Milestones are key components of lifestories and memoir. The events they signify are the moments we feel our life shift or turn a corner. Our perspective changes, if only slightly, and the moments stick in memory, perhaps sweet as cotton candy residue or irritating as cockleburs.
Last night was a cotton candy milestone for me: along with my husband and our older son’s family, I attended our oldest grandchild’s high school graduation in Lake Oswego, Oregon. I tried to swallow the lump in my throat and watched through teary eyes as Keith strode to the podium, laden down with honors cords, to address his classmates and an audience of about fifteen hundred. He did so with superb aplomb. I cheered loudest of all at the end.
Over the course of the three interminable hours I spent squirming and wiggling on that rock hard gymnasium bleacher, I recalled Keith’s birth, the arrival of other grandchildren, each graduation we’ve attended, and a long list of other milestone moments.
I’ve been thinking about milestone's a lot recently. Late May through early July is major milestone season for my family and me. I graduated from high school on May 28. and began my first job on June 5, which was also the day I first met the man I married a year later. The last weekend in June I will attend my LAHS ‘62 50th reunion. I find the symmetry of Keith’s graduation in juxtaposition with my impending reunion compelling.
Milestone moments deserve to be celebrated and commemorated. Many call for celebration in person with others. All are compelling story topics on their own merits. I wrote a blog post for One Woman’s Day about June 5, a Double Milestone Day.
Writing about these experiences pays multiple dividends:
Personal satisfaction. Writing about happy or rewarding milestones allows you to re-experience the joy and pleasure and excitement you felt at the moment and share the energy of the experience with others.
Broadening perspective. Focusing on individual senses, perhaps on the often-overlooked sense of smell, may reactivate subliminal memories and uncover meaningful connections to other memories. Most especially, you may find additional ways to view and interpret the situation.
Healing painful memories. Looking at painful situations from other perspectives is a primary key way to removing their sting, and as mentioned above, reflecting and writing about key memories often triggers new views and perspectives.
Clarifying your message. You may recall Mark Twain’s advice in my previous post. He urged you to begin writing afresh after completing a story to your satisfaction. Fully developing a single story as a polished vignette is terrific preparation for incorporating that memory into a more comprehensive memoir.
Creating a legacy of story. Very early in The Heart and Craft of Lifestory Writing, I emphasize that any story you write, however crude and unpolished, is better than writing nothing. I explain that my mother left behind comprehensive drafts of her lifestory. Time ran out for her, and she was unable to integrate multiple drafts and individual accounts into a finished memoir, but the details are there and her story is complete up to the point where she met my father. Her descendants and their flock of cousins will have a wider window into the past as a result.
Write your stories now, before your time runs out, and give yourself the opportunity to savor them afresh as you share them with posterity.
Write now: if you don’t already have one in mind,make a list of milestone memories from your past. Pick one and write a complete story about it. Include lots of sensory detail along with personal reflection about the meaning the moment had for you.