November 18, 2016
11 AM PDT 12 PM MDT 1 PM CDT 2 PM EDT
We are pleased this month to explore the issue of memory itself, with some inspiration by Marcel Proust and our guest, Barbara Donsky, author of Veronica’s Grave. Her introduction to our November roundtable follows. Remember, it’s National Lifewriting Month, so celebrate by working on your memoir and inviting your memories to play.
And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray … when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Leonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane …. and the whole of Combray and its surroundings, taking shape and solidity, sprang into being, town and garden alike, from my cup of tea.
After dipping a madeleine in a cup of verbena-infused tea, Proust’s boyhood memories played out before his very eyes. After a few more sips and a few more dips, he transformed his entire life — all that he knew about history, cultural mores, social privilege, art, science, and human nature—into what is arguably the greatest novel of the 20th century. If not a memoir, it’s an autobiographical treatise in the guise of a novel. Dipping the madeleine proved an antidote to the much-dreaded writer’s block.
What Proust stumbled upon was a way to feed the artist within. And what about you? Have you tried ‘dipping the madeleine,’ found ways to nourish your artist-soul? As memoirists, we are called upon to revisit our earlier selves. To do so, we need something that will trigger the involuntary memories, many of which have lain dormant for years.
When involuntary memories arise, we see the past as if it were the present, according to Proust. And that’s very much how it felt, when I visited the apartment building on Ryer Avenue in the South Bronx where we had lived until my mother died. It was then I could see in mind’s eye the black-and-white octagonal tiles that had been in the bathroom. Feel the silkiness of the tufts on my mother’s chenille bedspread. Hear the music of the Big Bands coming from the radio. Things that I had not thought about in years. All of which came together to form the opening segment of Veronica’s Grave.
Neuroscientists tell us that our memories are not lost, but contained within the cells of our body. That said, in order for an involuntary memory to surface—to move out of the hippocampus into the realm of consciousness—requires a trigger.
Fortunately, ‘triggers’ can be found everywhere if we are open to them. A trigger could be something as ordinary as a conversation overheard on a street corner. Or the feel of a starchy linen napkin (as was the case for Proust). For authors juggling the hurried demands of everyday life, it often feels as if there’s little time to collect one’s thoughts, no less to listen to them.
When doing readings and book signings for my book Veronica’s Grave, one of the questions that has come up regularly has to do with my writing schedule and how I managed to find the voice of a young girl.
I will discuss:
- Strategies for opening the gates to the sub-conscious, and letting involuntary memories rise into consciousness.
- Rise and Shine!
- Recharge the synapses
- Start the Day with Self-Affirmations
- Write the Morning Pages
- The Virtues of Longhand
- Trust the Voice in Your Head
Barbara Donsky is a native New Yorker born in the South Bronx, a neighborhood that by the ‘70s and ‘80s had become synonymous with urban dysfunction.
Author of the newly-released Veronica’s Grave: A Daughter’s Memoir, she graduated Hunter College magna cum laude; was elected to three honorary societies—Phi Beta Kappa, Kappa Delta Pi and Sigma Tau Delta; and earned a doctoral degree from Hofstra University. Publications include a dissertation Trends in Written Composition in Elementary Schools in the United States, 1890 -1960. Articles in educational journals including “Writing as Praxis” and “Trends in Elementary Writing Instruction”. And a short story— “The Trouble with Harry”—published in the Naples Review in Florida.
A reading specialist with a private practice for school-age children and an adjunct professor at C.W. Post College on Long Island, Barbara served for many years as a trustee, board president, and capital campaign coordinator of the Boys and Girls Club of Oyster Bay-East Norwich.
For work done on behalf of the Club, Barbara was named ‘Woman of the Year’ by the Boys and Girls Club and honored by the Township of Oyster Bay for her ‘public-spirited contributions advancing the general welfare of the community.’
Living in Manhattan with her husband, she blogs at https://www.Barbaradonsky.com