Monday, March 16, 2009

Detours on Memory Lane

By Patricia Smiley

I had some time on my hands on Saturday, so I started weeding out my files. My biggest challenge is I save too much paper. Most things I keep are pearls of wisdom I don’t want to forget. Some articles remain unread. I guess the subject matter looked interesting, so I set it aside for a day when I had more time. That day has not dawned yet but it might.

First into the recycling bin were newspaper clippings and magazine articles I had squirreled away for research while writing my novels. Then went old drafts of my manuscripts and a list of how to find things out, dated 8/27/91. The Internet makes the list irrelevant. For example, one of the questions was: Where do you search to find what a holding pen at a county jail looks like? The suggested source of information was “Ask friends.” I don’t know about you but other than James O, I don’t have too many friends who know what a holding pen looks like. Besides, now you can probably use Google Earth to peek through a window and see for yourself.

As I am wont to do while throwing things out, I paused to read a few pages before sentencing them to some landfill. This is always my downfall because each note jars a memory, and too many papers worm their way back into my files.

For example, I found a note card that read, “Plot carries action. Sub-plot carries theme.” That could be helpful some day. However, on the back of the card was something more intriguing—two names I plucked from the Montevideo, Uruguay telephone book when I was there in June of 1994. Both share a family name on my mother’s side. Why did I look in the telephone book for possible relatives? Did I suspect I had kin living in South America and Uruguay of all places? Was it merely a parlor game or a germinating plot for an international thriller? I kept the note because I had a great time in Uruguay and someday I may need to know the month and year I was there. Plus, there may be a thriller in my future and the note could be an important clue.

Some sage writing advice I found scrawled on a piece of yellow lined paper:

When you use a “thing” to trigger a memory:
  1. Smell is the strongest stimulus. It goes directly to the brain.
  2. Second best is sound.
  3. Sight is the weakest stimulus.

Here are some notes I took in a 2003 Pasadena Left Coast Crime presentation given by Jack Trimarco, former FBI agent and polygraph expert.
  1. People lie when they don’t have to
  2. A liar takes more time to answer questions. A pause creates an opportunity to formulate an answer (read lie). Liars may also answer the question with a question or repeat the question to stall.
  3. People don’t cry dry unless there is no emotion
  4. It takes 260 pounds of cement to sink a 120-pound woman in the ocean

Here are three inspirational quotes from my files:

“A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann

“To be successful, the first thing to do is fall in love with our work.” —Sister Mary Lauretta

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” —Thomas Edison

Here’s another jewel. On 2/14/99, I printed an e-mail from Laura. I’m not sure who Laura is but I enjoyed her sense of humor enough to keep her correspondence for ten years. I recently found the same information on the Internet along with a humorous quiz, but if I don’t keep the hard copy I may forget that I want to read it again. Here are a few items on her list:

Old and new concerns for people of the baby boom generation:

Then: Long hair
Now: Longing for hair

Then: Keg
Now: EKG

Then: Acid rock
Now: Acid reflux

Then: Paar

Then: Hoping for a BMW
Now: Hoping for a BM

Then: Getting out to a new, hip joint
Now: Getting a new hip joint

After obsessing over the disposition of Laura’s e-mail—Keep? Toss?—I decided to take a breather from paper purging. When it comes to memories you don’t want to eliminate too many at a time.

What are you saving that you can’t bear to part with?

Happy Monday!


  1. I have hundreds of signed books. when I'm gone my children will be faced with the guilt of getting rid of them or the burden of keeping them forever.

    Patty, I like the baby boomer concerns.


  2. Oh yes, books. Me, too. Stacks of them.

    Those boomer concerns aren't quite as funny as they were a few years ago when I was much much younger.

  3. I have boxes of papers from when I taught. Old test masters, projects, all kinds of stuff. I'm never going to teach again, as far as I know, and even if I did, the new school probably wouldn't accept my old stuff.

    But I can't let it go. Silly, but true.

  4. OK, so when you're done weeding through your paper, please come and help me with mine. I am drowning in paper, need a survival pack to get from one end of my office to the other - and it's not that big!

    I'm also drowning in books, but can't help adding to the tide - eek!

    I really enjoyed this post, Patty - I have messages on bits of paper, on the back of cards, on the front of magazines ... and I swear, they all mean something. Or did, at one point.

  5. I remember this from the SAT: "It takes 260 pounds of cement to sink a 120-pound woman in the ocean. How many pounds does it take to sink Rush Limbaugh?"

  6. Er, uh...I save old letters. Um...some might call them love letters (blushing furiously and rubbing toe across the ground, hands clasped behind back).

    I don't know where those women are nowadays, but I hope that they're happy and doing well.

    However, that's the only fragment of Sharon or Bobbie or Kathleen that I still have. Kinda hard to give that up.

  7. Paul--are we just talking Rush's ego?!!!

  8. books, books, books!!!
    when we moved here from london i brought all my books from my parents house as well. they were all put into boxes and had to go into the cellar "for the time being".

    as we are only a few yards away from the river rhine, there is always a chance of dampness in spring.

    we moved here in february and by the end of march the place was flooded. 16 years of collecting books just ruined and i just could't part with them.

    it took my husband a long, long time to persuade me to let them go. and only when the whole house started to smell a bit "antique" did i allow him to put them away while i was out of the house.

    fotunately i had all my favourite and my signed books upstairs in the living room.


  9. Patty, if you ever need to find out what a holding pen at a stockyard looks like, I'm your girl.

  10. Yeah but Fran, maybe you'll write a crime novel about teaching and then you'll need that material.

    Our J, the best thing to do with your papers is give them to a university for scholars to pick through for centuries to come.

    Paulie, as I read the note about the cement and the 120 pound woman, I was thinking that Scott Peterson should have attended that lecture.

    Jeff, my mother still has the love letters sent to her by my dad in WWII!!!!

    Sybille, oh my, I'm so sorry about your books. What a tragedy. At least your favorites were spared but can't imagine you living with the smell of mildewed paper. Gak!

    Ha, Mims! You can take the girl out of Omaha but you can't take the Omaha out of the girl.