Childhood Reflection Can Deliver Deep Insights

A Nonfiction Writer’s Exploration of Self

Joy  Inglis (Carter). Photo by Bruce Finlayson. 5 Aug 2015.

Joy Inglis (nee Carter). Photo by Bruce Finlayson. 5 Aug 2015.

Guest Blog Post by Joy Inglis (nee Carter)

If you are looking for writing material, unique and fascinating stuff that only you have access to, you can do no better than to explore your earliest childhood memories. I am 96, and at this age it is like looking down the wrong end of a telescope to visualize the first incidents of my life. I recommend this experimental use of internal resources to writers who may be caught in the wave of extreme aging which is predicted to wash over all of us.

This kind of inner research is far from a limiting experience. It begins by resisting a temptation to embellish a memory with your imagination. Slowly you expand the scene by recalling the setting in which it took place, and how you as a child reacted to the situation: delighted, mortified, jealous, puzzled? How did your parents react? What were your parents’ circumstances, to occasion this response?

Think One Bite Sized Story at a Time

Joy Inglis (nee Carter) as a child.

Which one of these children do you think became the anthropologist Joy Inglis?

I began by writing twenty little stories, just one page accounts, or at most two. I was thinking in terms of using as few words as possible, as in poetry, and limiting it to simple words used by children. I also hoped to leave academic writing behind and write humour. I quickly learned that while much of what I recall is fun for me, I knew nothing at all about writing humour. What I eventually discovered was a dramatic relationship had existed between my parents, one that had affected our early lives deeply. This was a eureka moment.

In the beginning, the search was about me, or rather the little child who transformed into me, but by including in the setting of each memory some early family life, I found that it revealed much that I had never understood. I have come to think of myself as the child on the psychiatrist’s couch, asking “why?” I’m the analyst too, trying to figure myself out. (Thanks Carl Jung.)

The village of my childhood is Nakusp, BC, on the upper Arrow Lake, a good part of which went underwater with the building of the High Arrow Dam in 1969. Much of the society I am describing is also gone, along with the silent movies, and the paddlewheelers. My family settled in Nakusp when I was two years old in 1922, and remained there for eight years. This is the span of my inquiry.

Nakusp c. 1913. Photo courtesy BC Archives NA 04413.

Nakusp c. 1913. Photo courtesy BC Archives NA 04413.

What is so gratifying about this latest writing project is pace. With my nonfiction academic writing of the past I have been under self-imposed pressure to get on with it in case I should not live to finish the work. Now it is the process of discovery that is so fascinating. When I return in memory to Nakusp in these little stories, it shines with the golden glow of childhood. It does not matter at all whether the work will ever be published.

British Columbia anthropologist Joy Inglis is the co-author of Assu of Cape Mudge, Recollections of a Coastal Indian Chief, UBC Press, 1989; and author of Spirit in Stone, Horsdal & Schubart, 1998. She lives on Quadra Island BC, where she is a beloved community member with friends and fans of all ages.

Has Joy persuaded you to write your memoirs? See the book How to Write Your Life Story by Karen Ulrich, and check out the Workshop for Aspiring Writers, which begins Oct 18th and runs for five Sundays at the Museum in Campbell River. For details see: or call the museum at 250-287-3103 to register.

Jeanette Taylor