By: James F. O’Neil

Forever I taught three essentials for writing narratives and stories:

HEART     LIGHT BULB      A.D. 1066

valentine candy hearts

A writer needs FEELINGS (heart)

light of reason

REASON/organization/sense of order

(light bulb: the “light of reason”)

1066 and all that

a sense of PAST (history)

The BASICS OF LANGUAGE AND GRAMMAR we have pretty much under control by 6th grade–if all goes well in school.  In addition, I used to say, “If you live to 18, you will have enough to write about for the rest of your life.”

This is my theory of writing in a nutshell-posting.

Of course, this is just a beginning for that “once-upon-a-time” story or revelation.  But think about it: What more do I need to be a storyteller?

We feel; we think.  But the most difficult time we have with writing is getting that sense of our past “out there.”

Now, how far “back” can a person remember?  I read once that persons under hypnosis can go “way back”–whatever that means.  If I try to force memory, make connections with sights and sounds–and especially smells–I can recall (or remember) most of my life.  Words, images, or odors trigger responses.  Then I can time-travel and flesh out the event, including surroundings, persons nearby, and sometimes even recognize colors.  (The book and movie, DVD extras about the film, The Time Traveler’s Wife, is such a great example of what I am believing.)

“Our first palpable recollections–from vital, early mileposts to seemingly random snapshots of our toddler years–stick for good, on average, when we reach 3 1/2 years old, according to numerous past studies,” writes Bill Briggs, NBC News contributor, on The Body Odd (

So, reader, work at this.  THREE essentials.  Only three.

Three very-early-in-my-life memories continue to provide me awareness of my self as a child.  The details, such as clothes, or specifics of weather, elude me.  But it was truly a hot Chicago summer.

The actions around me at that earliest-of-time involved my one grandma.  So how old was I?  What helps me set the memory in time?

I have always had to use school or a grade to help ground me with a time-of-memory.  So much of my life was spent in school, so many activities and people were in my life, those nine months in school and then the “summer months,” whatever they brought.  This memory in particular did not put me in school.

With this memory come two others.

Grandma was forever cleaning me up.  I must have been a handful for her.  I recall not wanting to come in from playing, toward early evening, fading summer light.  I waited too long.  I pooped my pants.  She cleaned me up, and I do remember the hugs of endearment as I cried.

Another time, that same summer, I recall being outside with playmates.  Someone threw something at me.  It hit my head.  It was gooey.  My playmates laughed.  I cried, and ran to my grandmother.  She cleaned me up.

A bird pooped on me, on my head.

It was the summer of 1944.  I was three years old.

“First memories get beyond the presentations of everyday life–of clothing, career, and status–and reveal something distinctly personal and unique about you … something about our families or environment.  But all of it has something that has been so resilient that it has withstood many years of other memories and experiences without erasure.  For some it will be fun, for others, very painful – but for everyone, it’s personal.”  (Julie Gurner, Philadelphia-based doctor of clinical psychology.)

Is she right?  I have had gastro-problems since…since “Once upon a time, while a sophomore in high school, I had terrible pains in my lower right side…”  That’s a story worth telling/to be told.

© James F. O’Neil 2013

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