What’s strange about writing my book

My book is coming along, slowly but surely. It’s a bit strange writing a memoir about the year I lost my dad and said Kaddish for him (the traditional Jewish way of mourning a parent).

It’s strange because as a journalist, for the most part, I write about other people’s stories, not my own. I’ve written three reflections on saying Kaddish, however, and they seemed to strike a chord with many people.

It’s strange because as a journalist, I work from notes I take during interviews or events that I’m covering. During the year of Kaddish, I made a point of not taking notes on what I was experiencing. That would have felt even more strange, and on some deep level, didn’t feel right.

It’s strange because I remember so many aspects of the Kaddish year – my feelings, bits and pieces of conversations, holidays, celebrations, funerals, things that happened at work, at home and at synagogue – that I’m starting to wonder if this is normal. It’s almost six years since my dad died. Why do I remember so much detail? Is there something different about the way my brain is wired?

I don’t think I’m obsessed, and I don’t think I’ve prolonged the mourning period. I do attribute my detailed memories to the fact that so much emotion was attached to everything I experienced that year. I’ve read that that’s supposed to enhance memory. I also have articles and thank you notes that I wrote, old emails, and my 2008 and 2009 calendars to jog my memory.

Another thing that makes a difference for me – I still attend services regularly, and that triggers memories, too.

I’m not flooded with them. They come to me in bits and pieces, and that’s how I’ve been writing them. But they seem to be turning into a cohesive whole.


Lists, notebooks, and remembering ideas

I just found this post by entrepreneur Richard Branson about using notebooks and lists to remember ideas, and it got me thinking about how well that works for me.

I used to have a much better memory than I do now. Sometimes I attribute the change to “middle-age brain” (sigh!). But when I think of how much more information resides in my head now (22 years worth of interviews and stories from my work as a reporter, for one thing), it makes sense that memory retrieval sometimes takes longer.

In August, I blogged about my little orange notebook, which has kept me on track since I was downsized last June. It’s filled with work-related ideas and thoughts that inspire me.

I like having a tangible notebook. Mine has a recycled leather cover and is small enough to slip into my purse, but large and colourful enough that it’s hard to misplace. I don’t see it as a replacement for my iPhone lists; it serves a different purpose. I use it at home all the time.

My phone is useful – and valued – for different reasons. It’s lightweight, user-friendly, and has several important ongoing lists – most importantly, my grocery list and my to-do list. Not to mention my calendar.

I still keep a paper calendar but, increasingly, I rely on the digital version. I’ve gotten used to entering information on my phone’s calendar, a task at which I’ve become more efficient. I can also program reminders for events – a feature that doesn’t exist on my paper calendar.

But my paper calendars also serve as notebooks, in a way. When I look back at old calendars, it’s easier to glean information from the paper versions. In addition to the what-happened-when entries, there are little notes-to-self that just aren’t the same when I enter them in my phone.

I wouldn’t give up my electronic lists, but I’m not phasing out paper either.