Family: A Tapestry of Memories
*Adapted from a blog I wrote as a Pongo Publishing mentor in collaboration with Seattle Public Library - April 2013 (part 2 of 4).
Often people tell me about their families in a way that reminds me of a complicated tapestry, one that includes both remembered and subtle hints of experiences, all of which can affect their current feelings and questions about life.
We are defined by many things throughout our lives, as our brain ceaselessly accumulates snapshots of people and events that influence us. We might say we “can’t remember” but our brains are incredible devices, and often what we can’t consciously recall (remember) is subtly encoded in us -- in our identity (aspects of who we love, career aspirations, etc.), our reactions to sensory stimuli (preferring Shalimar to Patchouli, dogs to cats), and even in our muscles (overall posture or sudden butterflies in your stomach). Our brains are writing all the time whether we know it or not!
In the brain's meticulous catalogue of snapshots lies the family album, things we remember about the people we call family, and things we feel but don’t necessarily remember.
Because Pongo works with teens in shelters, inpatient hospitals and detention centers, we write with poets who are temporarily or permanently separated from their families. It makes a lot of sense why the family album is often at the forefront of their minds. The writing process of poets exploring familial relationships becomes a hand-woven tapestry of both conscious and unconscious memories. And when these writers begin to dig in and explore the subtleties they ask very specific questions (i.e. Why do I cringe at mac-and-cheese? Why do I think dahlias are the flower of love and not roses?). As suggested in the previous Pongo blog on loss (Loss: A Shape-shifter), their unique answers to these questions often create new meanings, help them define their life, and weave anew or mend the old tapestry of family.
Two Pongo writing activities that help poets write about family are “I Just Thought You Should Know” and “Where I Come From”.