Wednesday, September 24, 2014


Looking back from here, what do you see?
What do you remember?

When you consider your childhood, what memories quickly take you back to past times and finds and wonderings?

Which moments stand beckoning you to re-enter, revel in-- or revise?

Which moments did you misunderstand or not comprehend at all at the time-- or maybe still?

What moments do you want to forget?

We can return again and again to our childhood lives and selves.

Our early years supply us with endless events, situations, relationships, memories, and ideas  to examine.

In Jaqueline Woodson's latest book, Brown Girl Dreaming, she  returns to a time filled with familiar national and regional history, as her story and her family's story weave in and out of good times, southern traditions and  social injustice,  northern migration and struggles, popular culture and religion,  racial progress and love. Woven through her  free verse and narrative poems are ten numbered haiku- all entitled How to Listen.

We are, indeed,  privileged to listen to her life, remembered and contemplated.

The first and final lines of the opening poem set the mood and tone:
I was born on a Tuesday at University Hospital
Columbus, Ohio
a country caught
between Black and White....

...I was born in Ohio
but  the stories of South Carolina already run
like rivers
through my veins.
She takes us back through her poems to her little-girl love of writing and we watch her grow, within the complex context of her life, into the writer we know and love today.

Likewise  another of my favorite poets, Marilyn Nelson, examines her childhood from the wise perspective of "now" in How I Discovered Poetry.  Considering her young life against a similar background as that of Woodson, Nelson uniquely considers events and situations that, as a child, she did not always understand.

Growing up in a military family during the civil rights era, she considers not only her life and times, but her growing awareness of writing as her avocation.

In the Endnote, Nelson explains that the poems, 50 unrhymed sonnets, explore:
... (her)growing awareness of personal racial identity .. set against the tensions American experiences during the fifties....Each of the poems is built around a "hole" or "gap" in ..understanding.

Which  form would be appropriate to explore your life?
Nelson's sonnets?
Woodson's haiku and prose poems?

As you consider your life in a poetic light, my previous post, Poetic Memoirs,may be a helpful resource.

Or would a graphic novel better help you capture and examine your younger life?

I was delighted to discover El Deafo by Cece Bell and David Lasky, a graphic novel that explores the life of the author, beginning with going to school with a bulky Phonic Ear hearing aid strapped to her chest.  Her survival is accomplished as she" becomes" a superhero, " El Deafo, Listener for All"  

Ironically, the characters of the book are rabbits with huge ears

Her poignant and graphic memoir reminds us of the loneliness, frustration, and sadness that accompany dealing with a difference and disability as such a young age.

In a recent blog post, Terry Thompson, who experiences moderate hearing loss herself, shares how this book brought back all of  the above feelings, but also brought her delight and relief that "Somone is telling my story. Someone gets it. And I was reminded that I was not alone."

Click here to read Thompson's entire post about El Deafo, Hearing Things Differently,.

All children with identify with the difficulties of fitting-in, regardless of their individual and personal abilities or differences.

Many of us enjoy talking with our mothers, our grandmothers, our aunts, and other relatives about their respective childhoods. We all know and laugh together at the ever-growing I walked 10 miles to school stories that our parents and their parents proudly share, as they admonish our perceived weaknesses, laziness, or whatever generational target is at hand at that moment.

Each generation will delight in Childtimes: A Three-Generation Memoir by Eloise Greenfield and her mother, Lessie Jones Little, as they tell their own stories and that of Greenfield's grandmother.  In the opening of this treasure, Greenfield explains  the value of exploring juxtaposed childhood lives:

People are a part of their time.They are affected during the time they live by the things that happen in their world. Big things and small things. A war, an invention such as radio or television, a birthday party, a kiss.  All of these experiences shape  people, and they, in turn, help to shape the present and the future. If we could know more about our ancestors, and the experiences they had as children, and after they had grown up, too, we would then know  much more about what has shaped our world.

Talk to your folks.  Listen to their stories.  Lay them down in writing beside your own.  Think about the rich result.

What did our favorite writers experience in childhood?

One of my favorite writing mentors, Ralph Fletcher has written extensively-- novels, poems, as well as excellent texts on the writing process for both children and teachers.

His account of childhood  as the oldest sibling in his large Catholic family is full of adventures and memories, told with gentle humor. Kids and adults, alike, will delight in his story, Marshfield Dreams: When I Was a Kid.

Finally, I  offer two additional resources that bring childhoods forward to our time, so that we can travel back, explore, compare, learn -- and gain wisdom. When I Was Your Age: Volumes I and II: Original Stories About Growing Up edited by Amy Ehrlich offers collected accounts of childhood and teen years written by some of our favorite YA writers.

At my final school assignment,  I led a teacher writer group.  During our first year together, we focused on memoir writing in our own writing and also with our students.  These volumes became major sources of mentor texts for this writing.

Volume 1
Volume 2
Volumes 1 and 2

What do you remember from your childhood?

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

Our childhoods provide us with endless writing ideas.
We can  explore events, situations, relationships, geography, memories and ideas that shape our now and who we are.

Looking back from here, what do you see?
What do you remember?

Which moments stand beckoning you to re-enter, revel-- or revise?

Which moments did you misunderstand or not comprehend at all at the time-- or maybe still?

What moments do you want to forget?

Write about your childhood.  
Try a poetic memoir and a personal narrative. Try an essay or longer autobiography.

Talk to several other members of your family about their childhoods--your parents, grandparents or other relatives or close friends.  Write a narrative or essay about their childhoods in juxtaposition to your own childhood.

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