The Stuff of Memoir (Online Writing Class) - Jan/Feb 2019
“I think it is all a matter of love; the more you love a memory the stronger and stranger it becomes”― Vladimir Nabokov
for people who want to tell the stories of their lives,
who want to leave behind their stories for others,
and who want to learn who they were, who they are,
who they want to be,
and what they can let go of to get there.
Memory – Meaning – Memoir
Story - Stuff - Self-knowing
Objects as story-holders
An Online Exploration
Featuring a daily online classroom for 4 weeks
Private Community Group for Ongoing Resource Sharing after the class ends
plus 2 live teleseminars
Taught by author Patti Digh and antiquarian John Ptak
January 21 - February 25, 2019
Objects are synesthetic things, in their own way. They are something other than themselves when we attach memories to them. Just as some people can see color in music, objects have the potential for being far more than they are or seem, and their power as story-holders doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with their function.
The old battered and painted-over light switch I keep in my tool chest isn’t a beaten up spare, because it holds the memory of where I got it–in this case, it was in a trash heap outside of 112 Mercer Street in Princeton, where Albert Einstein used to live. It was old enough to have been in the house in the 1950s, and so perhaps the man flipped it on and off–that’s what the object holds for me, that spot in time. No one knows that story, and could never know it by looking at the switch swimming around in my tools–but once the object has been recorded, and photographed, and the story told, it becomes much more than itself.
Everything has this potential if your memory is deep enough, but we don’treally want that as a superpower—otherwise we would be like Borges’ “Funes the Memorious” who remembers every detail of his past days so there is no time for form new memories.
As with Marcel Proust, it isn’t necessarily the sight of an object that can lead you into a long experience of memories—it can be the sound, or the texture, or an act involving the object, like eating a cookie.
>NEW NEW< In our class we have used paper microscopes to help concentrate thinking on particular memories, talked about the process of memory, discussed memory palaces and where ours might be (and what's in them), savored some fine German epigrams, played with Proustian cookie-memories and thought about bourbon-stained copies of Ulysses to gain access to sensory memory, built sense maps of sound and smell, walked the floor plans of our early homes, went Snark hunting for unknowns with blank maps, looked at the lines that contain our memories like Realists and Impressionists, reversed memories, created lost photos, recorded lost sounds, all in the effort to gain more access to the stories of our lives that are contained in our memory objects.
“Touch has a memory” as John Keats said. As you can see, there are all manner of triggers, as in Frances Itani’s The Bone Diaries, where the recollection of every broken bone is an anatomy of memory. The taste of passion fruit can take you back to your summer as an exchange student in Sri Lanka.
Admittedly, it is hard to capture a smell as part of a collection of memory memes, but you can certainly rely on the thing that makes it, or the packaging that contained it, and so on. For example, you can open an old book and get that Old Book Smell that transports you to a special place, all because of that book itself.
There are places dedicated to the memories of objects, like the monuments to toys in Japan, as distinguished from the monuments to lost and broken toys there. In this way, the monuments stand in physical validation of that favorite toy, and as a “remembrancer” in the way that not having the monument cannot be. (As an aside, there is a story in Punch magazine of 1892, “Evolution of a Toy Soul,” that long before Toy Story explores the complex existence of the being of a toy as it passes from one sort of toy to another.)
There have been hundreds (or perhaps thousands) of memory systems created and implemented throughout the course of human history–these were essential before the age of having endless and easy access to paper and writing instruments.
Some of these systems were mnemonics, and some were visual-mnemonics, where you would visualize a memory theater in your mind, the interior of a building with main rooms, and in one of these rooms were several cases, and within these would be associative memories. It was a way of story information for later access, and it was the way many people kept their memories for centuries.
Even though this is not much practiced now—unless you enjoy committing poetry and other art forms to memory (“Poetry remembers that it was an oral art before it was a written art,” wrote Jorge Luis Borges), the story of how people thought about saving memories is fascinating and useful to hear. To this end, this class will involve selected reading from sources such as Frances Yates’ The Art of Memory and Jonathan Spence’s The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci.
