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Memory is fiction. I read that somewhere recently, perhaps in the New Yorker, and it stuck with me: Memory is fiction. It’s not that we make our memories out of whole cloth; we believe we remember things clearly, but the mind is a funny thing and what we recall happened, and what “really” did are two different things. Of course, in the end, there is little way of knowing what is correct, unless the event was a public one and well-documented. But what is this notion of “really happened” anyway? If I believe it happened one way, and this belief has informed my life and behavior ever since, isn’t that what is the most important thing about the event, more important than the theoretical “facts” of the matter?
You might turn around and say Fiction is memory, meaning that in all the stories we make up about the world reside parts of ourselves and our lives, that nothing is ever truly “made up” or foreign to our experience, however outlandish the characters or strange the fictional events. There is a truth behind the settings and deeds that derives from one’s center, making fiction a personal memory of the deepest sort.
People have asked how I could recall with such clarity events that happened 20, 30 or 40 years ago, even down to dialogue, the way I’ve written it in the book, and all I can say is that I feel I remember every event I recount as clearly as if it happened yesterday. No guarantee, mind you, if memory is fiction, that it is factually accurate, so much as that it captures what remains of those years in my memory. In fact, I remembered a great deal more than what I’ve written, until the book project was finished, at which point I pretty much lost the rest, having set down what I did as “my story” and mentally deleted all other remembered events as less important, therefore forgettable...I wish this hadn’t happened, as there was much I used to recall. Perhaps I have earlier versions of my book, without the deletions made, on my hard drive to jog my memory, but it is as the author (name escapes me) of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek wrote, (I paraphrase) If you prize your memories, don’t write them down, because that solidifies them forever in one form that freezes out all others.
Nevertheless, not a word I have written has been fictionalized, so to speak. I remember each and everything that I have written about, though whether my memory be factually accurate or not is anyone’s guess. The facts, as I’ve pointed out, don’t matter much anymore, because I’ve lived my life through the memories, and the memories have been what has influenced me, affected me, changed me and made me into the person I am today, for good or ill.Posted by pamwagg at August 4, 2005 07:34 PM