Writing leaves a lasting impression

Image shows a woman pulling a needle through a cross stitch canvas

Tell me a story that is hard to forget

I cross-stitch and listen to stories.

In early 2020, I left the office on a lunch break and took myself down Durham Street. The wintery weather blew me into a stitchery store.

Shops like these are quiet, a respite from the noise of the day. If there is a clock ticking, you can hear it, and everything else disappears except for that moment of peace. I browsed in the silence, and the snow blew down the street. Finally, I picked up a cross-stitch kit and held it up to the light. Should I? I last attempted needlework a couple decades ago. Yes, I would. I would make time in my week to sit and stitch.

Was it a coincidence or a minor prophecy on my part? Within a few weeks, the world shut down and we were home in lockdown. Sitting in my sunporch, I watched spring arrive early. I downloaded audiobooks and settled onto the daybed. I admired the colours of the embroidery thread. I threaded the needle, my fingers remembering. I peered at the pattern, counted to the centre of the canvas. I began the work.

My husband painted windows, and I stitched and listened to stories. My kids found freedom on their bikes, and I stitched and listened. The neighbors washed their cars and swept their driveways, and I stitched and listened.

I wasn’t very good at first. The back of my canvas attests to that, even if the front is passable. Yet, there was peace in the sound of the needle pulling thread, pride in finding the right hole in the canvas on the first try, comfort in the audiobooks that told me stories of other realities.

And I discovered something incredible: The stories I listened to became stitched into the canvas.

I pinned these stories to my memory as certainly as I pinned embroidery thread to my canvas. Each tiny X I stitched, a connection was made somewhere deep in my brain. A mnemonic shortcut, you could say.

The stories return in a heartbeat

Even now, two years later, I only need to push the needle up through the fabric and back down and the books I listened to then return to me — full scenes, in great clarity, the characters real again. Suddenly, Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing returns and Leonie is driving the highway to pick up Michael at Parchman. I recall the astrological manipulations of Justine in Minnie Darke’s novel Star-Crossed. I pierce the canvas and the moody atmospheres of Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad mysteries rise in my memory, as strong as the voice of Adunni from Abi Daré’s The Girl With the Louding Voice.

I am grateful to those authors. As readers, we are challenged to consider the implications of our own world. But writers pin their conclusions down, punching away at their keyboards for hours on end, or perhaps inking pages upon pages by hand. The act of writing pierces reality. Well-crafted books, fiction or nonfiction, leave a lasting impression. In 2020, as we whiled away our time in lockdown, I looked through the sunporch windows but saw Dublin or Lagos, met people encountering trials far greater than ours. I was reminded of human challenges and shown ways to overcome them.

I haven’t finished that first cross-stitch project yet – it was big! – but I have finished many more. I hold that first one up to the light now and, in a moment, those silent streets of the pandemic return to me, accompanied by the stories I heard. What a gift it is to have them so easily at hand, lessons on humanity lastingly imprinted.

An owl illustrationAre you ready to leave a lasting impression? If you want to pin your story to the page but you need someone to keep you accountable to your big dream, let’s talk about book coaching. I’ll point out the signposts on your journey and challenge you to map out your journey towards a book that everyone wants to read. 

The cover of Lisa Genova's book Remember

Book recommendation - More about memory

It was Mrs. Williamson’s Grade 11 biology class that gave me a lifelong appreciation of the human body, and this book renewed my excitement. Lisa Genova’s book Remember: The Science of Memory and the Art of Forgetting explains how memories are made, how we retrieve them and why we forget most of them. Genova’s writing style is accessible and conveys her own excitement over the miracles and failing of human memory taking place at every moment in our bodies. It also tells readers why they don’t need to worry about forgetting most of the time – in fact, it’s normal and healthy. Remember is an excellent example of a non-fiction book written by an expert for readers who don’t have in-depth knowledge of the subject matter. If you are neuro-curious or worried about the strength of your own memory, check this one out of the library.

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