers not to be bound by the strictures of schedules, so it has to be pulled into line by the conscious application of varying the times at which you write and sticking to them.  Eventually, if you keep it up, you’ll be able to attend to your writing schedule without resistance and your unconscious will be there and ready to lend its support.

Brande cautions that if you can’t keep up these two activities – early morning writing and writing by pre-arrangement, you should give up writing because your resistance is greater than your desire to write fluently at will.

However, I would add a note of consideration to this rather harsh conclusion for those of us who don’t perform well in the a.m.  While it’s an ideal to get up early every morning and write while your unconscious is closest to you, you might find that mornings aren’t for you – they really aren’t for everyone, believe it or not.

I suggest an alternative that may restore the link to the unconscious even if you don’t write in the morning, and that is to develop the habit of meditation.  You can meditate for 10 to 15 minutes by simply sitting quietly somewhere away from the chaos of life.  Choose the same time each day and stick to it just as the early morning writers do.  Have your notebook and pen, or your PC or laptop handy.

As you sit, eyes closed or open, follow your breath, noting each inhalation and exhalation.  Focus your thoughts on the sensation of air moving in and out of your nose.  Or count each breath as you breathe out.  If intrusive thoughts arise, simply let them come and go – watch them pass by, imagine them drifting off, and return to your breathing and/or counting.

After 10 or 15 minutes of meditating, stay in the same place and begin to write Dorothea’s morning writing exercise.  Do this every day and develop two skills for the price of one.

A routine may be hard to develop, but it is very rewarding and your level of satisfaction with your writing will rise exponentially.  Give yourself a gift and give it a go.

Next time with The Memoir Detective:  Angst for the Memories: what exactly do we mean when we say Memoir?

From Lead to Legacy: First Steps

So many beauties, so little space in my pocket.

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.

Prosper with the God Words and Create Your Legacy

Detail from Words (1990) – Fiona Hall (Beaten Aluminium)

 If you practice often enough, any word can be easy to say or write, or otherwise tamper with quite successfully.  It’s ego that gets in the way of us saying ‘sorry,’ for example.

I’ve found it’s the same with a group of words that appear together as synonyms.  These words include ‘start,’ ‘begin,’ ‘go,’ ‘commence’ – you get the picture.  They’re the opposite of inertia, and they’re part of the cure for entropy or chaos.

They’re the words that give procrastinators the willies.  I should know, I’ve been perfecting the Art of the Waitawhile for decades now.  And interestingly, these moving words are all on excellent terms with ego, too, the little devils, but in a good way, a way that will give you confidence if you go with them.

The Gods of Energy.  As Merlin explains in Mary Stewart’s novel, The Crystal Cave, The gods only go with you if you put yourself in their pathWe might usefully regard words like start, go, begin, commence, as small but powerful gods of energy and action, positive affirmations ready to sweep us up with them if we’re willing.

Waitawhile, or Go.  GO.  Most procrastination is based in fear of failure, just as saying sorry leaves us open to rejection and humiliation – failure by other names – though in reality, people generally appreciate apologies for wrongs.  While it can be difficult to do if we feel hard done by ourselves, or if we’re standing on shaky ground, and hesitant, it’s a way of showing that we care.

Similarly, most of us love to hear of new projects begun; we appreciate it when ambitions are given the energy of the starter’s gun, and not left to flounder in indecision and fear.

How much simpler would our lives be if we could just engage with a partial, not even a total, ego-ectomy, and instantly remove fear of failure as a barrier to success?  Then we could truly embrace Samuel Beckett’s perverse riff on beginning and going and commencing and starting: Fail.  Fail again.  Fail better.

Believe it or not, that’s an extremely positive statement; it lines up beautifully with first steps and takes a complementary position beside one of his other famous quotations, one that I have stuck to my PC monitor: I can’t go on.  I’ll go on.  Because we do, don’t we, as long as there’s breath and will (and a very hot cup of tea).

Failure-proofing.  So one way to failure-proof and energise your approach to starting a new project – in this case the memoirs you want to create (and they will be many and varied, as we’ll discover), but it applies universally – is to focus on one task.

Don’t worry about the thousand mile journey, that’s going to take care of itself once you take the first step, so don’t burden that first step, don’t suck away its energy and frighten it legless with thoughts of earthquakes and tsunamis and hundreds of miles of ragged mountain ranges populated by rabid wolverines.  See how exhausting that is?  Stop it, now.

What’s your first step going to be?  Something practical, something reflective, something meditative, something alcoholic?  Just kidding – really.

While you consider it, consider this interesting remark by Rachel Carson: Beginnings are apt to be shadowy.  Maybe your first step will be to come out of the shadows and let the sun shine in: smile at the fact that you have many stories to tell, and you are going to tell them.

You’re going to be your own Memoir Detective.

Detail from Words (1990) Fiona Hall

Coming up next on The Memoir Detective: First Steps: From Lead to Legacy.