Capturing Memory and Change in Writing


Change. Change. Change. It’s a kick in the pants. It’s good for you. It makes you grow. It’s hard, but worth it. Since deciding to move, I’ve heard or thought of every cliché about change imaginable, and each one rings true.

After seventeen years in Richmond in the same wonderful house, my husband and I recently moved to Cambridge. We raised our kids in RVA, but we live now as empty nesters. We evolved into our adult selves in RVA, and we are now those people we became. I wrote five novels in my Richmond study overlooking the backyard and little fishpond. Now I’m at a desk in a modern home on a narrow side street in Cambridge with a view of treetops and an old farmhouse across the way.

As best as I can tell, the move is good, though hard in ways that pull me up short.

Before moving, I asked our Richmond house painter to remove and preserve the doorjamb where our kids’ heights had been written. In our new home, I stand at a loss in the living room with the strip of wood in my hand. It's pictured here in the back of my car on moving day—too precious an item to trust to the movers. And then again here in my new home, without a wall yet to hang it on.

Because the question is: what do I do with it now? What do we do with our most cherished memories?

That’s where books come in—novels and stories that try to capture the fleeting nature of life. The inevitable losses that are not always sad, and the rising hopefulness that change can create as well.

A close friend sends me sad, yet excited, texts as she drops off her daughter at college. Another friend posts a sad, yet excited, photo of her son as he heads off to his first day of kindergarten.

How do we make sense of the simultaneous optimism and sorrow that accompany each new stage of life? Writers fill the blank page, composers go to their instruments, and artists of a certain ilk pick up their brushes—each of us attempting to wrestle with change.

If I’m lucky, that scribbled-on stick of wood bearing evidence of the past has in it a poem not yet written.