23 May 2012

A Map and Memoir of Your Past

I saw this Memoir exercise in a magazine quite a few years ago
and recently stumbled across it again.

Memoir - Part I
Make a map of the earliest neighborhood you can remember. Include as much detail as you can. Who lived where? What were the secret places? Where did your friends live? Where did the weird people live? Where were the houses of the friends of your brothers and sisters? Where were the off-limits places? Where was your favorite place to spend time or play? Were there any stores, schools or churches? A cemetery? What route did you take to school?

Your map can be as simple as a series of lines with X's, or as complex as a poster board with colored markers, magazine cutouts, and fabric swatches for lawns. Regardless of how you approach your map, enjoy yourself. If it takes 15 minutes, or a week, if it's a scrap of paper, or a fiberglass diorama: make a map of your earliest childhood neighborhood.

As you draw your map notice how it opens your memory up. You start to see and hear things you haven’t thought of for years. Take time for a little daydreaming as you draw your map. Maps can unlock memory, recreating a world so that as you draw, the world of your map is gone. The more you draw, the more comes to mind. Things you thought were lost.

Memoir - Part II
So you’ve drawn your map. Now tell a story from your map. Don’t edit yourself much. Don’t try for anything finished. The story needn’t be long. A couple of pages is fine. (But keep going if you get inspired.) “One day back in River Wood...” and off you go.  And always keep in mind what Flannery O’Connor said: “If nothing happens, it’s not a story.”  Now write. Look at your map, and write. Write a little, daydream a lot, write some more. Pretty soon you’ll have your story told.

I shall be trying this over the summer. I have a feeling my map will summon forth many old faces and places I've forgotten, but I look forward to meeting them all again, if only in my memory.

 Image: children's cognitive map, Charleston, USA


  1. Very creative and such a nice way to remember childhood memories. Thanks for sharing. I am your newest follower. I hope you come and visit and follow along.

  2. This is an excellent exercise. I started to do it mentally and could see what a good memory jog it is. I like the F. O. quote. A good story is hard to find. One of my favorite maps like this is on the end papers of my fav old edition of Wind in the Willows. (Ill.-Ernest Shepherd)

  3. Thanks for stopping by, Linda! I look forward to visiting your blog. Have a beautiful weekend.

  4. I know the map you mean, Jacqueline! I always love maps like that in books. (The one for Treasure Island was always a favorite, too.) It's funny the names and games and favorite haunts that suddenly rise up out of the past as you think about this memoir 'map'. I'm really looking forward to working on it myself. Take care and have a lovely weekend!

  5. What a wonderful exercise! I think it would take me quite sometime just to draw the map :-) Have a great week!