Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Journal Assignment II: Photographs

One of the more interesting journal exercises or life story prompts involves a photograph from your collection. Pick a picture, describe it, and explain the time frame, the circumstances, what the picture means to you today, or whatever. You can even create your entire life story by writing about a series of pictures, old and new. Here's an example I used in my own book, as well as in a 2006 post to my other blog, "Never too Late!":

Show and Tell

My first photo album (one of many) dates back to the late 1930's. The first photo in the album, apparently taken at school when I was about six or seven and in the first grade, shows me standing behind a desk and in front of a blackboard, hands on my hips (or what would later become hips), staring straight ahead with a look of pride and determination that seems to say, "So there!" or "Look at what I did!"My dark hair is in long corkscrew curls, held back by a small barrette of some kind. I am wearing a plaid dress with a light background, but of course the photo is in black-and-white, so I can't tell what colors are in the plaid. I hope it was at least partly red.

Behind me on the blackboard is my artwork: a primitive chalk drawing of my first cat, consisting of a circle for a head, triangles for ears, an oval for a body with short, straight lines sticking out on all sides to represent fur, plus a tail. Under the drawing, in crooked small-child-style printing, is my cat's name, PURRCILLA MEWRIEL. I don't remember Purrcilla, but I assume that her name came from one of the books my mother read to me so often. She loved cats, and so did I.

That picture was taken by my teacher about sixty-seven years ago. I no longer remember the teacher or the occasion, but I love the picture and would never throw it away, despite its torn and faded condition. I have a few earlier snapshots from my mother's album, but this one is the first that shows me on my own, facing life without a parent or anyone else visible.

In this picture, I see pride and independence and determination, as well as a plump face suggesting my lifelong weight problem. I was probably shy and reluctant to participate in that show-and-tell exercise, or whatever it was called then, but once I'd finished my creation, I was obviously proud of it.

I see the picture as a primitive metaphor for my long life: I've never been confident about doing anything, and yet having done it, I've been proud and rather defiant, being surprised by any appreciation or praise I've received. I've also appeared arrogant sometimes, my way of hiding my shyness, and I see that in the snapshot too.

I don't know what my classmates thought of my presentation; they probably concluded that I would never be an artist (I still can't draw). They probably wondered why my cat wasn't named something simpler, like "Fluffy." Perhaps my inner writer was already emerging. I doubt that I was yet planning to be first in the class and graduate as valedictorian about eleven years later, but I like that look of pride and determination. Still, if I could talk to that child today, I might say, "Lighten up and smile, little girl. You'll make it!"

Tell me about one of your pictures via e-mail. I won't share it without your permission. Find my e-mail address in my "complete profile," and use Write your Life in the subject line.

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Update 6/17: Writer Cheryl Hagedorn has accepted the challenge and tried this assignment. See her journal entry at

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