Discussion Questions and Further Reading: Memory

Discussion Questions

  • In “The River Oblivion,” Laura Gibson tells the story of her grandmother’s memory loss and explores the ways that memory loss has appeared as a motif alongside death throughout classic and modern literature. While the essay explores loss and fear, it also considers what survives—both in the form of tangible family heirlooms as well as in knowledge, teachings, and stories. Has anyone close to you ever experienced the loss of their memory, and if so, what did it feel like for you? Was there anything that helped you to make sense of it? Are there any objects or ideas, cultural or familial, that you hope will survive long after you’re gone?

  • In “Mëshatàm Lënapehòkink,” Joe Whittle describes returning to the traditional homelands of his Lenape ancestors, writing “there they were—our Ancestors—singing in the surf we immediately jumped into, waiting for us these many long years.” Thinking about your own family and heritage, is there a place you think of your ancestors as dwelling? If you’ve visited that place, what did it feel like? How long does it take for a place to become a homeland?

  • In “Telling Our Story,” May Saechao describes how Iu-Mien people have passed on traditions and history since coming to the US. In your own life, have you received traditions or knowledge from your family or community? How was that information passed to you? Have you or will you passed it on in turn?

  • In “Adaptation and Appreciation,” Shirod Younker is quoted as saying, “we grew up without a pandemic, and we don’t realize how important that is.” Are there lessons from the current pandemic that reflect practices from times past? What might people who lived through the 2018 influenza epidemic have to say about COVID-19?

  • In “Here Lies,” Paul Susi writes about his experience engaging with local history in Portland: “I’ve always been struck by how thoroughly amnesic our communities are. We have never had any sense of continuity, of connectedness to our collective past.” Is your city, town, or community connected to its past? How do you engage with the challenging or uncomfortable aspects of that past? Can you think of any people or events that your community prefers to forget?

  • In “The Act of Remembering,” Jamie Passaro questions the purpose of the obituary. She writes, “I often wonder whether the obituary is an outdated tradition. But I know obituaries still have a place as historical documents, family records, digital legacies. And I know that the act of putting one together is still a way to honor a person. It’s one of the only secular rituals around remembering.” In your view, what makes the obituary a worthwhile tradition? If you’ve written one, what was the most meaningful part of the process? Do we continue writing obituaries because they document our lives, because they commemorate our loved ones, or because they encourage us to reflect?

  • In “A Winner Every Time,” Sallie Tisdale writes about the subjectivity of memory: “We take the traces of encoding and then fill in the gaps with fragments: inferences, traces of other events, new lessons.” Have you ever remembered an experience differently from others who shared it with you, or found that your memories don’t line up with documented events? What do you think causes memories to change over time?


Further Reading

“The River Oblivion” by Laura Gibson

“Mëshatàm Lënapehòkink” by Joe Whittle

“Adaptation and Appreciation” by Jacqueline Keeler

“Here Lies” by Paul Susi

“The Act of Remembering” by Jamie Passaro

  • OBIT, directed by Vanessa Gould, Kino Lorber, 2016.

“A Winner Every Time” by Sallie Tisdale


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Also in this Issue

From the Director: Lizkor

Editor's Note

Second law

The River Oblivion

Mëshatàm Lënapehòkink: I remember the land of the Lenape

Here Lies

Adaptation and Appreciation

Telling Our Story

The Act of Remembering

A Winner Every Time


Discussion Questions and Further Reading: Memory

People, Places, Things