Read the Introduction to this series.
TOBIN ELLIOTT is the author of Vanishing Hope, a horror novella published through Burning Effigy Press, with the novel-length follow-up, No Hope, to follow in early 2013. He will also have a short story, “Stealing Corey,” included in the upcoming WCDR anthology Whispered Words, as well as an e-book, Soft Kiss, Hard Death, the third Sam Truman mystery, published July 1. You can follow the rants and adventures of Tobin at his blog, http://tobin.elliott.wordpress.com
Here are my seven treasures … but I’m going to start this by saying I may be cheating slightly with some of my answers, because there are multiples included — but hey, you don’t want to mess with me. I’m the horror guy.
There’s a picture of my wife, Karen, and me, long before we were married. We’re at Niagara Falls on the first vacation we took together, back around 1990. We’re young, we’re having fun, and our whole future’s ahead of us. The camera captures Karen in one of her zany moods. She has, in fact, just dowsed my head with the water from the hood of the ridiculous rain slickers we’d both worn when we walked under the falls. I’d refused to put mine up and it collected a prodigious amount of water. This snapshot captures our personalities and our possibilities like no other picture ever has. Every time I see it, I fall in love with Karen all over again.
An old battered copy of My African Notebook by Albert Schweitzer. It’s autographed by Schweitzer and says, “à Mr Higgins avec mes bonnes pensées [with my best wishes, or maybe, fondest regards], Albert Schweitzer, Lambarene, 4 juillet 1962.” Signed three months before I was born, the book is one of the few things I own of my father’s. He travelled all over the world and saw the most amazing things and met fascinating people — yet the most important thing in his life was contained in a bottle. He was a brilliant man who let his insecurities get in the way of living. This one’s a reminder to not take anything for granted.
This one I hesitate to count as a treasure, however in a way it is. It’s an old cross, a fearsome thing really — about four inches long and made of some heavy metal, like cast iron — that my grandmother gave to my father. When my father died, it came through my brother to me. I have a lot of horrible memories of my brother’s drug use, his broken marriages, his abandoned children. The same with my father, though with alcohol instead of drugs and fewer abandoned kids. Same damage though. Then some doozies from my stepfather, including a line I’ll never forget. He once told me he’d “pissed on better than me.” All three were men I had looked up to. Each one completely failed me, and in two cases, they abandoned me. Later I chose to abandon my brother. So why do I treasure the cross that spurs these memories? Because it tells me how not to live my life, how not to treat others, how by doing the complete opposite, I can try to be a better person than they were.
The first copy of the first book I ever got published. I write because I have to, to make sense of the world and the demons that sometimes inhabit it. Seeing this book, this material thing that came from my head and onto the page, and now has my name on the cover, and knowing someone had enough faith in my writing to put it out in the world … that’s an amazing and scary feeling. This treasure speaks to following your dreams, no matter how long they take to come true.
Two faded ultrasound printouts showing fuzzy black and white blobs. I always smile when I see them because they bring back memories of the births of both my kids. They were defining moments in my life. I may never have been more terrified and more deliriously happy than I was watching my two kids come into the world. Both of them took their time, and both were so incredible once they arrived. I was thirty by the time our first came along, but never before had I truly felt the weight of responsibility. These fuzzy blobs speak to life being bigger than me, and not all about me. It’s about giving more than receiving, then receiving more than I could have imagined in return.
For a few years in my mid-forties, Ryan gave me a different Beatle cartoon figurine each birthday and Christmas. I have a ton of them now. Four Beatles from the animated series on their own stage, as though playing in a concert, the four main Beatles characters from the Yellow Sub movie, and their counterparts playing the Sgt. Pepper’s instruments, as well as sundry additional figurines, such as the Blue Meanie, the four-headed dog, etc. I’ve known Ryan for sixteen years this August and he’s not a fan of the Beatles, but he’s my best friend. He and his wife have hosted us at their place, fed us and entertained us more than we can every repay. But more than that, I have never laughed harder, longer or more often than when we’re together. He’s easily the funniest person I’ve ever met. I don’t tell him enough how much he’s made a difference in my life. These figurines are about the importance of friends, and not only having your differences, but celebrating them.
My wedding ring. As sentimental as this sounds, this small, very simple band of gold, now a little scratched and already resized once, reminds me every day of what I have. There may have been times when I took that for granted, but overall, in the twenty-one years that this ring has been on my finger, I’ve learned a lot about life, a lot about myself, and a lot about this woman who so long ago stood beside me in a zany picture. All these years later, there’s still so much possibility. I never want to forget that, and this ring reminds me, every time I look at it, to enjoy the journey.
