In my elemental system of memoir, January is an Earth month, and Earth represents the childhood ground of our being.
So here it is, January, and I’m thinking about my childhood. Over the holidays, my mom pulled out an oversize Brooks Brothers suit box brimming with artwork that my brother and I had created in childhood, as well as some drawings and paintings she did during those years.
Looking through the box with my own children, I was struck at how well this early artwork presaged the adult I would become.
Two portraits of me as a three-year-old child, created by my mother, show me frowning in concentration over a book, and gazing dreamily out to sea.
Cards I created for my parents, soon after I learned how to write (and evidently to type as well), are filled with love and bright colors, bearing witness to my loving, happy childhood, which I would do my best to recreate for my own children.
Another card is more mysterious, revealing my Scorpio tendency to feel deeply and to hold a grudge, as well as my lifelong preoccupation with the complexities of time: I wrote about my mom being “mean” to me “the day before yesterday,” and I was hoping she would be nicer to me in the future. Past, present and future, human emotions of love, anger, fear and hope, all expressed in the childish block letters of my earliest writing.
My most striking artwork of the collection, created when I was six or seven, clearly presents the swing between city and country that I wrote about in my memoir as the dominant movement of my childhood. I created a bright, loving portrait of the countryside and the animals I loved who lived there; and drew the city as the monotone, dirty, crowded, garbage-laden and fossil-fuel-dominated metropolis that I detested.
The beginnings of my environmental activism are already there in the caption of the picture, looking ahead to the far-off year 2001 and urging my viewers not to wait that long to start working on behalf of Mother Earth.
If you are fortunate enough to have access to a box of your childhood artwork, or old photos taken during your childhood, January is a great time to look through them for clues that will jog your memory and bring to the foreground long-forgotten details from your early years.
Write the scenes that go with the pictures, with as much detail as you can muster, and then do some process writing, asking yourself what these glimpses of your childhood reveal about how much or how little your early loves, hates and fascinations have changed over time.
For more inspiration, check out the January prompts in my Writer’s Companion; or take an even deeper dive into memory with my online course, the Elemental Journey of Purposeful Memoir. Or contact me for some one-on-one coaching support!
If you’re in the Berkshire region, consider coming to my Great Barrington memoir workshop, (upcoming sessions February 3 and February 17), or go deeper with my four-session Memoir Intensive class, starting February 11.
Now is the time, and your story is the one we’re waiting for!