Memoir Writing


Writing at the Crossroads


This memory resurrection exercise requires a field trip. A small book to be carried in purse or shirt pocket is a useful tool for a memoirist -- of course it can only be useful if accompanied by a pen or pencil or some form or writing implement.

What I want you to do, is remember that inspiration happens when something in the present moment connects with something that has been relegated to the back closets of your mind. So, if you are going to go for a walk in the park, to the store or to a museum, be aware of the images that flash in your mind. Notice that the colors in the store windows are all echoing the season. At the moment I write this, it is spring, and so the windows are filled with bright pastels, tulips and cherry blossoms. A few months ago they were all about reds and greens and silvers and blues that have to do with Christmas... lighted trees and brightly wrapped packages.

As I write these instructions, it is springtime here in my apartment complex. The sky is an incredible blue. Pear trees are scattering white blossoms on the sidewalks.

Yesterday I was aware that I wanted to write an exercise for the memoir group I belong to. At the same time, I had the pleasure of an invitation to go see Chinese Fiber Art at the quilt museum with our friend Katy. So, I opted for the quilt museum and the hope that something there would trigger a memoir for me. Bill and I had, after all, been to China more than once and some connection was likely to manifest itself there at the San Jose Quilt Museum and remind me of something I had seen in China.


Example: Writing at the Crossroads

I am by nature a fiber artist. The things in the gift shop -- little free-standing houses made by quilters, some crocheted flowers of incredible, if creepy, design, necklace spool knit from thin copper wires-were bright and tantalizing. Things that might have offered a world of possibilities, but didn't. I felt no connection with things remembered.

Just inside the door to the Chinese Fiber Arts, a pair of white sheer panels hung glowing from the ceiling. The artists had, in some way not clear to me, attached ribbons of the same sheer fabric to these panels. This was just enough like the panels I had seen in the Folk Museum in Onyang, Korea to get the fibers of the memory system in my brain to buzzing. So, I made a note in the little spiral notebook that I keep in Bill's shirt pocket.

Samsung has a plant in Onyang. They bought generators from the company we represented and so Bill often went there to start up these generators, or on trouble shooting missions. Back in antiquity Onyang was the Southern Capital of Korea. It was a beautiful city in the mountains. A place of healing waters, caves and forests. The Emperor and his entourage went there to spend their summers.

At the time we went there, it was a city in transition. There was still the ancient that drew tourists from all over the country, perhaps from all over the world. And, there was the semiconductor industry. The hotel we stayed in was in the old section. You could not even see the new section -- ranks and ranks of large rectangular buildings, reminiscent of the hotels in the Monopoly games of my childhood.

The old section of Onyang was a beehive of shops and sidewalk venders. Dried fish mingling with CDs, jewelry and bright hand sewn ritual costumes. I noticed in wandering about the streets of Onyang that it seemed to be the custom that women walked in pairs. Often holding hands. From time to time I would see this one set of older women about my age. They would smile and nod in greeting, I would smile and nod in reply.

A few blocks to the southeast of the hotel where we stayed, there was a Museum of Folk Art. The grounds of the museum featured a beautiful garden. If you went there in the spring, there would be photographers taking wedding pictures of young brides and grooms dressed in Elaborate American Style Wedding finery. It is my understanding that wedding ceremonies in Korea require two sets of finery. The American White Gown for the Christian Ceremony, and the traditional Korean Costumes for the Reception.

One day while walking in the Azalea Garden at the Folk Museum, I crossed paths with the two ladies familiar to me from the market in town. I smiled and nodded in response to their greeting. They, however, had a bolder plan. They spoke to me and pantomimed that they wanted to have a conversation with me. I told them with a regretful shrug that I spoke only English and was very sorry for that.

The one woman had an idea. She made a hand motion... which had a certain familiarity to me. She extended her right hand, with the pinky and first finger raised and the center two held down by the thumb. This was the peculiar hand motion that supporters of the University of Texas had taken to using sometime after I left that school. This hand motion was, in Texas, accompanied by the cry "Gig 'em Horns." Which translated into a command for the University's team, the Long Horns to vanquish the A&M team... which I suppose are the horned toads, or the toad frogs.

Clearly this wasn't the meaning the Korean matron had in mind.

When she saw my continued inability to meet the challenge of cross culture communication, she had a further Idea. She picked a twig up from the ground and then patted her friends shoulder and bent down and wrote the number 69 in the earth beside a camellia that was growing along the trail there. And then she touched her own shoulder and wrote the number 67. The light dawned. In Korea, I had come to understand, age is an important thing. A thing to be honored. And so she was telling me that she was lower in rank than her friend, and from the expectant look on her face, I realized that I was expected to place myself in the honorific ranks. And so I wrote 64, which was my age at the time.

She was so happy. She thought she had broken the vocabulary barrier. I was happy, too. I imagined that she was also happy to see that I was doubly outranked.

With hand signals, she indicated the location of the tea room over beyond the garden and invited me to join them for tea. And oh, how I wanted to do that. But, my poor brain was exhausted from the climbing of the communication mountain we had just climbed. And I wasn't up to the challenge. So I tried to indicate my regrets by facial expression, and by pointing to my watch. I think back on this with affection and wonder what further adventures in communication the good ladies had in mind for me. Unfortunately that was my last day in Korea, so I will never know. Alas.

What I intended to write today, yesterday when I was in the quilt museum was about a lovely sheer silk panel I had seen in the Onyang museum on which two birch trees were embroidered. But, today when I started to write... I wanted to visit my age compadres in Korea.


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