The Past–there’s always more of it.

me a very long time ago

A couple years ago I took to writing small bits of memoir in this space. I didn’t set out to. Those life stories just fell into place–though I’d never had a desire to write a memoir. It was a writing memoir, every story connecting to the writing.

I stopped. Maybe I was repeating myself. Maybe I didn’t have anything interesting left to tell. But I want to revisit those stories and see if their meanings have changed.

I listened to a story on memory research. The researchers concluded that the more you think about a memory, the less accurate it becomes. The only way to have an accurate memory is not to think about the memory.

I sense a paradox.

Or is a conundrum?

You know if you handle something too much, it wears away. Why should memory be any different?

Do you ever find yourself in an argument with someone about what happened int he past? You’re certain you are correct, aren’t you? Sometimes though, just once in a blue moon, I notice something in the memory is out of place. Something has fallen into the memory that shouldn’t have. And I wonder–how did that get there?

Like a memory I have of my mother angry and throwing silverware into a cardboard box. I believed this memory for a long time until I realized that the silverware had never been kept in that particular drawer–even though the memory is quite clear. Well, I would’ve three or four then. And it is a small detail. Perhaps is doesn’t matter.

How accurate do you think your memories are?

9 thoughts on “The Past–there’s always more of it.

  1. “Perhaps is doesn’t matter.” I think you’re right – the way you remember a memory is more important than the truth. Other people may well remember it differently, but it’s your version of the memory that affects you now.

  2. I think this is interesting and I can imagine it to be true, maybe if there are some areas in our memory of an event that are a bit fuzzy, our brain fills them with some likely thing that happened, and we then believe that it is all part of the real memory. In many aspects of our lives it probably doesn’t matter much at all, but think of things like court cases which force people to remember tiny details of events, and go over it all repeatedly, there are certainly implications there!

    1. Court cases are another matter–when people’s lives are on the line. But it is hard to know sometimes what memory is accurate–if you’re really thinking about it and not just jumping to the I-am-absolutely-right! conclusion. And then there is POV. So many things to consider, but we’d never write a single memory if we had to 100% sure. Although, willfully changing a memory to write in a memoir to make it edgier–that I don’t agree with. What a can of worms really.

  3. Brianna Soloski

    At this point in my life, I feel my memories are pretty accurate. I have very vivid and distinct memories of certain things. Other memories are a little fuzzier. My life is completely fuzzy for my mother for some reason – she always argues with me about how I remember something becase she remembers it completely the opposite. Drives me insane.

    1. I recently saw a TED Talk where the speaker talked about how it feels to be wrong. People said it feels awful or shaming to be wrong, and she said, no. It feels awful, shaming, etc, to realize you’re wrong. Being wrong feels exactly like being right.

      I’m probably not explaining it well.

      Anyway, I become less certain/trusting of my memories as I get older. I do think one reason people don’t remember things clearly or say they are fuzzy is because they want to avoid the memory for some reason. And I think we alter memories without realizing it in order to make ourselves look better/more sympathetic/etc. And with age I also think I have a better sense of how my parents must have seen things. It’s complicated, but every person puts a difference amount of importance on different things. So, memories can be different and true–just not complete.

      Also, as I get older I gain access to information I didn’t have as a kid and it puts a new light on some memories.

      Memory is so very tricky.

  4. Catching up, or trying to, with a whole bunch of friends’ whole bunches of blog posts… You wouldn’t believe what a busy summer it’s been — busy and distracting enough that when I wake up in the morning, I’m already thinking of particular computer screens and Web sites rather than thinking of what writing I’m going to do. I HATE THAT.

    Anyway, yes: memory, and the past… I think you know I’ve written these humorous, sort-of-memoirish pieces about growing up in southern NJ from the mid-’50s to mid-’60s. One of the things I like about them is exactly that I don’t have any idea how “accurate” they are… but that they feel 100% true. Some of the events described happened more or less as written; some are amalgams of multiple events (each remembered more or less “accurately”); and some are made up, mostly or entirely. I like them not because someone might think what happened to The Boy really happened to me, but because it all MIGHT HAVE happened, exactly that way, to someone in roughly the same circumstances.

    I always liked that about the looking-back posts of yours, too. The “truth” of that moment which you sorta-kinda-remember would never lie in exactly which drawer or which silverware pattern or which whatever; its “truth” isn’t even in its specifically being your mom or in you, as the observer. Its truth is its utter honesty, in its… well, its powerful veracity.

    Actually, now that I think about it, the same sort of observation might be made about the photo you’ve included with this post. I feel pretty confident that, as taken, it didn’t include all those stars and galaxies (and may not even have been in color). But the artful way in which you’ve altered it (consciously or now) helps it tell truths that the original never could. (Which isn’t to say that the original wouldn’t have told truths of its own, of course.)

    1. I suppose the truth of the photo is that the stars and such I added do show how I like to see things or how I like things to be.

      I’ve noticed how people with siblings can compare notes about how things happened, and sometimes they argue the details and even the meanings of those past events. As an only child with no one to ask, I don’t have anyone challenging me on certain events. My mother is deceased and my father won’t talk.

      I hope I get at the truth of things at least.

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