Hello SE friends! Gwen with you today to share a discovery. Yep, I stumbled upon a jewel quite unexpectedly.
My household is humming with all things related to moving. Boxes stacked high, piles here and there. I’m doing my usual thing of organizing, sorting, and gifting. I’m sure you’re familiar with the routine.
Yesterday while going through some old photos, I was surprised by what I found. It wasn’t that I discovered new photographs, because I’ve seen these images many times before. Rather, I was struck by how my recall of the time frames differed from what the photos themselves conveyed. In other words, I happened upon a chasm between my memories and the evidence before me.
My memories tell me that I grew up in a large farmhouse until I was ten years old. I can describe the rooms, and what it was like to run through them. I can share stories of playing hide and seek in our yard and tell you about searching for a ball in the cotton field next to it. But when I saw this photo, I was taken aback. It’s not a large house at all.
My sisters and I slept in the attic. We loved the slanted ceiling and peeking out the window at the night sky. But would I experience it the same today? I doubt it. The vastness I knew as a child might now feel confining.
Let’s look at another photo. I was around 24 years old, living in Japan, when this photograph was taken. I remember the house distinctly. I thought it so beautiful. I still do. What’s perplexing is the image of me. It’s almost as though I don’t know her, but how can that be? I can tell you what I experienced living in Japan, but when I look at my much younger self, I wonder who is she?
I’ve sat with this image for a while and realized – again – that time changes how we see. And importantly, we are different people from one stage of life to another. This thought prompts me to consider how I might incorporate age related patterns of thinking into my stories. Perhaps you’ve already done this?
We’ll end with this photo. I love how it captures my father’s playful gesture. But what I noticed more than his playfulness were his jeans and his boots, covered with dirt and other evidence of the fields. And for the first time ever, I understood why dad always wore a long sleeve shirt.
As a kid I never thought about it, other than he only had long sleeve shirts. But upon seeing the image afresh, memories flooded of how dad always tried to hide his stump and his prosthesis (if he wore it), when he was around anyone other than just our family.
What I didn’t notice as a child, I now understand as an adult. A simple thing, really, a long sleeve shirt can hide much more than one with short sleeves.
So what does any of this have to do with writing?
Two weeks ago, Story Empire author Joan Hall wrote about picture it, protray it, pen it. Her examples were brilliant and I encourage you to read her post. When I came across the above photos, it was her article that flashed before me.
Old photos freshly reviewed can open unexpected doors and help a writer find the words to show and not tell.
Here are a few of my realizations from this photo adventure:
- A child’s perspective of life is limited by their experience. Their age and height shape the world they see. Big is relative to what is small, and vice versa. If we include a child’s perspective in our stories, we might need to listen carefully to their chatter or study a photo or two in order to recapture those early childhood moments.
- Memories are made up of threads of truth intertwined with emotions. Depending upon our age and circumstance, one or the other may dominate. I remember a big house, but that home is lodged in a little child’s heart.
- Our interests at different life stages affect what we see and don’t see. As a child, I never thought about my dad’s long sleeve shirts. Today I am quite moved by the realization of why he wore those shirts.
- Self-awareness evolves with age. A twenty-something character may not be reflective in the same way as a fifty-something character might be. If our protagonist is not of our age group, one helpful way to bridge that divide is through photographs of times we’ve long forgotten.
I’d love to hear of your experiences while looking through old photos. Did they spark unexpected memories or connections or understandings? Have these discoveries helped your writing? I look forward to hearing from you.
All the best…