Monday, October 29, 2012

embodied memory

I must admit--it's a bit of a challenge to write this morning with the rain hammering against the windows and the wind howling outside as hurricane Sandy moves on shore. And we live inland so we aren't getting the worst of it. Still, I'm ready:

Emergency preparedness...
Actually, there's a good chance that a one hundred year-old oak will come crashing down on the house today or tomorrow, given its age and the direction of the wind. Famke is pressed up against me so she apparently knows that something is up with this storm, too. Which reminds me...
...I spent a couple of days with my brother in Buffalo last week for a memorial observation of the passing of one of our last remaining relatives. There, I was reminded of the iconic blizzards I enjoyed back when I was growing up.
Trust me--I know how to prepare for a storm.
It has been years since either of us has been back home so, while we were there, we revisited a few of our old haunts and indulged in food you can only get in Buffalo:
Ted's hot dogs from the same stand we frequented 50 years ago
Roast beef on kimmelweck
Duff's Wings-voted #1 in Buffalo for 8 years running
My brother and I also visited Buffalo Women's and Children's Hospital while we were there.

We were both hospitalized there with rheumatic fever as children and we are collaborating on a joint memoir about our shared experience and the subsequent effect it had on the course of our lives. I have to admit that my world wobbled a bit when we first walked in and I inhaled the familiar scent of antiseptic and hospital food, when I saw the chidren in their beds, and their parents keeping vigil at their sides. Of course, the hospital doesn't look anything like it did in 1952. Still, it brought back memories. As did the taste of hot wings. As did the cold, damp wind blowing in off Lake Erie.
Which brings me to the subject of embodied memory--a memory that is triggered by a physical sensation, a scene or a moment in time that may not have crossed our minds for many, many years. For me, last week, it was the smell of the hospital--a physical sensation that transported me back to the ward where I was hospitalized at the age of three, into the crib in the back corner of the room, back to the tantrum I threw at 8:00 every night when visiting hours came to an end.
You may experience something similar. You might hear a song that sends you back to your college days. You might walk out into the cold and remember standing at the corner waiting for the school bus in a snowstorm as a child.
You might inhale an aroma that triggers the memory of a long forgotten Christmas morning with your family.
Embodied memory is an important concept in our understanding of PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) and in the recovery of preverbal memory. It helps connect our reaction to certain persons and situations, and can help explain the anxiety we feel at times when there is nothing to feel anxious about.
If you write, this is a great way to introduce backstory--as a memory related to a sensation in one of your characters. You can incorporate one or more of the five senses as a trigger, remembering how important it is to access taste, smell, hearing, and touch in description.
Home-bound today because of the in-coming hurricane, I am transported back, by the roar of the wind and the chill draft in the house, to a day as a child when school was closed and we watched a different storm roll through.
 It's starting to pick up out there, so before I lose power, I just want to wish everyone in the path of this storm a safe harbor.
"Teach yourself to work
in uncertainty."
--Bernard Malamud--
Right now, it's hard to know what next week will bring forth.


Saturday, October 20, 2012

hear ye! hear ye!

If nothing else, October calls us to attention.  "Hear ye! Hear ye! Winter is coming! Winter is coming!"

While I'm overjoyed at the prospect, most people I know are reluctant to see summer end. I think autumn is Mother Nature's way of consoling them, as if to say, "Now, now. This isn't so bad, is it?" and out she comes with the pumpkins and gourds, the cider and doughnuts, the brilliant colors and wind tossed leaves...


so that, rather than bellyache about winter, we are forced to focus on her beauty.

This is a little snippet from The Bandaged Place (my still-needs-an-agent novel) that describes an October morning in northern New England through the eyes of my protagonist:

"October takes me by surprise. I should have seen it coming. Like incense over the altar, wood smoke hangs heavy in the air. There are pumpkins on every porch—Smiley, Goofy, Grumpy, Spooky—so that Middleburg takes on a personality of its own. This is one of those powder puff mornings when the rising sun causes everything to blush. The air is so still that the chimney smoke reaches straight up into the soft pink haze that clings to the treetops. Instead of dew, we awaken to the glitter of frost on the grass, to ice on the windshield, to breath that crystallizes in mid-air. I can tell that snow is on the way. I know it as surely as I know the smell of honeysuckle in May, of fresh cut grass in July, and burning leaves in September.

