Tag Archives: memory triggers

Encore! How Old Letters and Recovered Memories Bring Satisfaction and Hope.

We lay aside letters never to read them again, and at last we destroy them out of discretion, and so disappears the most beautiful, the most immediate breath of life, irrecoverable for ourselves and for others.
 ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
 

Last week I was doing some spring cleaning and came across a collection of letters I had written to my parents some forty-five years ago. At the time, I was a young man teaching in Ghana. After University I’d joined CUSO, a Canadian voluntary organization similar to the Peace Corps, and had been assigned to the West African country for two years. I’d asked my mother to keep these letters as a partial record of my experience…Read more.

Monday’s Link Roundup.

Another Monday’s Link Roundup brimming with a harvest of goodies. If you’re looking for a thoughtful essay on memory, take a look at Memoirs and Memories. And for a fascinating item on the history of traveling libraries, you’ll want to read Some little-discussed history of the traveling library.

  • Asking Permission. “As I work on various projects I often see images that I’d love to include in a publication. Locating the owner is often difficult. But before you can use an image in a publication or on a website, you need to obtain permission from the owner. Here are a few tips to help.”
  • Books: A Living History. “In Books: A Living History, Australian historian Martyn Lyons (of A History of Reading and Writing in the Western World fame) explores how books became one of the most efficient and enduring information technologies ever invented — something we seem to forget in an era plagued by techno-dystopian alarmism about the death of books.”
  • 10 Traits that Make You a Master Networker—and Grow Your Business. “Networking is more than shaking hands and passing around business cards. Based on a survey I conducted of more than 2,000 people throughout the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia, it’s about building your “social capital.” The highest-rated traits in the survey are the ones related to developing and maintaining good relationships.”
  • Memoirs and Memory. “…as I came to see that our memories aren’t really patchy; they’re patchworks, oddly and randomly retrieved bits and scraps that we weave together into something we believe to be a more integrated, seamless fabric than it really is… I don’t worry that the scenes are significantly inaccurate or even remotely embellished. I worry about what’s not there and might have made for an even better story.”
  • Is This the Future of Punctuation!? “People fuss about punctuation not only because it clarifies meaning but also because its neglect appears to reflect wider social decline. And while the big social battles seem intractable, smaller battles over the use of the apostrophe feel like they can be won.”
  • Some little-discussed history of the traveling library. “Mary L. Titcomb, who sent out that first traveling library in 1905, popularized it evidenced via all kinds of metrics. In fact today, all 50 U.S. states still have traveling branch library services. “They’re traveling cathedrals of beauty and truth and peace,” says Anne Lamott.”

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How Old Letters and Recovered Memories Bring Satisfaction and Hope.

We lay aside letters never to read them again, and at last we destroy them out of discretion, and so disappears the most beautiful, the most immediate breath of life, irrecoverable for ourselves and for others.

~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Last week I was doing some spring cleaning and came across a collection of letters I had written to my parents some forty-five years ago. At the time, I was a young man teaching in Ghana. After University I’d joined CUSO, a Canadian voluntary organization similar to the Peace Corps, and had been assigned to the West African country for two years. I’d asked my mother to keep these letters as a partial record of my experience.

Dan and the staff at Sefwi Wiawso Secondary School, Ghana

Last week was the first time I’d looked at them in over four decades. As I read through these tissue thin blue aerograms, covered in tightly composed script,  I was deeply affected.  My younger self was speaking to me across the years not only about his wonder at this new place and culture but also about his hopes and dreams.

I feel that I want a role in life where I can work to benefit those among us who are not so privileged. I have long given up the idea that I alone can solve world problems. But I do feel that I have something and that I can contribute a little to working out some of our problems.

In a powerful way I came to see that the life I had hoped for has been lived. The values I held then are still close to my heart. It gives me encouragement as I look ahead to the “third chapter” of my life. I suspect it will be  a time  every bit as challenging and eye-opening as my days in Ghana.  And I hope I’ll face the future with the same degree of passion, curiosity, dedication, and openness as that young man did all those years ago.

The letters also confirm how much detail and texture of our past is simply lost unless we have journals or letters to refresh our memory.  I was surprised at the events, people, and places that had faded from my mind.  In fact, it turns out that the Ghanaian secondary school compound where I lived and taught wasn’t exactly how I remembered it at all!

My letters home illustrate the great value that memorabilia play in unlocking the stories of our life. But not just the stories.  Those letters also helped me understand something of the person I am today.

Here are a few random thoughts:

  • Start a journal. It’s never too late. Begin recording the details of your life. One day you may want to write your life story and these journal entries will be invaluable.
  • Preserve old letters. Make sure that you keep your correspondence safely stored in acid free archival boxes.
  • Search for original documents. If you’ve been hired to produce a personal history or you’re doing your own, make sure to uncover any letters, journals, or photographs that will help trigger memories.
  • Use archival documents to reveal values and beliefs. While memorabilia can aid in triggering a recall of past events – go further. The stories that emerge from the past can provide powerful clues to the essence of a person and the things that person holds dear.

Photos from Dan Curtis collection

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What Was The # 1 Song Playing The Day You Were Born?

Julie Zander at Chapters of Life has come across a fabulous site for music history buffs. It’s called The #1 Song On This Date In History. If you want to discover the hit song on the day you were born or find out what was playing on your parent’s wedding day, then this is the site for you.

It’s a great way to add some detail to a personal history you’re writing. You could also use the site to help spark memories if you’re interviewing a relative about her life. Music can trigger a flood of memories.

On July 21, 1969 Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. Did you know that the #1 hit song playing in America that day was, “In the year 2525″ by Zager and Evans? For all you 60′s nostalgia buffs take a listen.