Memoir Writing Lesson #10: Check

In today’s memoir writing lesson from Natalie Goldberg’s Old Friend from Far Away, Goldberg asks us to write for ten minutes each in response to two questions. Although I didn’t write a lot in response, I realized that it’s always been easier for me to write about fear than about happiness. Seems strange to me.

“When was the first time you were afraid?”

I have already written about some of my terrifying early experiences. The kidnapper who was after me (I thought so).  And the horse ride. Now the horse one I wrote up for this blog four (!?@#%!!!!) years ago, and that is truly the first time I can remember being that afraid. If I keep searching I might find even earlier memories of fear, but this one was so scary and I was so young, that it doesn’t make sense to try to rewrite it. Sometimes after I write out a memory, I don’t want to write it all over again. Do you ever feel that way?  Anyway, you can find this scary story on A Ride with Memory, which is also where I question how memory works.

“When was the last time you were happy, really happy?”

I guess there are two kinds of happiness. The very last time I was really happy was when I looked around at all five cats and felt so blessed and comfortable and content to have them in my life. love for each one of them welled up in me. This emotional event was a simple blessing happiness that I can experience over and over again, as long as I allow the blessings to come into my life. Then there is a happiness that is full of excitement and fulfillment of dreams. The very last time I was really happy in that way was this summer when the gardener and I went on vacation. We visited our daughter in New York City and saw her amazing performance in a new musical and spent some quality time with her. I felt her happiness when she was mentioned in the New York Times and nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actor along with other actors who have been in multiple Broadway shows (and one a Tony nominee). After all the years of watching her work so hard on her craft and knowing how passionate she is about performing, I felt great happiness for her. And then spending time hiking with her and going out to eat and drinking wine together–and really talking. All so blissful. The last time before that that I was really happy was when my son asked his girlfriend to marry him and they sent me photos that night of their exciting evening overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Seeing him on bended knee–so full of hope and nervousness–and her beautiful face lit up with happiness was thrilling.


This exercise was another hard one for me, but for different reasons. Again, the fear one I’ve done several times and couldn’t go there again. The happiness one was hard because so many ways to go.

Go ahead and try it. When was the first time you were afraid? . . .

 A little worse for wear after several brutal summers, but still a bright sight.


Filed under #AmWriting, Cats and Other Animals, Creative Nonfiction, Flash Nonfiction, Inspiration, Memoir, Memoir writing theory, Nonfiction, Research and prep for writing, Writing, Writing prompt

33 responses to “Memoir Writing Lesson #10: Check

  1. A curious thing writing about happiness and why it is difficult. I think it has to do with the sudden amygdala-altering effect that fear has on a body and a mind whereas happiness dissipates like fog. The moment is harder to hold onto although I think your description of time spent with your children and husband captures happiness.

  2. I’ve huge admiration for you working through the exercises. Loved this happiness one.

    • What Susanne above said about happiness dissipating where we remember fear better is so true, so it’s wonderful to experience these happy moments over and over again :). Like when you’re with Puppy Stan.

  3. I’m enjoying reading about your experience with these writing exercises, Luanne.
    (And it’s great to hear all the wonderful stuff with your kids. I do know that kind of happiness!)

    • Such an exciting type of happiness, isn’t it?! I hope you can find some writing prompts here that speak to you in case you get in a writing rut (which I have never seen happen with you haha).

  4. I loved reading about your happiness 🙂
    I find happiness, elation even, most days, in the comfort of my loved ones. We laugh a lot. With a big family, including three cats and a dog, there’s always someone around to love.
    I get awfully happy this time of year, with the cooling weather and the colorful trees.

    • See, now, I felt like nobody would want to hear about my happiness. Isn’t that silly?
      Yes, the loved ones, that is the best.
      I would be happy with a colorful fall like you have, too. Here it is still hot. So what’s to be happy about? I guess I can be happy it’s not too cold and it is no longer OVER 100 ;).

  5. It’s good to write about happiness when often it seems that the ‘meaty’ things to write about are the sad or difficult things.

  6. These are great exercises Luanne. I’ve done the ‘first memories’ post (I thing about four years ago – yikes!) but I’ve not considered a ‘most frightened’ or happiest’ post. When I started my life story a few years back I started with my first memory and just continued on from there – it’s amazing how many things you remember once you start writing things down. I’ll have to think about my fears because it’s difficult to come to terms with really being afraid. I think my first big fear came when I was in the ghost house at the fair and was grabbed by some pervert when I was about 10. I ran out and straight into the arms of a police officer thank goodness who went in and got the guy. I’ve never liked fairs or shows or any kind of ride ever since!. My happiest memories are the births of my children 😀

    • The pervert story is a really scary one because you always think, what if . . . you weren’t able to run, if he chased and caught you, if there weren’t other people around, if the police officer wasn’t there, etc. The more we pull at the threads of our memories, the most we dislodge, I think!

  7. Lovely happy memories, Luanne. I like how Goldberg prompts push the writer to talk about places of comfort and distress.

    • I agree about the comfort and distress. Also, by coming up with some kind of “random” prompts she also made me think about things I would never come up with otherwise!

  8. Isn’t it interesting that happiness, for parents, is so often attached to their children? I feel that way. The LAST time I felt happiness, though–I’d have to think a bit on that. I felt happy watching Sarah Reich tap dance last Saturday night. And earlier that night, happiness eating a prune that had been marinated in slivovitz, wrapped in bacon, and baked. And happiness on Friday hearing Stephanie Blythe’s enormous voice. And happiness walking out the door yesterday and realizing that it was 75 degrees out. It’s all sensual stuff, Luanne. I often feel happy hearing people in my classes reading their stories and poems. I’m happy for them and also for the listeners. To be able to share and enjoy–that’s happiness. Now I want to write something beautiful and get that feeling of happiness.

    • Those are all wonderful moments of pure happiness. Those are the simple blessing happinesses, I think.”To be able to share and enjoy–that’s happiness.” I love that. Go write something beautiful!!!

  9. I am so glad your daughter was nominated for a best supporting actress role, will this be shown at the Tony’s next year, Luanne? Does she go by Castle? I think your name works well with acting and writing! 🙂

    • It was Outstanding Supporting Actor for the musical theatre festival the show was part of. She didn’t win, but the nomination was a huge honor for her. So although the competition was stellar, it was not the Tonys themselves. For that the show would have had to be considered a Broadway show. The idea with the festival is that these are shows that are hoping to be Broadway shows in the future. It’s part of the process along the way.

  10. I will definitely hope that your daughter wins and pass on my happy feelings for her nomination! 🙂
    I should also wish the happy engaged couple my best and loving regards. ❤
    I accidentally push send before I was finished on my cell phone. Wishing you continued happy days with simple things as well as "big" good times, too. hugs xo

    • Thank you, Robin! The wedding planning is not much fun yet, from my view. It seems too stressful for that one day. I think they should have taken the money and put it toward a house. xoxoxo

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