The Voice of Memory

The characters in our stories speak to us; they urge us to listen to them, care about them, tell their stories; breathe life into them and be their voice. Sometimes these characters are gentle, tapping lightly on our shoulder, allowing us to glimpse them out of the corner of our eye as we’re making our way through the day. And other times, the characters who want our attention are aggressive, wrestling with us, forcing us to stop what we’re doing to face them.

I find as it is with characters, so too it is with memories. Our memories speak to us; they urge us to remember, remind us to care, and by informing our lives, inspire us to carry on by telling our own stories. Sometimes these memories are gentle, woven delicately through the strands of the quilt that cloaks our daily lives, whereby every so often we glimpse moments of our past – that dog on the beach who looks just like Lady (Remember that wonderful dog we had when we were kids?); that trim woman in the beige sweatercoat and off-white suede gloves (And we thought it was only our mother who wore suede gloves in the summer!); the sweet-sharp scent of Lily-of-the-Valley and Hyacinth (Come on, I’ll race you to see who can find the most Easter eggs hidden in Helen’s garden!) And other times, memories are aggressive, causing us pain or fear even though the event or person is no longer in control of us. Some such memories we feel no choice but to try to swallow and hide. Some, though, will not give way, will destabilize us and hold us captive, preventing us from moving forward until we’ve faced them and overcome them.

The stories we write are infused with both the memories and the characters that seek us out, of which we’re indeed a part. Consciously or not, we often craft our stories in order to explore, understand, and overcome those most aggressive of characters, those most aggressive of memories. And as we do so – as we give witness to them – we provide voice to them while at the same time proclaiming a voice for ourselves. The goal for our stories is to resolve and bring some closure to whatever it is with which that character, that memory, is insisting we contend. As we allow the character to guide us for a while until we express his or her journey, as we allow the memory to infuse us for a while until we sort out from whence it’s come and how we want it to quiet down, we allow our own voices to resonate louder and stronger. And we, for listening, caring, wrestling, and overcoming, are stabilized once more, ready to move on.

Thinking she was my protector, my mother’s mantra was “Don’t do that, it’s too dangerous.” Such protection became restriction; such protection became constriction; such protection became strangulation. And so it happened that I was unable to shake the fears I had about trying anything new, culminating in a remarkable moment of panic, distress and an inability to breathe when I first was learning how to ski a few years ago. I recognized the need to let certain memories speak to me, no matter how painful, and through a poem, I gave them a voice, thereby once and for all quieting the mantra and giving myself permission to breathe. And to ski.   That poem is shared below, in honor of poetry month, and in order to give voice to the writer I wish to become.

From a Daughter

Her caring clutches
around me, love-heavy;
a stifle-dark night.

Her memory’s voice
freezes my limbs; a tree,
glass roots, in ice-light.

With frost-sharp breath,
my own dawn, sun-fresh, melts
a path; free-

(c)  Emma D Dryden 2009

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks llc


  1. Wonderful insight and poem. Thank you.

  2. Susan Lindquist4/12/2010

    We've shared these feelings, as I remember. And that free-fall. Love it, Em. Thanks, as always, for your huge heart and generosity. xox

  3. This explains why when I sit down to write, little me comes forward. It hurts so I push her back. I don't write and then I'm eternally frustrated. Thank you for sharing. Maybe I should let her speak for once instead of shushing her.

    Your poem reminds me of a lyric in a song from the soundtrack of the movie Crazy Heart. It goes "sometimes falling feels like flying for a little while." But your meaning is reversed. Sometimes flying feels like falling for a little while. Strong stuff!

  4. Anonymous4/13/2010

    Beautifully written and very true. Yesterday, I was frustrated with myself for needing to move instead of sitting and writing more pages. I went to the gym, picked up a basketball and began shooting. What am I doing-I need to be working. The answer came. You're remembering.

  5. Beautiful, absolutely beautiful...I felt as if butterfly wings were fluttering against my throat when I read your...simply beautiful poem.

    Thank you!

  6. Yes, I really can understand how scary skiing would be to learn as an adult! My parents were really different in that being afraid wasn't an option- at least with skiing.
    If i were a parent in NYC though, I'd have big fears about curbs, yes mainly the curbs and rush of it all considering children's natural dazed pace.
    To good memories...

  7. Ah! I recognize that parenting "pattern" and have wrestled with it myself. I am not always conscious of how my memories seep into my writing, but they are there. Sometimes it is the children at my author visits who ask the questions that make me realize how these memories have informed my writing. Those children, with their honest hearts, never cease to amaze and scare me into my own honesty. Thank you for sharing your beautiful poem.