Lessons from Old Acquaintances


In a post on the Daily OM website, Madisyn Taylor sets the stage for a magnificent writing opportunity:

. . . when fate brings old friends back into our lives, there is always a reason. They may act as messengers, reminding us of a part of ourselves we have forgotten to nurture. They might appear to give us a chance to react in a new way to an old situation. They may even bring up unresolved issues so that we may complete them, giving us the chance to move forward on our life path.

Write on Madisyn! She attributes the reappearance of old friends to fate. But who cares how we explain it? You don’t have to subscribe to any particular belief system to see that however they reappear and whatever the reason, they can indeed offer learning opportunities. In fact, so can casual acquaintances and arch enemies.

I have good news. You do not have to have direct contact with these people to learn from them. They don’t even have to be alive. Memory is enough, perhaps even better, because it reflects only your reaction and reality, and that’s something you can work with. You can safely meet anyone on the page.

Give it a try. Think of a stimulating or challenging relationship from your past. Spend a few minutes replaying memories. Then get out pen and paper and reconnect on the page using questions like these:

  • How do I feel about this person and memory? Name the feeling(s)
  • What happened to cause me to feel that way? Was it something I did or someone else?
  • Would I feel the same way if it happened today?
  • What do I know now that I didn’t know then? How have my attitudes and beliefs changed?
  • How else can I look at the situation? About others involved, circumstances and/or self
  • What would I do differently if a genie gave me do-overs?

Use the list as suggestions. Each situation is different. Chose your questions to fit the occasion. I do recommend writing by hand at this early stage. Research has shown that writing by hand activates most of your brain while keyboarding engages mainly the frontal part. Hooking in those extra brain cells is likely to trigger richer memory and detail and flesh out the heart of your story. Keyboarding is fine for the craft.

When you feel finished with questions, you’re ready to turn your responses into story, incorporating insights you gained from the list. For example, nail the original memory with something like, Trixie called me a coward. I turned and walked away so nobody would see me cry.

Then add insight and proposed do-over: Eventually I realized that she was a bully, and I should have stood my ground. Today I’d ask, “Trixie, I’ve never seen you do that. Go ahead. Do it. Show me how brave YOU are.” Or something like that. I’d speak calmly, but firmly. When you write your version, flesh out the scene with  more context and detail to give readers a full experience.

At least two powerful things are likely to result from this exercise. First, the new power response will be embedded in that memory, probably forever. Each time you recall that event, you’re going to feel stronger, some would say healed.

Then, assuming you share your story with your writing group, family members or friends (and that’s strictly voluntary), they are likely to benefit from your insight. They may remember and re-view a similar circumstance to their benefit. Or they may learn from your example and be better prepared to deal with a situation that has yet to arise.

Come to think of it, I feel ready now to write about a dysfunctional company I worked for twenty years ago. If I had written about it then, I would have done so primarily from a victim perspective. Today, after years of sporadic journaling, I realize how naïve I was at the time and see many things I could have done to improve at least my corner of that messy world. Twenty years ago I thought of writing an exposé, but I was afraid I’d sued by that major corporation. Writing from today’s more informed perspective, I’m certain I could safely publish a compelling, beneficial account. But the moment has passed. My memory of that time has dimmed, and other stories seem more compelling. I’ve learned what I need to know and that’s enough.

No comments :