My purpose in writing today is to encourage you to hang on to these memories and to write about them if you are so inclined. The initial drafts of your work come easily because you simply write down in narrative form, or poetic form, what you remember about the flashbulb event. Then, you contextualize your memory based upon an audience that you want to reach.
For example, I was so distraught at the news of President Kennedy’s death on November 22, 1963, that I vowed to find out why someone would do such a dreadful thing. Forty years later, I published a biography of the accused assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald. The first chapter was based upon my own flashbulb memory of that horrible day. The remainder of the book was an academic study of Mr. Oswald’s life.
I was so saddened over the loss of life in the Oklahoma City bombing of April 19, 1995, that I once again vowed to peer inside the mindset of someone who would act in such a horrific way. When the New York Times reported on April 21 that accused bomber Timothy McVeigh had attended militia meetings in Michigan, I dug deeply into the mental makeup of people who join militia groups. The result: thirteen academic studies about the militia movement.
My third flashbulb memory came ironically enough on another November 22, this time in 2002. This was not a day that everyone remembers. It had more significance to me as an individual than for most people. The news flash on this day was that yet another woman was now missing in South Louisiana, this one in Lafayette. I immediately thought of the South Louisiana Serial Killer case. If confirmed as a victim of the serial killer, it would be his fourth victim. I was greatly concerned for the safety of my female students – I am a professor in Lake Charles – and now there was a victim about an hour away from where I live and teach. My fears about the case led to my book, In Search of Derrick Todd Lee, which was about online activists trying to coordinate information about the killer.
As you can see, my flashbulb memories were about major newsworthy events, but flashbulb memories do not always require such a high profile. The death of a relative, a pet, or the horrendous aftermath of a violent storm are also examples. Or, you win an award and life changes forever for the better. Some flashbulb memories are positive. .
One reason that flashbulb memories are remembered is because these memories tend to be retold over and over again. Because of that, accuracy tends to be lost over time, and the details are not necessarily accurate. Don’t worry, the memory is still vivid to you and deserves to be told as you remember it. Readers will bond with your account if they’ve been through something similar.
Stan Weeber is an Associate Professor of Sociology at McNeese State University. He has written or edited 20 books, including In Search of Derrick Todd Lee: The Internet Social Movement that Made a Difference (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2007).