Miss City Discovers: The Truth About Memory

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Truth About Memory

Memory is fleeting and not always trustworthy. Memory is not concrete. Memory is not simply something that can be written down; there’s no exact and right account of what occurred in a memoir. Sometimes, fudging the edges of a story is your best bet on getting the truth out. Reading “Memory and Imagination by Patricia Hampl, really sparked my interest in the idea that when we relay stories about the past, we may not always be telling the truth. Maybe the past is something we don’t want to remember, we literally can’t remember or in order to get the big idea across, requires some doctoring.
It’s strange. Memory, that is. We can remember the way someone shook our hand, but not their first name. We may remember that there was a table with the inscription, “Do something today”, but where was that table? Why was it remembered? Who is to say what is more important than the other? We hold on to what felt most significant to us at that moment in time. Unfortunately, we seem to hold onto hurtful memories more often than we do the positive ones. It does make sense, since something that pains you is a strong emotion. I’d like to think that happiness is a strong emotion as well, but it seems as though we let glee fly away because we are waiting for agony to hold us hostage once again. Happiness is a soft, light embrace, whereas pain is heavy, tough and shadowy. We want to understand, and in order to understand pleasure and contentedness, we usually can cut right to the chase; “this is what made me happy”. But since pain can be indistinct and obscure, we want to know more. It consumes our mind, taking over and tainting our memories. When we look back, then, we see it and we remember that along with anything else during that phase of our lives.
It’s still important to get these ideas and memories down, regardless of the small fibs that might be told to fill in the blanks because the main idea, the big picture that affected the rest of our lives, will still be there. Patricia Hampl brings up a terrifying example of the idea that there are enough books to fill a room now about denying the existence of the Holocaust. If there are people willing to write down the lies, forcing the forgetting, then there need to be those to remember as best as they can, and write that down. Good must always battle evil. Even if the truth is evil, it can’t be forgotten.
Writing truthfully is very challenging, but I believe the more truth you allow to come through, the more the reader connects and reciprocates. The most personal and truthful piece of writing I think I’ve ever written was my piece about how I feel about New York. To begin, I wonder why I was so honest. Was it where I was? Literally in a classroom at New York University? Or where I was in my life? An 18-year-old girl who thought she knew where she was going, and then didn’t? Or was it the people who surrounded me? I’m assuming it was a combination of all three. Maybe one day when I look back, I’ll remember a perfectly perfect explanation for this first piece of honest writing. It will all make sense. Maybe the truth comes out later. Memories learn and grow up too. Then they reveal themselves when we’re ready.
One of the main ideas I make in that piece is about these little “things”. The controllers that went with the video games in the little apartment had more meaning and influence on me than anything else I remember about New York. And that’s why I remember them. That’s why those details are still tangible in my mind. They are symbols for my life at that time. Maybe it really wasn’t so much the playing of video games, but the fact that it was something my brother and I could do together without fighting, and it meant a lot to me to receive my brothers approval. It’s just a thought, but these little objects and small details serve as symbols for what was so vital to me then. Being open and authentic and questioning everything I’ve believed in about New York, about myself and about my future in this city up to this point is naturally difficult to get down on paper, let alone allow people who are practically strangers to read and judge. However, there’s a sort of calm and breath that releases from you after your worries are seen and considered by others. I just want others to see what I see, and to get a grasp on what I feel. I want at least a partial memory of my life and struggles to be held onto by someone else, even if what he or she ultimately remembers isn’t what I said in the first place (as expected). When they take a little, a little is liberated from me. That could very well be the point of telling personal stories, to share the memories and ensure that at least a particular detail of what is told will dwell in someone’s mind, to resurface years later, when the situation and original memory-holder is long gone. 


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