Writing Memoir – Using A Favorite Search Engine as Your Personal Muse

March 8, 2010 by  
Filed under Memoir Space

Crocus (c) Bo Mackison

The memoir project for our second month uses an easy research tool to prompt your memoir writing. (If you missed the introduction on memoir writing, and the first memoir project using list writing, check out February’s Memoir Space.)

Using the internet for research provides a great avenue for retrieving memories. Here is a simple technique for turning a search engine such as Google into your own personal muse.

  • Pick a memorable year in your life. Perhaps a significant birthday – maybe the year you turned Sweet 16, or the year you reached adulthood.  Or choose a notable year – the year you were married, moved across town, or across the country.
  • Pick one category or several. Research the best fiction and non-fiction books for that year. Also try the award winning movies, the best albums or singles, and the most popular television shows.
  • Look at sites where you not only can find top 10 lists, but also a summary of the year’s news highlights, sports winners, and popular culture.
  • Researching the decade can make it easier to find information in one place. Here are a few links to get you started:

1960s:  collection of music, books, movies and more from the 60s

1970s:  the super seventies in music, literature, popular culture

1980s:  an encyclopedia of music, cinema, and news for the 80s

1990s:  nifty nineties’ top books, movies, happenings

  • What jogs your memory? Write what you remember. You aren’t creating a history book. You are recalling your memories the way you–and only you–remember them.

I chose 1976 as my memorable year. It was the year I graduated from college, started my first professional job, moved into my first apartment, and got married, all in 6 months time.

Since I have always been an inveterate reader, I checked out the top books in fiction and non-fiction. No memory jogs there.

I looked at the list of the top 10 TV shows. A few of the them are now classics–Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, M*A*S*H– but I wasn’t inspired to write.

However, my muse did awaken as I read over the list of popular music for 1976. Most of the singles were familiar. I played a few of the songs on YouTube and memories came flooding back.

One of the more popular songs of the year, Can’t Take My Eyes off of You by Frankie Valli, had been the first song played at our wedding reception, our first dance. Suddenly I had a story I wanted to remember.

Here is an excerpt from “The First Dance”:

Robert and I met when we both worked at the university’s cafeteria. He worked so he could earn beer money. I worked so I could eat. When we decided to get married, there was the typical planning. My mother offered to help.

“What kind of band do you want? We have friends who have a band. They play anything. Waltzes, polkas, even your kind of music.”

I was wondering exactly what kind of music my kind of music was, but she didn’t wait for an answer.

“He can dance, can’t he?”

It was a question I had considered. I had chosen to table the discussion without having it. Why ask the question? I already knew the answer. No, he couldn’t dance.To keep wedding plans from going ballistic, I took evasive tactics.

“No problems, Mom. We’re both rusty, so we signed up for dance lessons.”

I had seen the sign on the bulletin board at the hospital where I was employed. Six classes – six different dances. The classes were offered by a nearby college and the classes were cheap – a buck a class a person. It sounded like a great solution.

Our enthusiasm was high as Robert and I attended the first class. But after an hour practicing “1-2-3, turn, 1-2-3, turn, guy-smash-girl’s-foot, 1-2-3, turn” we’d both said things we wished we hadn’t, and three of my toes were throbbing and turning purple.

Even so, we were young and optimistic. Surely the second class would be better. Not really. We were young and inexperienced, and we knew nothing about the connection between dancing and natural ability. I would have had better luck dancing the cha cha with a chihuahua, but there wasn’t one available.

Neither of us were naturals on the dance floor, but we weren’t stupid. In fact, we had a lot of smarts. And part of being smart is knowing what you are not good at – and not doing it.

We nixed the cha cha and the waltz, and decided we could fake the polka with enthusiastic lunges. As for the traditional first dance, we wimped out, much to the chagrin of our mothers. But we remained resolute. No waltzes.

We chose a song that had a slow beat, and did the easiest of slow dances. Bride and groom in each others arms, gazing into each others’ eyes, swaying to the music, and shuffling in a circle while never lifting our feet from the floor.

When the music stopped, everyone applauded. We sighed with relief.

And that slow dance has served us well for more than 30 years.

Here are a few tips for giving this prompt a try.

