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Using snippets of life to coax out memories

By Darrel L. Hammon

For the Deseret News

Published: Sunday, June 5 2011 4:07 p.m. MDT

Scott Simkins, head conservator of the Church History Library, presents a lecture on preserving your personal history on Thursday, April 8, 2010.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

Enlarge photo»

“Do you remember when …?”

When it comes to thinking about the past, the good times usually rise to the surface. Memories are good for the soul and help us understand who we are and the progress we have made in this life.

Still, we forget bits and pieces or the entire stories over time. That’s just the fact of life, of growing older, of stuffing our minds with other things, many of them irrelevant. Then, these details disappear into that great abyss we call our “forgetful brain.” They are there somewhere, meshed with the several terabytes of stuff we have floating around inside our minds.

So why not write down our experiences somewhere? Here are some ideas to help coax out those memories:

Think about your life

The first thing to do is be mindful of those memories and begin to record them. Begin a list of memories. Simply write “first grade" and a sentence or two about each experience — just snippets. Go to second grade, then third and so on. You could even review old photos or videos you have stashed somewhere in your basement. Go through those, let the pictures “talk to you” and write down what they say.

Find the snippets in the stories

When you go back to the snippets and really think about that experience, it's amazing how many details resurface. Try to re-immerse yourself into the experience and try to feel your way through, remembering sights, sounds, smells, conversations and any details that trigger additional details. Then, just pen the memories as they come, trying to capture as many as you can without worrying about spelling, punctuation, grammar, etc. Just flop the stuff onto the page.

Turn the details into stories or poems

Once you have all of the details, begin writing the story. What you are doing is fleshing out, or putting some meat on, those sketchy details. You'll discover the details coming back.

Edit your draft

Now that you have the story or poem on paper, begin the editing process and fixing the challenges that may have occurred. Be sure to insert the conversation as you remember it. Just remember that every speaker gets a new paragraph, no matter how short or long the conversation.

Share your story

You don’t have to publish the story, although there are plenty of outlets that may publish it. The perfect place to publish is in your own “book of memories.” You can also send the stories to your family and friends, or publish them on your personal blog. Blogs are easy to set up and get going, and they are free.

Bask in the knowledge that this memory will not be forgotten

Now, that you have carefully recorded the memory and published it somewhere, you can be assured that it will not be forgotten. Compliment yourself for getting this story completed, knowing full well that you have more to do.

Start another story

One down, a zillion to go. The task of writing memories can be completely overwhelming, but if you do it one story at a time, fleshing out one snippet at a time, it will be more manageable and ultimately rewarding.

Finally

The best part of the journey is that you will never be done because you are experiencing new memories every single day. The key is to follow Dory’s simple philosophy in "Finding Nemo." Instead of saying “Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming,” repeat, “Just keep writing. Just keep writing.”

Having grown up in rural Idaho, Darrel Hammon has long loved being outdoors, growing things and seeing things the way they could be. He has taught ninth graders and undergraduate and graduate students. He has served as president of two community colleges.

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