#wipMadness Day 19: Memories That Matter

IMG_0979 - Version 2Heritage items intrigue me although I’ve never been one to collect antiques. I don’t read a lot of historical fiction, either. I like things with a history that is significant to my family — with some kind of personal connection. That’s why I treasure this glassware. I doubt the pieces have any monetary value, but they belonged to my maternal grandmother. They are older than I am, and I remember her using them on special occasions during my childhood.

IMG_0980 - Version 2Is it the memories or the items themselves that attract me? In this case, definitely it’s the memories. My personal taste doesn’t lean towards ornate anything, but I keep these pieces displayed in our china cabinet and enjoy my regular glimpses even if I don’t normally use them.

Memories are a big part of our existence, and yet when it comes to giving memories to my fictional characters, I forget how important they are.

After spending time creating  plot, conflict, and setting, too often I let my characters’ personalities develop solely through their actions and words. Without a past, characters can be two-dimensional. I’m trying to correct that in this manuscript. One of the reasons my progress has been so slow during March Madness, is because I’m taking time to get to know my characters better … finding out what happened in their past that is bound to influence their present.

Q4U: Do you give your characters a past, complete with memories that play a part in your story?

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Denise tells me she’s drawn the name of another prize winner. This time it’s… (insert drumroll here)…

 TANYA

Yay! Congratulations, Tanya!!! You can stop by Denise’s goal-setting post to select your prize from those that haven’t been crossed off the list, and then email Denise your choice at d(at)denisejaden(dot)com  .

We’re almost three-quarters through the month. (Can you believe Spring arrives tomorrow?) Are you satisfied with the progress you’re making towards your March goals? If not, what can you do differently during the next ten days that will leave you with good memories of the month’s achievement when it’s over? There’s still time to make your efforts count, Wipsters! 🙂

And don’t forget to check in tomorrow with Tonette de la Luna!

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Collections… or, why I have rocks and wood in my house

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DSC00866Different things fascinate different people. I lean towards items with textural appeal, like rocks, wood, and pottery. I have a collection of handmade pottery mugs… singletons, each chosen as a memento of a special place. This one came from Israel as a gift from my hubby when he visited there many years ago.

The bits of wood are from two very different locales. The one piece riddled by gribbles and shipworms with a small seagull feather caught in it, came from the ocean’s shore on Vancouver Island. The other, barely two inches long and with minuscule bits of almost-petrified leaves, came from the tundra of the northern Yukon. I probably should have left the latter where I found it, but….

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Rocks are something else. It’s not their geological aspects that catch my attention, but interesting shapes, designs and textures. One of my young granddaughters is attracted to rocks — she had one in her pocket to take home on the airplane yesterday — and my BFF’s husband used to regularly pick up a rock on his daily runs. Their front garden displayed an impressive collection!

DSC00861I’ve taken to using a felt pen to print the source of many of mine on their undersides. It’s impossible to recall where all of them originated so you might wonder why I bother to keep them. I may not remember the exact occasions, but I know I would have been enjoying a stroll along a rocky shore, or wandering a wooded trail, visiting a special holiday location or perhaps marvelling at an awesome view when I stooped to gather the stones. Their existence is a pleasant reminder of my past and in an obscure kind of way they make me happy just by having them to admire.

In one of my novels a character dries and presses flowers to create a collection that preserves her memories of a place that was special during her childhood. Collections are distinctive and represent a person’s interests. They tell us something about that person without the need for a narrative description. (I admit to not wanting to know what my collections say about me!)

Are any of your characters collectors? Are you?

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Sweet Memories

My hubby’s favourite vegetables are green peas. He calls them the Vegetables of Heaven. I like them well enough, and serve them regularly, along with snow peas, and sugar or snap peas, but I far prefer Sweet Peas… ‘though not to eat, of course.

The wonderful sweet scent of heritage Sweet Peas brings back memories of my childhood… plucking the long stems from six foot high plants that scaled netting stapled to the back fence.  Sly curling tentacles clung to the netting and each other, reluctant to release their grip, and too often a petal would break off as my clumsy young fingers pulled them away. They were my mother’s favourite flower… at least, that’s what she once told me. She liked lots of different flowers, but didn’t attempt to grow many. She wasn’t a gardener at heart.

My grandmother was the gardener.  The scent I most associate with my grandmother is the white Nicotiana alata that grew in a planter next to her front door. I remember it giving off a heady sweet fragrance, especially in the early evenings as the grownups sat chatting on the lawn after dinner and my cousins and I played tag around their chairs.

But the Sweet Peas’ fragrance is gentle, its blooms fragile… velvety soft petals in pastel shades intermingled on the vines with others of more vibrant hues.  Although not the varieties we know today, Sweet Peas have been around for more than three hundred years, which may be why there’s an old-fashioned aura to them.  A monk discovered an early variety growing wild on the island of Sicily in the Mediterranean in the mid-1600s.

I usually don’t plant mine early enough and summer catches them before they’ve developed well enough to withstand the heat. This year I planted a four foot ‘Knee High’ variety in a pot on the deck, and popped a clear plastic garbage bag over it every night for weeks to act as a greenhouse. The plants are over five feet now, and they’ve just begun to bloom. These photos are of the first three blossoms.

My heart is smiling.

