Memories are set – right? We have a memory of an event or a conversation and that’s the way it was. Unlike Back to the Future, we can’t go back and change the past, no matter how much we might like to.
So that party you were at, 20-something years ago, will always be that party where you drank too much, and your friend Lynne who knows everything had to bundle you into a taxi and take you home, stopping only to wait while you threw up in the gutter somewhere on Hoodle Street. And the Ex who treated you so badly will forever be an evil nasty person – right?
There are heaps of articles about how memories are created, and how our brain makes and stores and memories. Google ‘how are memories made’ and the the list is almost endless (About 9,630,000 results, according to the search page) The Smithsonian Institute has a interesting article on it. If you get really hooked on understanding brain function and memory, The National Centre for Biotechnology Information gets detailed with different types of explicit and implicit memory.
So back to where I started – once all that brain chemistry and neurological stuff in our brains have done their thing, memories are made. I assumed that once created, there were memories that I could call on and remember and other things that aren’t so easy to recall, and in that way were ‘forgotten’.
The very nature of writing a memoir is – arguably – about taking memories and and putting them together in such a way that they’ll be interesting to others. The others might be family, friends, the local cricket club, or for an agent, publisher and wider audience.
It should be easy, shouldn’t it. If you’ve got a story to tell, it should be as simple as writing it down, deciding what bits go in and what bits to leave out and if it’s chronological order or perhaps ordered by themes and then you have it. A Memoir.
That was what I thought. I thought that writing a memoir would be easy. I would draw on my memories and knock them into some sort of shape so as to be readable and engaging. Instead what I’ve found is that writing a memoir is an intense and interesting exercise in the changing nature of memory.
In remembering, I find the memory rarely changes. The people, the place, who said what to who. The details largely remain the same. Sometimes, I recall small details that I had ‘forgotten’ – events immediately before or after, things that lead up to the main thing.
However, I find that I’m reinterpreting my life through writing about it. When Socrates talked about the unexamined life and the repercussions of living that way he was referring to a life lived ethically. I find that I am writing – and living – a very different sort of examined life. In looking at and writing about memories, I am examining my life. Despite more than a few visits to therapists and psychologists I’ve never looked at much of my life in this way. The facts remain the same – but I find new layers of interpretation. I’m seeing myself differently – not necessarily ‘better’ or ‘worse’ but differently.
I didn’t think that writing a memoir would change the memories. And yet, somehow, it has.