I don’t know about you, but for me, this last year has been one long blur of unexpected events, time consuming changes to the daily round, and disorienting new “norms” that only end up being normal for a week or two. In the midst of it, I’ve done my best to keep writing—as a lifeline—and what I’ve remembered is that during times of transition and duress, returning to the basics is the most grounding of activities.
For those of us seeking meaning in life and using writing to find it, that involves returning to the simplest of elements: shimmering images, those vivid memory pictures that jump into your mind, instantly transporting you to a moment from the past. These moments are the stories to lean into if your life has been hectic and unpredictable and you are searching for ballast and meaning.
You don’t have to know what each of the shimmering images means right now, or how they are related. You just have to trust that they are important and then record them on paper, or in a computer file.
That is how you begin the process of making meaning in your life, and of finding what is of value, as this world shifts rapidly and you yearn for something different.
Ultimately, what all the memories mean, and how to put them together will be revealed by the very writing itself. In practical terms: As you write your shimmering images, you will begin to see the way they relate to each other, and the way in which they need to be ordered. But in the beginning, you may not, and you needn’t worry about that. Just keep writing. Our task as vessels of memory is to capture the images served up by our minds. They are there for a reason, and that reason has to do with showing the way forward.
The more shimmering images you write, the more your life experience will come together into a meaningful whole. You will make sense of the past, and you will see a new way to go forward.
At the dawn of this year, as your life is challenged with unfamiliar patterns and taxing social expectations, I urge you toward the simplest of creative endeavors: Make a bulleted list of the shimmering images pinging around inside your mind—just a word or two to capture each (so you can call it back later).
And then, once you have that short list, pick one and dive into it, writing quickly, and recording everything you can capture: details and feelings. Follow the picture in your mind; write what you see and remember—the smell of the water, the tilt of your friend’s head as he listened, the talk of the meal you would cook, his knowing smile, the brown of his cap, the call of voices in the morning light. Any sensuous details you can write will help anchor the memory story.
Then move on to the next shimmering image on your list. Write that.
As winter slowly gives way to more light, and waves of COVID keep you close to your hearth, harness your creativity to your shimmering images, the most basic of memoir building blocks, and know that in their writing you will see meaning in the past and find a path to the future.