In writing my book Life in Five Senses, one thing that has surprised me is how much my exploration of my senses has helped me to remember.
Memories of places, people, and experiences are flooding back. I remember much more than I realized I remembered.
I have a writer friend who often writes about teenagers, and I’ve been struck by how vividly she recalls incidents, feelings, and situations from high school.
When I asked her how she did it, she suggested a memory exercise that reminds me of the kinds of exercises I tried when writing Life in Five Senses.
“The more you send down your bucket,” she told me, “the more you bring up. So relax in a quiet place, choose a place from your childhood, and imagine yourself walking through it. Really open the front door, step in, and look around. Take your time. You’ll be astonished how things will begin to fill in—details you haven’t thought about in years.”
When I got in bed that night, I tried it. I imagined myself standing at the front door of the house my family lived in when I was between the ages of five and ten, on West 70th Street in Kansas City.
I walked from the sidewalk up the stairs to the front door. As I stood there, I remembered the funny sound of the doorbell, and the cool, narrow mail slot, with its little door that I loved to open and shut. (One year, the Easter Bunny hid a pink Brach’s Marshmallow egg in that mailbox.) In my mind, I looked up the long staircase that stood in front of the door, and I remembered when my baby sister Elizabeth managed to crawl up the entire flight and startle my mother by grinning up at her from the floor, as my mother put things away in the second-floor linen closet.
I dubbed this exercise the “memory visit,” and I’ve started to do one every night as I waited to fall asleep.
The more we send down our buckets into memories, the more we bring up.