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Do you have a favourite flower, and are there particular flowers that convey special memories to you?

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Time, Christmas Traditions and Memories

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What is it about Christmas that has us thumbing through old cookbooks searching for a particular recipe of Grandma’s? Why do we carefully unwrap ornaments that are old and dilapidated and take pleasure in displaying them in prominent locations on our decorated trees?

This little cross has been on every tree since I was born. And no, I’m not telling you how many years that’s been. At some point it moved from my parents’ home to ours, along with a few other treasures. I never knew what significance, if any, it had for them, but I cherish it.

Every family seems to have its own special traditions. A Facebook friend mentioned she’s making Polish stuffed cabbage … that it’s not Christmas without it. I make fruitcakes in November every year. When my mother was alive she made steamed carrot pudding and we always traded some so we each had both. It only happened at Christmas. Neither of us made those recipes at any other time of the year. I also remember every Christmas Eve the entire family gathered at my paternal grandparents’ home. We wouldn’t have dreamed of making other plans.

Christmas Eve 1953

There’s joy in these traditions and family celebrations, but when something happens to knock everything off kilter, their memories can make future Christmases a time of nostalgia and melancholy, even depression, as we recall with longing “how it use to be”.

We can turn the hands of our clocks backwards as much as we want, but there’s no way to turn back time in real life. I think that’s why time travel and historical fiction have such a wide appeal. As readers we can place ourselves into an earlier era, at least until we reach the last page.

I wonder if our families will recall this Christmas with fondness two or three decades from now. I wonder which of our traditions they will choose to continue or discard, and why. What makes traditions meaningful? As we approach the fourth Sunday in Advent, preparing ourselves for the celebration of Christ’s birth, what might we do to ensure the focus of our Christmas celebration stays on Him?

Do you have a favourite memory from a past Christmas? Why is it special to you?

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Blackberry Memories

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Berries black and purple stain lips and fingertips as we pluck the heaviest from prickled vines, and eat twice as many as make it into the bucket.

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Blackberry picking still evokes memories of many island holidays — a bramble-lined, gravel driveway to the big green gate with a weathered ‘Westgyle’ sign…

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yellowed arbutus leaves crunching under foot,
rocky shelves of shoreline to explore, and
a point where, at night, we would lay on our backs
and search out constellations;
knee high meadow grasses that hid
an old abandoned well,
badminton birds smacked into branches
that overhung a dirt court
outlined with crushed oyster shells;
walks to the marina to spend the daily dime or quarter
on a handful of jawbreakers
or perhaps a bottle of soda pop.

 

The aroma of a fresh-from-the-oven blackberry crisp will always bring back late summer memories from long gone years, even though these berries were picked in a neighbour’s yard just last weekend.

As we move into the post-summer days of October, what memories do you have that linger and bring a smile?

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You only thought typewriters were obsolete!

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Typewriters are making a comeback. I know, it sounds ludicrous, but according to an article in the New York Times, it’s true. Among the comments on my last post was one by journalist Caitlin Kelly that took me to her Broadside blog. There she discussed the NYT article and reminisced about her early typewriting experiences. She said, “As someone old enough to have begun her journalism career working on a typewriter, I remember well the joys and frustrations – fingers covered in Wite-out! No delete key! Physical cutting and pasting! – that went along with it.”

Her words sent my memory cells careening!

Dusty and almost forgotten, abandoned in the darkness of my office closet, a plastic case hides the forerunner to a succession of many Mac computers – an electric Smith Corona SL470. My husband has often suggested it’s taking up unnecessary space and should be scrapped, or at least donated to a church garage sale, but I can’t quite convince myself to part with it.

It’s not antique by any means, and isn’t even my first typewriter. My first was a sleek Olivetti portable, given to me one Christmas by my parents.  My dad asked me to help choose it, ostensibly as a gift for my mom, who typed up his business invoices on an ancient Underwood. What a surprise to discover the Olivetti under the tree Christmas morning with my name attached to it!

Mom, on the other hand, continued to plunk on the Underwood until receiving a hand-me-down Royal years later from my in-laws.  It was a great improvement. The Royal’s keys were wonderfully smooth, and no longer etched circles into my mom’s fingertips.

Generations of writers have recorded their stories using typewriters, and some would say creativity flowed much easier than with today’s computers. The ideas poured out, keeping pace with sixty-words-per-minute keystrokes. I’m not sure sitting at a typewriter, hands poised over the keys while staring at a blank sheet of paper, is really much different than sitting at my computers staring at the blinking cursor on a blank screen.

The memories don’t provoke many creative ideas, but perhaps the convenience of a delete key and a save option compensate for the lack of any tactile inspiration.

I know I don’t miss the Wite-out, or erasing multiple copies sandwiched between sheets of carbon paper. I don’t miss wasted paper balled up and tossed into a garbage can. Or faint lines of type when I needed to change the ribbon but didn’t have a replacement on hand.

Then again, there really was something unique about the tappity-tap and ding… something satisfying about flinging that carriage back to start a fresh line.

Ah, the nostalgia! I think I’ll go plug in the Smith Corona and give it run, just for old time’s sake. It doesn’t have a carriage per se, but it still makes a good thunk when I hit the return key.

What’s been your best writing tool – pen and paper, typewriter, word processor, computer? Any antiques in your closet?

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