And although it was not about constructing these kinds of mental, architectural memory-holders, Jorge Borges’ “The Infinite Library” will help us learn how to think about the organization of memory. It might also be worth considering the opposite of this, as in the entirely fabricated memories in P.K. Dick novels, or in the memory excisions of Orwell’s 1984.
Your Guides for the Journey
Patti Digh and John Ptak have been thinking together since 1988 when they met.
The author of 8 books, Patti Digh is a writer, speaker and teacher who has traveled to over 60 countries in the past 40 years. Her comments have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, The London Financial Times, The New York Times, Fortune magazine, and many other national and international publications. Her first book on global leadership was named aFortune magazine “Best Business Book” for the year 2000 and her best-selling Life is a Verb was one of five finalists for the prestigious “Books for a Better Life” award. Patti is the founder of VerbTribe, a series of online writing workshops with over 300 alumni in the past two years.
John Ptak‘s “History of Ideas” blog has been featured in Le Monde, Times of London, Economist, Paris Review, Slate, The Guardian, Boing Boing, Jezebel, Wired, Scientific American, Le Figaro, Mensa, Huffington Post, and the New York Times, among other international press. Since 1985, he has been the owner of J.F. Ptak Science Books, which continues to be a large collection of unusual and significant material in the history of science.
Three of Patti’s favorite objects-as-story-holders include a glass bird that was her beloved fourth grade teacher’s, given to her when Mrs. Smith died, 30 years after that 4th grade year; a carved wooden horse given to her in Zagreb by a stranger just before the war there as a symbol of hope; and a luggage tag written by her father, a man who had the soul of a traveler and longed to travel, but never did.
Three of John’s favorite objects-as-story-holders include a simple gear hung on a bookcase that for over 20 years has been turned by his two daughters as they walk by; a vial of vividly red dirt from his first visit to Canyon de Chelly (the start of his vast dirt collection); and an American primitive drawing from the 1840s that draws him in because of its simplicity, quietness, and stillness.
What we will teach
We will teach two live seminars focusing on a different aspect of memory, memoir, and meaning-making, in which you will be writing as well as learning.
Each week, you will receive diverse readings to deepen your understanding of objects as story-holders and yourself as story-teller.
Each week, you will receive three memoir prompts to spark your story-writing (and, perhaps, your art making).
Each week, we will be in the online classroom and private Facebook group asking and answering questions to help you deepen the story you are telling.
Each week, we will be holding you accountable for doing the work.
What you will receive
- Two 60-minute live phone seminars with Patti and John on memory, space, objects, and story- and meaning-making (January 21 and February 25, 2019, from 7-8pm Eastern)
- Call recordings in Mp3 format
- Access to our online classroom for 3 months (Class + 1 month afterward)
- Feedback from Patti and John in the Ruzuku classroom
- Three memoir assignments per week in our online classroom (Mon/Wed/Fri)
- The seeds for 24 memoir stories
- Instruction on writing and deepening memoir
- Private Facebook group for additional conversation and sharing
What you will create
- Stories of your life to hand down to others (wouldn’t you like to have received this from your grandparents?)
- A practice for continuing to write these stories for the rest of your life
- Words and photographs to capture the iconic status of the things you carry with you
- Ways to organize your icons to express their full meaning and/or the freedom to let those iconic objects go to someone else, now that they have been recorded and their story told
- Ways to help others honor their “stuff” as story-holders
- A community of storytellers
Intellectually stimulating, outcomes focused, and heart-rich
This experience will feed your heart, your mind, and your soul.
You will discover a personal story you didn’t know existed.
You do not have to be a “writer” or “artist” to do this.
You just have to immerse yourself in this process
without judging yourself or what you create.
If you give the stories you create in this experience
to your children or friends,
they are not going to say, “Oh, wow, you can’t write.”
They are going to say, “I cherish these pieces of you.
I love knowing your story more deeply.”
Join us in this extraordinary journey into your story