I’ve read a ton of books on writing in the past year. Too many to count. In one of them, about writing memoir, the author explains that writing about your memories has the effect of replacing them. You end up remembering what you wrote more than what you actually experienced. I’m sorry I can’t remember which book it was, so I can’t attribute this point to the author – if I do remember, I will update this later to give credit where credit is due.
I can imagine how this could happen. You put so much time into thinking about what the right words are to capture some thought, feeling, or experience. At least I do. My tagline on this blog is ‘Me and my battle with words,’ for a reason. I fully believe the right words are out there – it’s just a battle to figure out what combination is best. And, there’s probably more than one combination that will work, but there are a zillion that don’t come close enough. That’s what makes writing worth it – finding the right words. It’s also what makes reading a great book so exhilarating. Anyway, back to memories and how they change…
In The Black Swan, Taleb speaks of memory, in a section titled ‘Memories of things not quite past.’
“Conventional wisdom holds that memory is like a serial recording device, like a computer diskette. In reality, memory is dynamic – not static – like a paper on which new texts (or new versions of the same text) will be continuously recorded, thanks to the power of posterior information. (In a remarkable insight, the nineteenth-century Parisian poet Charles Baudelaire compared our memory to a palimpsest, a type of parchment on which old texts can be erased and new ones written over them.) Memory is more of a self-serving dynamic revision machine: you remember the last time you remembered the event and, without realizing it, change the story at every subsequent remembrance.
So we pull memories along causative lines, revising them involuntarily and unconsciously. We continuously renarrate past events in the light of what appears to make what we think of as logical sense after these events occur.
By a process called reverberation, a memory corresponds to the strengthening of connections from an increase of brain activity in a given sector of the brain – the more activity, the stronger the memory. While we believe that the memory is fixed, constant, and connected, all this is very far from truth. What makes sense according to information obtained subsequently will be remembered more vividly.”
I’m sure I’ve solidified mis-remembered memories as things I now believe to be true simply by remembering them repeatedly. In fact, I’ve had odd discussions with both of my parents about two stories I remember hearing of my falling very ill as a baby and as a toddler. Each parent remembers one story, but not the other, and they both swear by the story they remember, even though they are entirely different stories. Neither has any recollection of the version the other believes, while I always thought both were true. Maybe that says something about why they divorced.