Editor’s Note: I promised Tobin I’d post his Seven Treasures today for a special reason. Happy anniversary, Tobin and Karen. ~ Allyson
Friday, May 11th, 2012
Links to guest posts in this series appear below.
Memory fascinates me.
Why do people remember, and forget, what they do? What triggers their memories? If they focus on an object that uncovers a memory, using “involuntary memory” as a springboard to ”voluntary memory,” how deep can they go in recalling emotions and details?
What significant personal stories, unique and at the same time universal, can result from this process?
In Remembrance of Things Past, Marcel Proust writes famously about how a squat, plump little cake called a “petite madeleine,” when dipped in tea and tasted, evokes memories of his childhood in Combray. He describes the experience beautifully as it unfolds:
“And as soon as I had recognized the taste of the piece of madeleine soaked in her decoction of lime-blossom which my aunt used to give me (although I did not yet know and must long postpone the discovery of why this memory made me so happy) immediately the old grey house upon the street, where her room was, rose up like a stage set to attach itself to the little pavilion opening on to the garden which had been built out behind it for my parents (the isolated segment which until that moment had been all that I could see); and with the house the town, from morning to night and in all weathers, the Square where I used to be sent before lunch, the streets along which I used to run errands, the country roads we took when it was fine. And as in the game wherein the Japanese amuse themselves by filling a porcelain bowl with water and steeping in it little pieces of paper which until then are without character or form, but, the moment they become wet, stretch and twist and take on colour and distinctive shape, become flowers or houses or people, solid and recognizable, 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 parish church and the whole of Combray and its surroundings, taking shape and solidity, sprang into being, town and gardens alike, from my cup of tea.” (Read more of the quote here.)
In memoir workshops I suggest that those seeking a way into their writing begin by looking around their homes, or cottages, at the belongings they keep close. Aside from basic utility items — that vegetable brush is unlikely to elicit emotions, though you never know! — many of the items we refuse to part with, whether used regularly, hanging on a wall, set out on a dresser, or tucked away in a drawer or cupboard, may be keys to memory. Each has the potential to remind us of the distant or not-so-distant past: a person, a place, an experience.
And if we look closely, each tells us something about who we were, and who we’ve become.
For “Seven Treasures: a memoir series,” I asked writer and editor colleagues, former students, and friends to share something about their most memory-imbued belongings. The results have been a pleasure to read, the writers’ choices and the reasons behind them unique, often surprising and always revealing.
I hope these writings help you see anew some of your own cherished items, and find your way to the underlying stories that make them special to you.
Click the contributor’s name to read about his or her Seven Treasures:
1. Carin Makuz, blogger and photographer (Matilda Magtree)
2. Rebecca Rosenblum, author and blogger (Rose Coloured)
3. Jeff Kamchor, television producer
4. Tobin Elliott, author of horror fiction (his website), blogger, and writing instructor
5. Amy Mattes, professional skateboarder and writer
6. Susan Johnson Cameron, retired teacher writing a family memoir
7. Adrian the Elder, photographer and blogger (Adrian the Elder)
8. Rick Brazeau, photographer (his photography Facebook page)
9. Elizabeth Yeoman, writer and professor at Memorial University of Newfoundland interested in language, culture, history, and memory
10. Thomas Pals, adjunct English professor at Ritsumeikan University, Japan
11. Kristen den Hartog, author of fiction and family memoir (her website), and blogger (Blog of Green Gables)
12. Meghan Latta, artist
13. Diane Schoemperlen, author (her author Facebook page) and artist
14. Frank Soriano, leadership development consultant
15. Catherine Graham, poet (her website)
16. Shivaun Hearne, Toronto-based editor for University of the West Indies Press in Jamaica
17. Morgan Holmes, freelance writer and editor (his website)
18. Suzanne Adam, memoirist
19. Natalie Shahinian, artist and writer
And read this thoughtful related post, “Define Treasure,” by my first contributor, Carin Makuz
Wednesday, April 18th, 2012
Tobin Elliott over at Left to Write has put a little grin on my face by honouring me with an Irresistibly Sweet Blog Award. I met Tobin at the Ontario Writers’ Conference where I was involved in a Roundtable on Self-Publishing. One of my students, Mary McIntyre, who had taken a course from Tobin years ago and thought highly of him, ended up seated beside him at the conference and introduced the two of us. It was easy to see why she’d raved about him. He’s enthusiastic about writing, his own and others’, friendly, and has a wide range of interests.
Tobin kindly wrote: “Besides being a great writer and editor, Allyson’s also just a very nice person (and a closet horror fan, which is aces in my book!). Interviews, guest bloggers, upcoming writing contests … this blog has something for everyone.”
Thursday, June 2nd, 2011