Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Journal Assignment IV: Mementos or Souvenirs

From the July, 2007, issue of Prevention,"The Sweet Science of Souvenirs":
"New research shows that people who use mementos or photos to remind themselves of good times better appreciate their lives and are happier." - Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, Professor of Psychology at University of California, Riverside.

What are the meaningful mementos in your life, the souvenirs, the things you keep not because of their monetary value, but because they remind you of good times? Writing about one or more of them and the memories it/they evoke can help you tell your life story.

Look around your house or apartment, or even search a box of nearly-forgotten mementos from the past. What memories arise? What was going on in your life when you bought or received the souvenir? Why have you kept it? Write about it, and share if and when you're ready. While I chose to write about a collection of small mementos here, a single especially important one may make a better story.

It's the Little Things . . .

The photo above shows eight items from my extensive collection of travel souvenirs. My late husband, Jules, warned me on our first motorcycle trip that I could not buy any souvenir measuring more than three inches tall (we carried only motorcycle saddle bags), and even on non-motorcycle trips, I have continued to follow that rule most of the time. I'm not a shopper, and a small souvenir that reminds me of a country is usually easy to find at the airport or in a tourist shop--inexpensive, too. Today, such souvenirs save suitcase room, and they've become a personal joke that reminds me of Jules' advice.

The tackiest, least attractive souvenir above is surely the plastic lobster from Maine (foreground). We bought that on one of our first motorcycle trips, and I've never had the heart to throw it away. As a midwesterner, I'd never seen lobster pots, and I'd probably never seen real live lobsters in local restaurants at that time either; we didn't go in for fine dining very often in those years. I eventually decided that a whole lobster is too much trouble to eat, but then (probably in the late 1970's) it somehow seemed exotic, even as rendered in orange plastic.

In the background is a very inexpensive set of Matrushka dolls from Russia. The three dolls inside dwindle in size to one only slightly over an inch tall. Today, I wish I had bought a more expensive set, but that was our last motorcycle trip together (in 1990), and the three-inch rule was still in effect. The Russian trip was one of our most memorable ones, the only one to which I devoted a whole chapter of my book.

The next row forward contains an elephant from Thailand, a replica of Copenhagen's Little Mermaid, and a Venetian glass cat with a fish visible inside. The latter makes me think of a much larger, heavier solid Venetian glass cat I bought here in Chicago years ago, also with a fish in its stomach. That cat still sits in my living room, and my main memory of it is that it fell from a high dresser in our old house and struck me in the eye, causing the worst black eye I've ever had! It's so heavy that it did not break, of course. The smaller version seems safer.

The next row begins with a koala bear from Australia, followed by a decorated cart from Costa Rica and a Norwegian viking ship. Each represents a different wonderful trip. The cart looks like one we saw from the deck of the Cunard Princess as we sailed through the Panama Canal. I guess it was there for tourists to see rather than for any more practical purpose, but I appreciated its picturesque qualities.

These souvenirs, shown temporarily arranged on a granite counter top, usually reside in my china cabinet, where they join many, many more. There's a leaning tower from Pisa, an Eiffel Tower, a penguin from Antarctica, and from my last two trips, an ashtray made from Mt. Etna lava in Sicily and a leprechaun from Ireland, among others.

I have a feeling that when I get ready to move, someone will advise me to clear out the clutter. But behind each memento is a story; they represent important moments in my life, and I'll probably keep them always.

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne
Photo by the author.

Update: 6/19/07: I just found a writing contest (no cash prizes; small fee to enter) that relates to this assignment. It is the 6th Annual First Person Arts Memoir Writing Contest. The deadline is August 15, 2007.

Here are a few details:

Short Memoir (up to 3,000 words), fee $10.
Short-Short Memoir (up to 500 words), fee $5.
Theme: "Objects of My Affection." Focus on your relationship to an object or objects that have special importance to you. How has this object impacted, influenced, or changed you?

I have no connection to this contest; I may or may not enter it, but it sounds interesting. Yes, I know that writers should be paid, rather than having to pay entry fees, but that isn't economic reality today.

For complete information and entry forms:


chrisd said...

I think I saw you up there, Professor!

I had a blast. Brought the kids with me, surrounded by books, great weather, met up with some e-friends. What a blast!

I wanted to let you know that I mentioned you on my blog, as did Cheryl Hagedorn; we're both from Chicago Writes.

Have a wonderful weekend!

seniorwriter said...

Thanks, Chris. It's good to hear from you.

Simon said...

I wonder what year you were sailing through the Panama Canal on Cunard Princess. I was Assistant Purser in the late 80's - fond memories!

Best wishes

seniorwriter said...


It was in December, 1987; I had to look it up in my photo albums, since I couldn't remember the year. I do remember it as a very interesting trip, although I don't have many pictures from it. Thanks for your comment.