Alexandria, VA – I have journaled my thoughts since my early teenage years, and I still have the small handwritten notepads I kept them in! My 7th grade English teacher edited the school newspaper, and I wrote some columns for it. I also did a bit of creative writing in those days, poetry and short stories, but mostly I kept journals.
In my writing, as in my photography, I didn’t experiment much with making up stories or creating photos of what I imagined. All I wanted to do then was to put down on paper what I saw. I wanted you, the reader/viewer, to be as amazed as I by what I saw. I wanted you to feel the awe I felt.
Today I sometimes work on two or three columns at a time. I open a Word file and come back to it over the next days or weeks. I add thoughts, quotes from others, and questions to research.
Speaking of questions, years ago I used to read a column in The Washington Post Magazine. It was on the inside back cover, easy to find. I couldn’t recall the writer’s name and turned to my good friend, Christa, an age contemporary, who suggested the name of Jeanne Marie Laskas. Googling that name, I learned that “from 1994 until 2008 Laskas was a regular, syndicated columnist for The Washington Post Magazine, where her ‘Significant Others’ essays appeared weekly.” Yes, I said, she’s the one.
Dear Jeanne Marie, it’s likely your columns were the seeds that grew ever so quietly while I developed my photography career in Alexandria. I admired the honest and affectionate way you wrote about your friends, family, and experiences, which inspired me to write down my stories. Thank you.
I did remember the name of Erica Jong. I read Fear of Flying in 1973. I thought at the time that I could never be that honest. It’s not that what I write isn’t honest. It’s more a matter of “need to know.” There are just some memories that likely will never be transcribed to paper.
I’ve been writing the Memories and Musings column since August 2019. I’m grateful to Zebra publisher Mary Wadland for granting me a platform. It wasn’t a given that an Alexandria paper would give space to someone whose first column was about how my friends and I were recycling in Brooklyn, New York, in the ‘50s. We scavenged empty soft drink bottles at Brighton Beach to redeem for a nickel. It bought our lunch. We collected used newspapers to sell to the scrap yard. It paid for our club sweaters.
Mary just said yes! And I’m grateful to editor Kris Gilbertson who catches my errors and omissions and has become a friend. Then there’s Chelsea. Though she calls me Grandma, Chelsea is related to me by affection rather than blood. When Chelsea took a class that required her to ask people about their memories, and I started putting my memories down on paper for her.
I was recently delighted to find that all the columns are listed in one place — https://thezebra.org/page/2/?s=memories+and+musings. Soon I hope to work with a graphic designer so I can have them printed in a book for my kids. When I no longer walk this earth or when I don’t remember, I want them to know who I was.
I write down my memories and musings because when I was young and my parents and grandparents were alive, I never thought to ask them what their lives were like. And if by chance, they told me, I didn’t listen. I didn’t hear their stories.
That’s why I keep asking you, preaching, one could say, to record your stories. They are testaments to our place in the universe.
Mosaic artist/photographer Nina Tisara is the founder of Living Legends of Alexandria.