Good Reading : May 2016
GOODREADINGMAGAZINE.COM.AU GOOD READING MAY 2016 54 It’s a cool autumn morning in Par is where I’m teaching the annual memoir workshop, and although Parisians in every café are downing their first strong coffee, I’m sedately drinking a cup of tea. It’s not just habit, although I do like my morning brew; it’s also a preparatory ritual because today I am going to talk to the class about Proust and his madeleine cake – which was dipped, not in coffee, but in tea (albeit lime-flower tea). I sit on the balcony looking down on the rue Montmartre. Dark-coated teenagers are laughing and talking on their way to school, the market is being set up, and the smells of cheese and fruits and fish waft up to my balcony. It’s near the end of another year and I am overflowing with the memor ies from the writing class. I sip my steaming cup of Darjeeling as I read the sentence on memory from In Search of Lost Time: And just as the Japanese amuse themselves by filling a porcelain bowl with water and steeping in it little crumbs of paper which until then are without character or form, but, the moment they become wet, stretch themselves and bend, take on colour and distinctive shape, become flowers or houses or people, permanent and recognisable, so in that moment all the flowers in our garden and in M Swann’s park, and the water-lilies on the Vivonne and the good folk of the village and their little dwellings and the par ish church and the whole of Combray and of its surroundings, taking their proper shapes and growing solid, sprang into being, town and gardens alike, from my cup of tea. (italics added). Proust’s sentence is lovely in its own right, but it also contains, for memoir writers, essential instructions on the nature of memory. In an interview with the Parisian newspaper Le Temps in 1913, Proust said there were two kinds of memory: voluntary and involuntary. Voluntary memory is the deliberate daily recall of events of the immediate or long ago past. Involuntary memory, on the other hand, comes unbidden and more rarely and is the product of a sensory stimulus of some kind. Hot tea and madeleine cake. WRITER’S LIFE 2 Proustian memory Teachers of writing classes often tell their students ‘show, don’t tell’. But showing – which means providing vivid description so that readers can clearly imagine what is being represented – depends to a large extent on memory and an alertness to the present moment. Writer and memoir instructor PATTI MILLER, author of Ransacking Paris, shows here how you can draw on sensory memory to enhance your writing.