The Memoirist’s Manifesto: Savor it all!

To get the most out of life, don’t let that sweet sunset or that baby’s smile slide by. Your job as an aware human being is to appreciate every moment. Allowing yourself to fully absorb the present is touted by Buddhists, hippies, and poets. It is also promoted by positive psychologists who say that savoring helps you absorb more insight, more wisdom, more goodness.  But what should you do with those moments after they’ve passed through the microscope, and end up a great pile on the far side of Now?

Thanks to the Memoir Revolution, we have discovered a new, exciting way to savor those past moments: through the magic of memoir reading and writing, we can appreciate them again and again.

Opening yourself up to the great mountain of material in the past might sound intimidating at first. But memoirs provide a roadmap through the vast storehouse of material. By lining up the pieces and assembling them into a good story, you will see your former self proceeding from a disorganized state at the beginning to a more organized, wiser one at the end.

If you would like to gather the wisdom from your own past, I can think of no better way than to write scenes that will let readers share your experience. By opening the curtains and letting light stream in through an imaginary window into your world, you will be joining your fellow Memoir Revolutionaries who are no longer willing to tolerate leaving all that experience buried in isolated crypts.

By translating the past into well-formed stories, memoirs add another healthy dimension to our appreciation of the infinite now. By blazing trails through the underbrush of the past, readers and writers gather together to make sense of the whole journey. Certainly, it is all too easy to allow those past moments to slip by unappreciated, but through savoring them in the form of a story, you can spot nuggets of wisdom that eluded you the first time.

While all memoirs are powerful examples of the art of savoring across time, one of the best I’ve read, from the point of view of sensory engagement, is Paris Blue. Perhaps because of her lifelong training in the art of expressing emotion through classical music, Julie Scolnik could be a professor of savoring, filling our hearts with the nuances of her own deep emotional experiences.

Another reason Paris Blue is so filled with the sensation of savoring is because it stands on the shoulders of that master of remembrance, Marcel Proust. Julie Scolnik’s story reads like an homage to Proust’s famous work of nostalgia, inviting you to enter into the delicious experience of an earlier time.

Thanks to my own love for the memoir genre, I have added another layer of savoring. After I read each book, I ponder what I’ve learned. Like listening with great care to a work of classical music, and discovering within it nuances of harmony and tonal tension and release, I have uncovered a feast of insights in Julie Scolnik’s Paris Blue. [To read my previous essay about this book, click here.]

Her loneliness and intrigue in the Paris of the seventies… Remembering young love… That first glance that took her breath away… The little garret apartment… Her memories awaken memories of my own, my fascination with France and all things French, my first love with its otherworldly sense of total hypnotic bliss. Reading Paris Blue is like reading Proust, but more feminine, more modern, more American.

Read Paris Blue as though you were sitting quietly in a symphony hall, listening with all your heart to the orchestra of her life, and the lives of the people she loved. And through its pages, ponder the way she transformed her powerful moments into a compelling story. Even the painful ones. Perhaps especially the painful ones. By revisiting it through the eyes of the storyteller, it will mysteriously acquire the sensibility of art –transforming the mundane into an uplifting journey on the magic carpet of savoring.

Writing Prompt: Use savoring to write your memoir

To use the concept of savoring as a recipe for writing your memoir, first look at the powerful memories that occasionally fly past your mind’s eye. All your life these glimpses have come into view, lingered, sometimes with strong emotion, sometimes as distant faint echoes. Then they always recede back into the blurry background from which they arose.

As a memoir writer, your job is to sit with pen or keyboard and when one of these glimpses jumps into view, grab it and translate it into words. Once you’ve got it in this container, you can turn it this way and that, write more about the implications, the feelings, the things that were happening in the world around you the day of the original event.

Keep doing this – over and over, months or years. This is the gathering stage.

Then as your file of written vignettes grows, use the copy/paste feature of your computer to reorganize them into chronological order. You’ll be amazed at how cause and effect begins to come to light when the first thing happens before the second thing. “Oh, that’s how that unfolded!” you might say as you work on your growing manuscript.

Once you realize you are writing a memoir, join with other memoir writers – who are trying to do the exact same thing- your lives might have been completely different in the past, but in the present as warriors of wisdom, attempting to find the shape of reality, you are fellow revolutionaries, no longer willing to let the past lay lost beneath the rubble of time.

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