By Ruth Spiro
I have a love/hate relationship with an iPhone app.
My daughters introduced me to Timehop, an app that links to any social media accounts where you post photos – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. When you open Timehop it pulls photos (and tweets) you posted in past years on that same date, adding a banner with the year it was posted. I’ve been using it for several years and it’s always been a fun scroll down memory lane. Some dates, like birthdays, it may unearth multiple memories going back more than ten years.
As I write this there’s a snowstorm swirling outside my window, but if I open Timehop I may find a photo from a sunny vacation, a glass of wine enjoyed by the fire at a friend’s house, or a group shot from a writing conference.
Early in the lockdown phase of the pandemic I looked forward to the surprises Timehop revealed. I revisited those memories with fondness, assuming we’d soon return to attending concerts and sporting events, dining out with friends and taking vacations. But as the days and weeks went by those memories felt more distant and foreign. An auditorium full of students? Sandy beaches packed with tourists? No masks?!
Then, all the events I’d looked forward to in the months ahead began dropping off my calendar – a book tour, conferences, trips to visit friends, my daughter’s college graduation ceremony. Yet, when I opened Timehop I was reminded of previous years and joyous times we’d blissfully taken for granted. I opened the app less frequently, hoping to avoid these reminders.
Why was I denying myself access to the good stuff? What purpose did it serve to wallow in my disappointment when I had memories of so many happy occasions to enjoy and be grateful for? After a few weeks, I snapped out of my happy-memory moratorium and allowed myself to Timehop once again.
We take photos to capture a moment or scene we’d like to revisit later. But while photos are one tool we use for this purpose, we can also revisit past experiences without them. Have you ever been so content in a moment that you focused on being truly present, so you’d always remember it? One that stands out for me is game five of the Cubs’ World Series at Wrigley Field, which I attended with my family. When I close my eyes I can remember the view from our seats along right field, the chill of the October air and the crowd’s unrelenting cheers. I smell the beer being passed down the row, taste the peanuts as shells piled up at our feet, and feel the tug at my heart thinking about how much my late grandfather loved his “Cubbies.”
I believe that as writers, our ability to deeply access these memories is a skill that serves our work well. Without sensory details our writing falls flat. But our ability to recall our personal experiences gives us access to a vast reservoir of elements we can use to craft stories, both fiction and nonfiction.
The idea for my newest book, Maxine and the Greatest Garden Ever, came from a challenge I experienced in my garden. But the true core of the story came from combining the character traits I’d given Maxine in her first book with the emotions I’d experienced in solving my own gardening problem just a few years earlier. (Yes, gardening can be an emotional experience – just ask the squirrels, birds and chipmunks that live in my backyard!)
Without revealing too much more about the story, Maxine and the Greatest Garden Ever is about friendship, persistence and being kind to one another. There are often multiple solutions to a problem, and sometimes a problem isn’t really a problem at all, but an opportunity to grow.
As for Timehop, I continue to check it daily. While the snow piles up, the app reminds me that three years ago today I was in California… Ahh, I can feel the sunshine!
Ruth Spiro is the author of the Baby Loves Science board book series, published by Charlesbridge. There are 21 current and forthcoming titles including Baby Loves Aerospace Engineering, Baby Loves Coding and Baby Loves the Five Senses. She continues her signature style of introducing complex subjects to little listeners with Baby Loves Political Science, a new four-book series perfect for election year and beyond. Baby Loves Science is illustrated by Irene Chan; Baby Loves Political Science is illustrated by Greg Paprocki.
Ruth’s STEM-themed picture book series, Made by Maxine (Dial), is about an inspiring young Maker who knows that with enough effort, imagination and recyclables, it’s possible to invent anything. The second book in the series, Maxine and the Greatest Garden Ever, is now available. Maxine is illustrated by Holly Hatam.
A frequent speaker at schools and conferences, Ruth’s previous presentations include the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, Chicago Tribune Printer’s Row LitFest, Children’s Festival of Stories, and the World Science Festival. Ruth hopes her books inspire kids to observe the world, ask questions, and when it comes to their futures, DREAM BIG!