This past week in Document Your Life Story (DYLS) we discussed scene and summary as well as the importance of imagery in evoking emotions and giving us a sense of tone and mood. We read Mark Salzman’s short essay “The Kiss,” taking note of the small actions, language and setting that Salzman uses to take the reader from a laid-back dinner party to a boisterous discussion to an embarrassed round of throat clearing, only to end on a tender and delicate moment of intimacy.
We also looked at Sandra Cisneros very short piece “Bread,” using it as a point of entry into the topic of sensory images. Identifying the sensory images in the work of other writers (Cisneros’ use of the overwhelming smell of bread, for example), helps us to identify those images in our own writing. Those images and the sensation they evoke–hunger, in this instance–help us to find the heart of a piece, the “about-ness” of it.
Our assignment leaving class was to pay attention to the images we use as we work on our essays and memoirs. Personally, I’m about to sit down and write about a tender moment I shared with my dog many years back. I’m hoping the soft sweet scent of his freshly-washed fur and the click-clack of his toenails against the hardwood floors of my childhood home are enough to get the memory going.
Fall is here in Lafayette and this semester of Document Your Life Story (DYLS) is well underway. It is an immense privilege to be working with these wonderful students and to hear the beautiful, painful, wonderful stories they have to share. Our first three classes have been back to back to back, including two excellent craft talks hosted on Saint Mary’s campus and a surprise celebration for my September 24th birthday.
In addition to some discussion on scene versus summary and the elusive nature of the narrative arc, we have been talking about beginnings. Where do you start when it comes to telling the story of a life? How do we open a narrative? What is that moment from which the future is born? We’ve shared stories of early birthdays, of first memories and historic events, of the point from which the trajectory of a story was set. The students have been great, their stories rich and deep, with first lines ranging from “I was meant to fly” to stories that open with a little girl playing in the grass of a monkey tree to the cold and premature birth of an isolated infant.
I have been honored to read the writing of Marcia Thomas, John A., Janet Clark, Joan Wahl, Marice George, Treva Perkins and Marilyn Harrison already this term and look forward to seeing what they have to share with you.