Summer has surrendered to autumn. Sightseers choke the mountain roads by day and jam the restaurants and bars at night. But these are fair-weather fans. They may extol the glories of blazing foliage and crisp, clean air but they’ll be sure to head home before snow flies, before Mother Nature packs up her palette and heads south leaving behind the soft soothing shades of oatmeal and brown sugar, of seashells and sand, of bone. Before the sun pales and the sky turns to lead. Before the wind shifts and whistles unchecked through the bare branches, tossing fallen leaves around like the snow that is sure to follow."
...the soft soothing shades of oatmeal and
brown sugar, seashells and sand,
of bone.

To my summer-loving friends and followers I say: Enjoy the consolations of autumn while they last.

To my snowdrift loving, hot-spiced-wine-by-the-fireplace addicted, hunker-down-and-write friends and followers I say: Hang in there. It won't be too much longer!

Are you reluctant to see summer end or eager for winter to arrive?
"I please myself with the graces of the winter scenery,
and believe that we are as much touched by it
as by the genial influences of summer."
--Ralph Waldo Emerson--
Next week I'll be visiting my old stomping grounds in and around Buffalo, conjuring up childhood memories for a collaborative memoir with my brother. I'd like to do a post on embodied memory the next time I come in for a landing.



Saturday, October 13, 2012


Admit it. Some things are simply hopeless.

Take, for example, house cleaning. Hopeless! We have overnight guests coming this weekend, and I want them to know that I really did try to get the place in shape for their visit. I dusted, vacuumed, and mopped. The place looked fabulous...for about two minutes! That's when you-know-who came barreling in from a romp in the woods.

One good shake and my shiny, clean hardwood floor was blanketed in dead leaves, loose fur, and muddy paw prints. This is hopeless!

Then, speaking of hopeless, you have biostatistics. Yesterday I was catching up on some continuing medical education credits and the test included six questions on medical statistics, something I never understood, never use, and never will.

Nevertheless, determined to get it right this time, I accessed the reference that was provided and dug in. After about five minutes on true and false positives, true and false negatives, "specificity", "sensitivity", "confidence intervals", and calculating the "number of patients needed to treat inorder to improve the outcome for one patient in a thirteen year period" my brain turned to marshmallow fluff. It was hopeless.

Earlier in the week, I experienced a hopeless moment while writing, too. I was having such trouble with one scene, in desperation I asked my facebook friends how long it could possibly take to write one measly chapter.

The consesus was ten years! Some days it seems just that hopeless.

Still, knowing that your friends sometimes experience the same difficulty you do can be comforting. I started the scene over, and VOILA! I turned out not one, but two chapters in two days this week.

When things seem hopeless, it may just be that you're hoping for the wrong thing!
"Expect your every need to be met,
expect the answer to every problem,
expect abundance on every level..."
--Eileen Caddy--
Ps: I still haven't figured out the stats. Maybe next week, I'll write about hoping for things that are USELESS.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

oh no!

Have you ever had one of those "Oh no!" days? To understand what this is, go to . Click on "funny" go to page 3, and click on "Scrappy, The Birthday Puppy."

It's not that the graphics are all that spectacular, nor is the story so special. It's the narration I love. Oh no! Oh no!! Oh no!!! It brings a smile to my face every time I watch it...and I watch it whenever I need a good chuckle. Like on Thursday, when my "Oh no!" day started with the discovery that my kitchen mouse is back--the one that invited his entire death-defying extended family to hunker down in the cupboard under the kitchen sink all winter last year. Oh no!

The Ringleader

Next, I discovered a leak in a pipe under the bathroom sink that had inundated everything I had stored there. Oh no!!
Well, maybe not that bad...

Still, it was a gorgeous fall day, so I decided to take a walk. But before I could say, "Bad dog!" I stepped in you-know-what, compliments of you-know who.

Oh no!!!

I couldn't figure out why I was so tired by the end of the day. I had to remind myself that, in addition to cleaning up three stinky messes, I had managed to throw in three loads of laundry. I'd done the grocery shopping for the week. I'd weeded, edged and tanbarked along two sides of the house. And prepared supper...

...after which I realized that I hadn't written a single word all day long.
OH NO!!!!

"We are traditionally rather proud of ourselves
for having slipped creative work
 in there between domestic chores and obligations.
I'm not sure we deserve such big A-pluses for that."
--Toni Morrison--
This week I submitted a chapter to the editor of an upcoming anthology on empowerment for women. By next week I should know how it was received. Wish me luck...