Saturday, February 26, 2011

How Bad Childhood Memories Creep into Your Fiction

I'm working on a scene for my w.i.p. where my main character has to dance on stage. It doesn't go well for her. And the scene didn't go well for me either. While I was writing, I kept getting interrupted by my own stage traumas. It made me go straight to the photo albums.
The picture above was taken before my very first dance recital. Even at age 5, I knew I could never pull off that flashy one shoulder look, but there's more about that dress that you need to know. It's not actually a dress. It's shorts with a skirt over it.
My dance group consisted of me and two other 5-year-old girls. We were called the "Blue Eye Shadows". At the end of our dance, we were supposed to lift up our skirts to reveal a giant eye on the other side of the costume.
Dance lessons were okay. Dance recitals were another story. I was and still am an introvert, but I've always been a tall introvert, which means that when it comes to being on stage, guess who they put in the middle. 
We were half way through our big dance number when it happened. Instead of step step shuffle turn, I stepped turned shuffled stepped. The two other Blue Eye Shadows followed my lead. We lost the beat. All three of us went in different directions. One turned. The other hopped. I shuffled.
A voice boomed over the music.  It barked out orders. "Step! Hop! Step!" Our teacher Miss Corrine, the one who came up with the make up themed dance recital, had grabbed a microphone. Even though she was behind the curtain, we could see her standing in the corner of the stage. She was not amused.  We ended our dance and forgot to lift up our skirts to show the big blue-eye-shadowed eyes.
At the end of the night, we all had to go back on stage and sit there while Miss Corrine addressed the audience. Again, the Blue Eye Shadows were in the ones in the middle. After she was done with her little speech, Miss Corrine called the names of each dance group one by one and gave them presents. The boxes were beautifully wrapped. They were all different shapes and sizes. Ronnie, the Dancing  Eye Pencil who took private lessons and tapped around the stage with great pizazz, got the biggest gift.  I wish I could remember the names of the other dancing groups of cosmetics that Miss Corrine called up to the stage that night. The Lip Sticks? The Powder Puffs? The Cuticle Removers? 
She never called our name. The recital ended and the Blue Eye Shadows were the only ones who didn't get  presents. 
Our group broke up after that. We went our separate ways.The next year, I had a new dance school and a new teacher. But that blue-eye-shadowed memory stayed with me. I never got over my fear of dance recitals.
And now I'm writing a scene and putting my main character through a very similar experience.  Somehow no matter what the story is about, I always manage to slip in my own memories. I wonder if other writers do this too. 

By the way, the little boy in the picture is my brother, Robert. He always hated wearing that red suit. But that is his story to tell.


JLD said...

Ah, yes, the dreaded dance recitals of our youth! I definitely use good and bad memories from my childhood, along with fears and sense memories. I think that's a good thing for your writing, because it gives it more flavor and makes it more real, but it can be a bad thing for your ability to sleep! I love the picture you posted! Your face is the absolute definition of p-o-ed. I can't believe the teacher didn't give your group presents! That's crushing to a little kid.

JLD said...

PS-I just ordered your book. Looks like a fun read!


nanmarino said...

Judy, I hadn't thought about the recital until I started writing that scene for my w.i.p. But the whole thing came back to me. Thanks for your comments. Hope you enjoy the book :)

MG Higgins said...

Oh, gosh, this is so funny and sad. These "little" childhood events are simultaneously miniscule and important. At least it's fodder for your writing. That scene will will ring with truth.

nanmarino said...

Hi MG, Yes, it does make great fodder. And when I write, I always seem to find some real memory to tie my fiction to. Good to hear from you, MG. Hope you're doing well.

Nikki said...

Oh, Nan. You were supposed to LIFT YOUR SKIRTS to reveal a GIANT EYE underneath???? That has to be one of the most horrifying things I've ever read. Psychological trauma, anyone?
I hope you write a terrible fate for that dance teacher someday. ;)
I mine the depths of my childhood tragedies every single day I write. Also (spitefully) I name the bullies after kids who were mean to me (I change a letter or two, but NOT much LOL), and the teachers and principals who didn't measure up show up on the page, too. Maybe I shouldn't, but it's cheaper than therapy. Great post!!

nanmarino said...

Nikki, I know! Who thinks of these things? Even when I was blogging about it, trying to explain the part about the eye under the was very weird.
It's interesting that you name your bullies after people in your life. I do too. Except I name my bullies after people I adore. Mrs. Webber, the teacher in Neil Armstrong, was my beloved third grade teacher. Shirley, Tamara's mom, was named for a neighbor who was so kind to me when I was growing up.

Hilary said...

what a great story.... You were such a cutie. I love the look on your face! Ritch told me about this post this AM, and when I saw the picture, I was thinking it was him....

Janie Lee said...

I remember how you were ... after the recital... I found the picture of you in the middle. Not sure if you were all on the same step.
Want it?

Dana Carey said...

I'm glad Chi woke you up today--I'm catching up on your blog, Nan.

Those imperfect childhood memories do pop up in surprising ways at unexpected moments. Funny how the brain works. That dance teacher was something else! Very weird ideas--eyes under skirts and naming the groups after makeup.

And congratulations on the Golden Kite! My SCBWI newsletter has been arriving really late (here in France) so I didn't know. Great news.

@danaFR (a fellow Virgo!)

Karla Ivarson said...

That's a great picture all on it's own, but story and picture together are priceless. Thanks for spinning your angst into gold for the rest of us.

nanmarino said...

Hilary, That's our youngest brother, Rob.
JL, Certain parts of that day, I remember extremely well.
Dana, The entire make-up themed dance recital is very odd. And it's also odd how all those memories suddenly came back.
Karla, It's a funny picture, isn't it?

Arlee Bird said...

Loved your story! I was preparing to write a piece for tomorrow about how we use our childhood memories in the things we write and while Googling for some quotes on the topic I found your piece.

In my blog posts I often write stories based on childhood incidents or things from my past.

I'm adding myself as a follower to your site so I'll be sure to come back. Please stop by my site to see what I'm doing and be sure to say "hello".

Tossing It Out