Writing by Heart
Here is what I know by heart: 35 stanzas of “John Brown’s Body,” the multiplication tables and how to count to ten in French, which for some reason we all learned to demonstrate on speed dial.
I used to know my wedding vows but we wrote them ourselves and last February, to my dismay, I realized I know longer remember exactly what I promised.
I know the planets in the solar system, all the months you are allowed to harvest oysters on the Chesapeake (months with “r” in them.) My friend Margaret knew The Gettysburg address and could list the Presidents of the United States in order. That’s the difference between Holton Arms and public school.
There are tricks to learning things by heart. I know the notes on the musical staff because the space notes spell “F-A-C-E.” I know Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492 because it rhymes, and that “the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog,” contains every letter of the alphabet.
I also know the difference between a fox and a dog in the first place: 3 beers.
What do you know by heart and why? Anything unexpected? A recipe? All 206 bones in the human body? The security code to your sister’s place ? A poem? All the lyrics to the Righteous Brothers “Unchained Melody?” And since you use your brain to memorize, why do you suppose we say, I know this “by heart?”
Write a scene where you or a character discover you have lost something you had memorized—The way back to your childhood home? Your first recital piece? The face of your mother when she was young? The voice of someone you loved or the uncomplicated sweetness of your children when they were small?
What do you remember in the body that is gone from the brain? Like when your fingers find the right strings without sheet music, though you haven’t picked up an instrument in years.
Put it on the page. What….who… does your body remember?