Lindy Hughes Pfeil
NaNoWriMo and Silent-Write-Wednesdays in November
Updated: Oct 27, 2022
I spend a lot of time looking for lost stuff. Cell phone. Glasses. The socks I thought I’d put in the dryer. I drive to Safeway and then forget what I planned to buy for dinner. And don’t ask me what I did last weekend.
And yet I remember – in technicolour detail – everything that happened when I was twelve. Where I was when it happened, what I was wearing, who was with me, and most peculiarly, how I felt.
I remember standing in front of our living room window in Johannesburg, in 1976, singing "Fernando" to my reflection as ABBA spun on my little red record player. The music rushed through my pre-teen veins, and I was invincible.
And then there was the time I spent, barefoot in the neighbourhood, burning red ants on the sidewalks, with my father’s fancy gold Zippo lighter. Listening to them ‘pop,’ I felt like God. But in bed that night, unable to sleep, I panicked. Was murdering ants a sin? Was I destined for hell? I still break out in a cold sweat thinking about it.
Psychologists talk about the ‘reminiscence bump’ which starts just after age 10. There are probably excellent scientific explanations for this phenomenon – like hormones and brain development – but I’m not terribly interested in the why of it all.
What does interest me, is capturing these stories before they disappear – before we disappear – into the abyss of forever forgotten.
Recently, at the Vancouver Fringe Festival (and a huge thank you to those who braved bridges to support "Mother Tongues"), chatting with the audience after our show, I was struck by the almost universal intensity of our pre-teen memories. As we compared stories, all of us -men and women in our forties, fifties, sixties, and older - remembered with absolute clarity the hopes, passions, and disappointments of our twelve-year-old selves.
We also shared a common sadness; many of us had never heard the stories of our parents, our grandparents, our great-grandparents.
My father died long before I was even vaguely interested in who he had been before he was my father. I wish I had known just a tiny bit about the human being that he was. His wishes. Dreams. Challenges. Did he also murder ants when he was twelve?
I have spent most of my life gathering stories. Witnessing their enormous potential to connect. To comfort. Even to free. So, it no longer shocks me when one person’s very tiny story connects so fiercely with a stranger.
But first, the story needs to be told.
November is just the month to do this. In Canada, and around the world, it’s National Novel Writing Month, otherwise known as NaNoWriMo. Between November 1 and 31, participants commit to writing 50,000 words (and it doesn't need to be a novel you're writing).
November is also National Life Writing Month. And to celebrate, I invite you to join me every Wednesday on Zoom from 7 to 8 am. I’ll post a writing prompt onscreen. We’ll all be muted. And we’ll spend the hour writing silently.
Come in pyjamas. Bring your coffee. Paper. Pens. Or laptop.
Let’s save our stories.
Because who else will?
Email me for the Zoom link (no cost during November). Or register for the next online Guided Autobiography workshops: Thurs, Nov 17-Dec 22, 9-11:30 am PST OR 6-8:30 pm PST.
Published in the November 2022 edition of the Beacon newspaper.