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Robichaux: Today’s news is tomorrow’s history: Record your experience

The coronavirus won’t fade from memory anytime soon. The sights and sounds of today will live on in tomorrow’s history books. It’s an unprecedented event for the modern world, something my parents and grandparents have not experienced in their lifetimes until now.

Years from now, as we all get older and hopefully wiser, younger people with no recollection of the outbreak will ask what life was like.

There will be future children whose parents haven’t even met at this point in time writing school essays about COVID-19 and tasked to interview someone older who lived through it. Think about the school essays we wrote from interviewing aging veterans from 20th Century wars.

How do we preserve the history going on around us? We have to write it down. Today’s journal entries are tomorrow’s primary source documents, and our firsthand experiences can never be replicated.

Denis Ledoux with Lifestories shared five tips for writing effective memoirs.

“The details you take for granted, or consider obvious, about your life and your parents’ lives may be lost to the next generation unless you take action,” Ledoux said. “Writing the stories of those lives ensures that they will not be forgotten.”

Step one is to make a memory list including everything you can remember about the people, the place and the action of a chosen memory. Write three to five descriptive words for each item on the list to make the story rich with detail. In this case, we might remember the strong smell of disinfectant, a person’s panicked expression and the crease that forms between their eyebrows as they stand near empty grocery store shelves, or the sight of people walking around with face masks — a strange blend of normal, everyday routines and a science fiction movie come to life.

Memories might include where you were standing and what you were thinking when you heard all schools were shutting down for a month. I’ll never forget that moment because I was wrapping up an interview at a daycare on a Friday afternoon, thinking Saturday’s paper was done and ready to send to press. That moment was anxiety-inducing, not only because it completely changed my front page story right at press deadline, but because it was a major sign that this threat was real, and it was going to change our world in ways we could never have anticipated.

Ledoux’s next tip is to show your story; don’t tell it. He suggests recording action like you are looking though a movie camera. Instead of saying you feel nervous or stir-crazy, describe your actions and the actions of those around you. Are you constantly pacing around the house or scrubbing furiously with disinfectant? Does your family get a little more withdrawn from each other with each cough or sneeze, even though it’s more than likely allergies causing it?

Ledoux reminds writers to engage all five senses: sight, smell, sound, taste and touch. He said to use short snippets dialogue when possible to help “characters” (family, friends, co-workers) express feelings in their own voices.

“It’s okay to approximate or recreate a conversation, especially if you take the time to remember their unique phrases or pronunciations,” Ledoux said.

The last tip is to replace adjectives with dialogue, action or setting. Instead of saying the store was crowded, describe the scene. For instance, the line continued outside of the door and wrapped around the side of the brick building. People stood much too close together, nearly brushing against each other as they gathered supplies for the governor-mandated social distancing.

Please consider recording your experiences during this historic time or sharing your opinion on the coronavirus outbreak with us at L’OBSERVATEUR by emailing brooke.robichaux@lobservateur.com.

Brooke Robichaux is news editor at L’OBSERVATEUR. She can be reached at 985-652-9545 or brooke.robichaux@lobservateur.com.