Writing Your Life Story Part 2: Using a Search Engine As Your Muse

Chihuly's Blue Star

Chihuly’s Blue Sapphire Star © 2014 Bo Mackison

This Memoir Project, the second project in a series of twelve, uses popular research tools to prompt your life story writing.

Using the internet for fact-finding can help recall information that jogs your memories.

Here is a simple technique for turning a search engine such as Google into your own personal muse.

  • Pick a memorable year in your life. Choose a significant birthday – maybe the year you turned Sweet 16, or the year you reached adulthood. Or choose a notable year – the year you married, moved across town, or across the country.
  • Pick one category or several. Research the best fiction and non-fiction books for that year. Also try the award-winning movies, the best albums or singles, and the most popular television shows.
  • Look at sites where you not only can find top 10 lists, but also a summary of the year’s news highlights, sports winners, and popular culture.
  • Researching the decade can make it easier to find information in one place. Here are a few links to get you started:

1960s: collection of music, books, movies and more from the 60s

1970s: the super seventies in music, literature, popular culture

1980s: an encyclopedia of music, cinema, and news for the 80s

1990s: nifty nineties’ top books, movies, happenings

  • What jogs your memory? Write what you remember. You aren’t creating a history book. You are recalling your memories the way you–and only you–remember them.

I chose 1976 as my memorable year.

It was the year I graduated from college, started my first job as a physical therapist, moved into my first apartment, and got married, all in 6 months time.

Since I have always been an inveterate reader, I checked out the top books in fiction and non-fiction. No memory jogs there.

I looked at the list of the top 10 TV shows. A few of the them are now classics–Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, M*A*S*H– but I wasn’t inspired to write.

However, my muse did awaken as I read over the list of popular music for 1976. Most of the singles were familiar. I played a few of the songs on YouTube and memories came flooding back.

One of the more popular songs of the year, Can’t Take My Eyes off of You by Frankie Valli, was the first song played at our wedding reception, our first dance. Suddenly I had a story I wanted to remember.

Here is an excerpt from “The First Dance”:

Bob and I met when we worked together at the university cafeteria. He worked so he could earn beer money. I worked so I could eat. When we decided to get married, there was the typical planning. My mother offered to help.

“What kind of band do you want? We have friends who have a band. They play anything. Waltzes, polkas, even your kind of music.”

I was wondering exactly what kind of music my kind of music was, but she didn’t wait for an answer.

“He can dance, can’t he?”

It was a question I had considered. I also tabled the discussion before I had it. Why ask the question? I already knew the answer. No, he couldn’t dance. To keep wedding plans from getting overwhelming, I took evasive tactics.

“No problem, Mom. We’re both rusty, so we signed up for dance lessons.”

I had seen the sign on the bulletin board at the hospital where I worked. Six classes – six different dances. The city college was offering classes and the classes were cheap – a buck a class a person. It sounded like a great solution.

Our enthusiasm was high as Bob and I attended the first class. But after an hour practicing “1-2-3, turn, 1-2-3, turn, guy-smash-girl’s-foot, 1-2-3, turn” we’d both said things we wished we hadn’t, and three of my toes were throbbing and bruised.

Even so, we were young and optimistic. Surely the second class would be better. Not really. We were young and inexperienced, and we knew nothing about the connection between dancing and natural ability. I would have had better luck dancing the cha-cha with a chihuahua, but there wasn’t one available.

Neither of us were naturals on the dance floor, but we weren’t stupid. In fact, we had a lot of smarts. And as a dear mentor once told me, part of being smart is knowing what you are not good at – and not doing it.

We nixed the cha-cha and the waltz, and decided we could fake the polka with enthusiastic lunges. As for the traditional first dance, we wimped out, much to the chagrin of our mothers. No waltzing around the dance floor.

We chose a song that had a slow beat, and did the slow dance reminiscent of those self-consciously done during high school dances in a decorated gym. Bride and groom in each others arms, gazing into each others eyes, swaying to the music, and shuffling in a circle while never lifting our feet from the floor.

When the music stopped, everyone applauded. We sighed. And smiled.

That slow dance has served us well for more than 35 years.

Here are a few tips for giving search engine research a try.

  • Pick a year. Research the Top 10s. Look at the popular culture or a price list of basic needs–a loaf of bread, milk, a first class stamp, a new auto or home.
  • Consider printing the lists to keep in your memoir stash for future reference.
  • Read through your research lists until an item triggers a memory. If necessary, play a few songs on YouTube or watch a few clips from movies or television shows.
  • Write down at least one memory. Don’t worry about perfect sentences or how the words flow at the beginning. Just get the memory down on paper. You can always rewrite later.

In the next part, I’ll introduce a photography project for collecting memories. It’s quick, easy, and you’ll love the keepsake results.

Next: Part 3, Keepsake Photo Booklet

About Bo Mackison

I'm a photographer, book-artist, traveler, naturalist, and creator of the Contemplative Creatives Journey, An Online Workshop and Community and Desert Wisdom Cards and Workshops. Though often not well known, I find the desert a welcoming place - a healing space. Its mysteries and gifts transformed me several years ago. Since that first encounter, I return again and again to fill my well in what most people think of as a desolate region. I'd love to share my desert discoveries and wisdom with you. Please subscribe to receive my five part mini email course The Gifts of the Desert. It's my gift to you.


  1. Funny story – great memory

Leave a Reply