In Memory of Before

I love writing; blathering away about my life, my thoughts, my views on the world and hoping that someone might want to read what I’ve got to say. However, sometimes I put off writing because it’s my own little indulgence, something naughty that I shouldn’t be doing, I should be working or washing up or working hard in the gym. I get the same feeling about writing as I do when I greedily eat the last biscuit from the packet, hoping that Brad’s not going to notice that there are only crumbs left. NB: This never happens, I’m just using it as an example of the sort of thing that a person might feel guilty about…

So, in 2018 my mission is to try to feel less guilt about writing and to encourage this, I once again signed up for the Yeah Write Super Challenge.

I’m very excited to report back that I have made it through the first stage of the competition and I’m through to the second round. This is quite a big deal, only 50% of entries progress to the second stage of the competition so I’m feeling suitably proud of myself.  My prompt was to write a personal essay, the subject: ‘Memorising something’ and in a wonderful touch of fate, this also links into one of my List 34 challenges.

Not only was I really pleased to progress to the next round, I was also chuffed with the feedback that I received. The essay is below. The feedback follows afterwards, and for the record, as much as I wouldn’t dream of disputing anything that the judges say, and I don’t want to sound like a diva but I don’t think there is a missing ‘oh’… see what you think:

In Memory of Before

I don’t know how it became our song but the moment I hear the “shake shake shake shake” of the maracas at the introduction, I’m filled with joy and I start channelling my inner Cleopatra; waving my arms around and bobbing my head from side to side.

Every party, every time we get together, the song is played. It doesn’t matter if we’re in the middle of a conversation, the middle of pouring a drink or the middle of having a wee, we stop what we are doing immediately, gather together on whatever makeshift dance floor is available (garden patio, church hall, bit of carpet… we don’t discriminate) and we walk like Egyptians.

We met when we all worked together, colleagues who became dear friends. It would be good to say that we were connected in a highbrow manner by shared intellectual interests, but really, we were just united by booze; the joy of getting drunk, partying and laughing together.

It would have been one of these well-oiled nights where dancing to ‘Walk Like An Egyptian’ by The Bangles became our thing. I can’t remember the details; I was probably drunk at the time.

None of us really knew the lyrics, every time we heard the song, we were pissed. The maracas would start, we would squeal, get together and murmur random occasional lyrics under our breath whilst tapping our feet from side to side until the chorus. When the chorus kicked in we would burst loudly, enthusiastically and no doubt tunelessly into “Way oh, way oh, oh way-hey hey, way oh…. WALK LIKE AN EGYPTIAN”.

Then something changed.

One of our squad died, very suddenly, at the age of 34; the silly song developed new meaning.

We did not give up the song because she would not have wanted that, but somehow not knowing the lyrics seemed oddly disrespectful. I decided to memorise the words of the song; my own small personal tribute.

Even though I consider myself to have a pretty good memory, I found this song remarkably difficult to remember. I know all 870 words to Don McLean’s epic, eight minute long ‘American Pie’, I remember my best friends telephone number from 1987 and I can recite ‘Desiderata’ by Max Ehrmann which had been pasted on the back of my Aunt’s bathroom door when I was a child. Yet, somehow the mere 260 lyrics to ‘Walk like an Egyptian’ was extremely challenging.

In order to memorise the song, I did exactly what I would have done as a teenager; listen to the bloody thing over and over again, singing along with the lyrics in front of me. Luckily technology has evolved since I was a teenager back in 1991 so I didn’t have the added stress of having to rewind a tape player to repeat the song or hand write the lyrics, hoping I’d deciphered them correctly. We’re now in the 21st Century; we have Spotify and Metrolyrics.com. All the hard work has been done. All I had to do was remember.

I played that damn song about 98 times; in the car, in the shower, through headphones whilst out running. Much to my husband’s annoyance, I would even play it before bed in the hope that the words would brand themselves into my brain as I slept.

I think Spotify was concerned that I had developed some sort of psychological disorder. It would send me little notes “We know you love The Bangles but please listen to one of the following alternatives before your family sue us for enabling your addiction” and “You don’t want ‘Walk Like An Egyptian’ again. This must be a typo. Shall I play ‘Walk this way’ by Run DMC and then ‘Walking in Memphis’ instead? Fear not, loyal consumer, I am referencing the Marc Cohn original version of ‘Walking in Memphis’ and not the terrible Cher cover version. You see? Spotify cares for you.”

Eventually the lyrics stuck but they are never going to come easily to me. They don’t flow out of my mouth as effortlessly as Jack sitting on a candlestick while Satan laughs with delight on the day that the music died.

However, the words are finally fixed in my mind and now, in memory of before, I can sing about blonde waitresses spinning across the floor and cops in doughnut shops just as excitedly and passionately as we all used to sing together: “Way oh, way oh, oh way-hey hey, way oh…. WALK LIKE AN EGYPTIAN”.

***

Feedback

What the judges really liked about In Memory of Before:

  • The line “somehow not knowing the lyrics seemed oddly disrespectful” is one of the ones that will stick with a reader. Details like writing down the words to a taped song, the way friends get together, and the new process of memorization all felt integrated into a realistic and relatable whole. Giving Spotify a persona lent a much-needed leavening touch to the middle of the essay.
  • The way you juxtaposed your friend’s death, with the humor of your memorization technique worked well to evoke emotions in the reader, and draw them into the narrative. Separating each of your memorization methods into separate paragraphs was a good way to detail both your determination, and the variety of approaches you took

Where the judges found room for improvement:

  • There’s an “oh” missing in the chorus, which is frustrating every time one runs across it (ay oh way oh, way-hey-OH way oh).
  • This essay could have used another round of edits to pick up on minor errors like the sudden shifts in tense; “I did exactly what I would have done as a teenager; listen to the bloody thing over and over again, singing along with the lyrics in front of me”. Varying your phrasing a little, for example, rephrasing the second repetition of the song’s title helps to add interest to the narrative flow.
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