  • Pick a special year. Research the Top 10s. Look at the popular culture or a price list of basic needs–a loaf of bread, milk, a first class stamp, a new auto or home.
  • Consider printing the lists to keep in your memoir stash for future reference.
  • Read through your research until an item triggers a memory. If necessary, play a few songs on YouTube or watch a few trailers from movies to help with memory recall.
  • Write down at least one memory. Don’t worry about perfect sentences or how the words flow at the beginning. Just get the memory down on paper. You can always rewrite later.

If you’d like to share what you discovered, leave an excerpt in the comments or a link to your writing.

Next month I’ll be introducing our first photography project for collecting memories. It’s quick, easy, and you’ll love the keepsake results.


Photo Credit: Spring Crocuses, © 2009, all rights reserved, Bo Mackison


11 Responses to “Writing Memoir – Using A Favorite Search Engine as Your Personal Muse”
  1. Hmm Definitely am liking these practical little baby steps to writing the memoir. I Don’t suppose you know any little tricks for carving the time for it as well, do you Bo?????

  2. Anne Maybus says:

    What a clever idea that is, Bo. Sometimes it is hard to find the starting point, isn’t it? All you need is that trigger. Very clever. I love the excerpt, too. That first dance worry has hung over most of us at some time or other.

  3. Bo Mackison says:

    Thanks, Chris. If nothing else, I’ve learned that I can get lots accomplished with baby steps. Time finding is another subject altogether, though I gained hours a week when I gave my TV away. That’s more drastic than most people want though. :-)

  4. Bo Mackison says:

    Thank you, Anne.

    Yes, that first dance bugaboo. A bit of a worry. SO many first hings are worries until we’ve done them a few hundred times and then they don’t even get a notice. Remember your first time behind the wheel of a car? Woo!

  5. janice says:

    Your new column is definitely connecting to the menopausal place I’ve been in for the last year. It’s a phase of makeovers, clear-outs and brain rewiring, and I’ve been doing a lot of memoir work in the form of reassessing what’s valuable to me as well as archiving and treasuring.

    One thing I did was exactly what you suggested; I went online and found a site which has all the top ten hits and TV shows for every month of the years I wanted to trawl for emotive music.

    Another idea Calm Space readers might like is to be a quotehunter. I’ve written articles and guest posts about it (www.http://sharingthejourney.co.uk/quotes/quote-hunting-how-to-improve-your-writing-and-your-life/) and had great feedback. I think it’s a great skill for bloggers and coaches who want to do memoirs.

    Over at my blog right now there’s also an old post which advocates setting up a system to garner comments we’ve left on our own or other folks’ blogs over the months and years. They really do contain embroidery worth adding to our life tapestries as well as seeds of inspiration for potential posts. We often by-pass our inner writing critics when we spontaneously reply to other folks’ blogposts or respond to comments on our blogs.

    Another great post – thank you!

  6. Bo Mackison says:

    Janice, thanks for the insights on how memoir writing is working for you. Quote hunting sounds like a perfect addition.

  7. Bo, I love the idea of using google as my personal muse. I grew up surrounded by music and the making of it was what drove my teen years, and a song on the radio can bring the memories flooding back.

    You’ve also inspired me to think that the crate of old vinyl records hidden at the back of our storeroom would probably inspire many, many memories!

    Before they go (it’s almost time), I’m going to photograph them so I have the details to jog my memory.

    I’m loving this series! Oh, and I love the story of your first dance. Me, being the perfectionist, insisted on teaching my husband-to-be how to waltz. We used to move the coffee table in my parent’s lounge room, and off we’d go. 1-2-3, 1-2-3… round and round. Stories can inspire our own stories too!!!

  8. Dee says:

    I love this post Bo, and what a wonderful idea, thank you.
    I had to giggle sorry at your recount of your first dance together; the visual in my head was just too precious not to :)

    Ah… Laverne & Shirley bring back some fantastic memories for me – can anyone remember the name of the brewery where they worked? (I always hum through that bit of the song :))

    I too will be looking up the music websites for some inspiration, and on that note Karen.. whats this “Before they go”?!?! Oh you couldn’t :) and if you can, they’re welcome to come make friends with all my vinyl??

  9. Thank you, Bo, your Memoir Space has inspired me so much! I had started a blog last year, to have a place to record memories of my past, leading into how these memories affected me today.
    In February, I shared my blog link with Káren and just after that you started this space…I was in “the right place at the right time”!
    Today would have been my father’s 90th birthday and I have thought of little else all day, so today’s blog post was about him.
    I’m looking forward to your next points of inspiration. :)