I recently rediscovered an oval wooden object in the recesses of one of my drawers. My mother-in-law had given it to me years ago, explaining that it was a tool that her mother had used to mend holes in socks.
To be honest, I didn’t understand why she wanted me to have it. I can’t even thread my sewing machine (another gift from her) and I knew I would never bother to mend my socks. Nevertheless, I accepted her gift and promptly forgot about it.
Now, holding the object in my hands once again, I decided it was time to learn more about it.
I discovered that my wooden tool is called a darning egg or a darning mushroom. Having assumed it to be a relic of the past – indeed, some are considered to be collectible (see RubyLane) – I was shocked to learn that many people steadfastly continue to use them to repair the holes in their socks.
The egg doesn’t do a lot, really – its primary function is to serve as a prop. You insert the egg into the sock so that the hole is exposed, thereby creating a workable area to interlace new material with the old (you can see it done on this YouTube video). Thus, even though the darning egg doesn’t do the mending or stitching itself, the task would be much more difficult without it.
Similarly, there are times when we encounter holes in our story – when we can’t remember the circumstances around or our actions toward a person, place or event…or even the event itself.
As Jane Friedman mentions in her blog post, “Using the Fallacy of Memory to Create Effective Memoir,” there are four main problems with memory:
- Transience – the inability to remember an event at all
- Misattribution – remembering erroneously
- Suggestibility – remembering differently when influenced by others
- Bias – remembering through emotional filters
Just as a hole in a sock can cause discomfort for the wearer, omitting important details or events of your story can cause confusion and potential problems later in the story line. Rather than discarding your story, try to acquire new source material that may help you mend your story and restore it to its intended shape and purpose.
Speak with Others
Ask several individuals to share their memories of whatever is in question. If their recollections are similar in nature, then you can realistically piece together your missing section. If they are disparate, it’s important to conduct additional research to determine which memory is the most accurate (see the next section).
Note that it’s not uncommon for one person to remember a particular event very differently from someone else. This doesn’t necessarily imply that they are remembering it incorrectly; they just have differing viewpoints (emotional bias) and/or naturally focus on different things according to their personalities. And the longer the time lapse between the event and your questions, the more disparate the stories may become.
Think about crime scene investigators: they interview eyewitnesses all the time and rarely (if ever) do all of the witnesses agree on everything. Nevertheless, enough similarities are often provided to allow investigators to piece together the key aspects of the crime. Rather than dismissing disparate accounts, incorporate them into your story and allow the reader to learn with you.
When doing so, however, be sure to alert your reader to that fact. You could say something like, “According to my aunt, abc happened and according to my grandmother, xyz occurred.” or “Based on the consensus of those I’ve talked to since that time, I reacted by…”
If you’re trying to piece together a personal experience, ask family members and friends to share their photos, ephemera and memorabilia with you. In addition, capture the larger social history surrounding the time period or event by conducting research.
The convenience and speed of Internet search engines cannot be denied, but you need to be cautious about the reliability and reputation of the sites you visit. It’s also important to document the complete URL of the sites you plan to reference, along with the site name, the site owner (especially if it’s a personal blog) and the date on which you visited the website. If you intend to quote from the website, be aware of copyright laws.
Visit libraries and museums that pertain to your research topic. Librarians and curators are trained to help you locate the specific information you’re looking for and often offer great insights based on their own research. You’ll undoubtedly walk away with useful nuggets of information.
If possible, travel to where the event took place—it might jog your memory and enable you to uncover an overlooked piece of information. If nothing else, it will provide you with setting details that you can incorporate into your story.
Just as a seamstress interlaces new material with existing threads from the surrounding area to mend the hole, incorporating research with your memories provides a reinforced and complete story.
Mend Holes with Care
When writing your life story or other work of creative nonfiction, you’ll need to use good judgment, sound research and write to the best of your memory to create a story that is both engaging and factual.
As Lee Gutkind, founder of Creative Nonfiction Magazine, says, “[The term] ‘creative’ doesn’t mean inventing what didn’t happen, reporting and describing what wasn’t there. It doesn’t mean that the writer has a license to lie…[Rather,] The goal is to make nonﬁction stories read like ﬁction so that your readers are as enthralled by fact as they are by fantasy.”
Even though many people in today’s society can afford to throw away socks with holes in them, your story is invaluable and shouldn’t be tossed out without a second thought. No, whenever possible, it deserves the time and effort it takes to repair its weak and missing parts.
Writing your life story? Be sure to get your free 6-Month Book Planner!