Memory (6)

This web site focuses on three main categories: memory, story telling, and memoir. It is also broken down into about thirty sub-topics, such as forgetting, fake memoirs, the aging brain, and writing about real people.

The links in this section deal generally with memory but do not fit into any of the sub-categories.

Pieces of light: The new science of memory, by Charles Fernyhough – review

A glimpse at a far-ranging, interdisciplinary examination of various aspects of memory. The reviewer suggests that the book will be most useful for those looking deeply at the subject for the first time.

What’s the value of nostalgia? What (and how) are you remembering these days?

An article about a condition that infects us all from time to time, plus some resources for examining it.

Old or new memories can bias future actions

A tantalizing study of how memories may affect other memories as well as how we see the world and everything that follows from that altered perception.

Imagination and memory

An interesting ramble that would have been more useful if there were only one kind of memory. Because there are many, this is just armchair science. Readers might feel themselves wanting to say “Well, yes, but no” to almost every observation here.

Colonoscopies clarify inner workings of minds

Regardless of the title, it doesn’t take guts to read this article. And the links will lead you to some truths about remembering that you really should know.

Minn. Supreme Court rejects ‘repressed memory’ junk science against priest, media yawns

An article worth reading almost as much for what it reveals about media bias (including that of the writer of this piece) as about the state of scientific knowledge about how memories are formed and stored.

Memory research sheds new light on depression

Three studies examine (1) the relationship between selective memory and mental health, (2) how sociocultural events influence what we remember, and (3) the factors that influence memory decay.

The rehabilitation of an old emotion: A new science of nostalgia

It’s okay to visit the past, even to dive into it, but there’s a danger in living there. Nostalgia can become a clinical condition. (Reminds me of  somebody’s response to hearing that an acquaintance was a doctor of philosophy: “So philosophy’s a disease now?”)

‘Great whales’ production explores meaning of memory

A stage production inspired by “Moby-Dick,” which compares the modern mythos of memory to the way the nineteenth century saw whales. A serious look at what happens when memory is submerged.

The value of remembering ordinary moments

We sometimes mistakenly believe that extraordinary events will have the greatest impression on us. When we think back, we often find ordinary moments standing out in our minds instead.

Advice for memoir writers (10)

Self-absorbed memoir lacks spiritual context for former actress’ life

Readers of a memoir expect to see change, development, growth, as well as an awareness of the direction the writer’s life has taken. To disappoint readers and reviewers in these areas is to diminish the book’s appeal.

Opinion: Memoir manifesto

A bucketful of reminders for all writers of life stories, regardless of whether they share the theological perspective of the author.

On writing a memoir

Some reflections by a thoughtful memoirist on what it takes to twist the truth about a life in the most appropriate way. An excellent reading list is attached.

How people react when you tell them your memoir is about getting into gang bangs as a female swinger

This article is as fascinating for its reader comments as for its own content. This has lots to do with how an author writing a memoir, and thus (in theory) trying to be self-revelatory, can retain privacy and focus on the job at hand in a public space, where people expect to let their hair down and approach anybody, even writers, with intrusive personal questions. You choose your audience even before you set words out for an imagined public.

“Write a sentence as clean as a bone” and other advice from James Baldwin

Treasured nuggets of wisdom from one of the great ones.

How to write a book without losing your mind

If you’re a procrastinator, this article also contains advice on how not to write a book – and how to lose your mind while waiting for a book to write itself.

Vow: A memoir of marriage (and other affairs) by Wendy Plump – review

Forget about potential appeal. A story is good only if it is well told.

Minds are the strangest thing

Life is not art. It can have form and meaning only if somebody imposes them. A book that is too lifelike raises questions about why it had to be written.

Douglas Kennedy: a storyteller grappling with the larger things in life

Here’s a writer who has become successful by refusing to plan to write when he has time. We all have time. The trick is to use it well.

Professor talk: So you want to write a memoir?

A collection of thoughts from a memoir professor introducing the genre to prospective writers.

Memoirs and fiction (6)

It is sometimes said that fiction is more “true” than facts. The implication is that fiction is free to go beyond experience and to plumb certain kinds of truth – especially emotional truth – more easily than pure memoir can. But the relationship between memoir and fiction runs even deeper than that.

This topic is closely related to another on this site: truth in life stories. But, as Mark Twain pointed out, “Truth is stranger than fiction . . . because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn’t.” Still, memoir writers have lots to learn from fiction, including the techniques that make some stories more effective and memorable than others.

Many of the following links focus on stories that do not purport to be literally true – on works that refuse to worry about truth and instead depend as much on imagination as on experience.

There are many reasons to convert life into fiction. If memory is elusive and often questionable, many writers use it as the starting point for their work and let their fancy roam. An even more important reason is that it is hard to face the unvarnished truth privately; it is harder yet to tell it to others. One solution is to convert obnoxious and voluble Uncle Leon into a sneaky friend of the family named Roger and then to allow his altered personality to toy with what Leon might have done in fictional contexts. And a fabricated story could illustrate how that embarrassing situation at the family’s holiday dinner could play out on the street during a small town’s rummage sale.

One of the underlying biases of this web site is that all memoir can be said to be based on a true story. Many of these links point to works that do not try to stick to literal, historically verifiable facts. All of them deal with situations that beg to be fictionalized..

Growing up golem: Memoir as fantasy story

There’s more than one kind of truth. Verifiable scientific facts sometimes mean less to us than the feelings that haunt us as we grow up.

Sheila Heti and Jian Ghomeshi: Memoir in the selfie age

Two writers discuss the difference between memoirs and fiction, including an insight from the point of view of readers, who can imagine themselves in a memoir but not in a novel.

Edy Poppy talks sex, love, and boredom with Siri Hustvedt

To get at emotional truth, it is sometimes necessary to get away from objective truth. The author in this interview has worked at length with this insight.

Bill Shankly: how much of Red or Dead is fact and how much fiction?

For a variety of reasons, this review will be more of interest to memoir writers than the book itself will be to most readers. Implicit in it is a cautionary tale, a warning of the risks for a writer who piles up words without thinking about what (non-literary) effects they might have on readers.

Writing technique: The rule of three

Many fictional techniques can be adapted to memoir writing as well. The three questions here could become something like this: What happened? How did I react? What effect did the event have on me, either immediately or later? The third question gets into reflective prose and lets the reader know something more about the writer.

Ask the editor: Memoir or novel for my true story?

Whether you write a memoir or a novel, it will only be based on events. There is no single truth, only your way of seeing things. But no matter how you choose to tell the tale, you will have artistic and moral issues to consider.

Art and the abyss

This Proustian autobiographical novel, detailed and rambling, is the second in a projected series. It is revolutionary writing, an attempt to redefine the novel, a unique amalgam of memory and fictional technique.

All about my mother: Brandon Taylor on love, rage, and family

A beautifully crafted, evocative short memoir about the author’s relationship with parents. The essay gives the impression of being artless, but it touches the reader deeply as it deals with how memoir dances around truth and fiction.

Seattle writer David Shields can’t stand most novels (And memoir? Don’t get him started)

A rambling and entertaining, never boring discussion about the mythologies that inform our writing, about truth in fiction and memoir, about electronic publishing – in fact about everything (intentionally) except J.D.Salinger.

Alan Garner has vowed never to write another novel. A memoir, though, is a different matter
A novelist discusses some of the differences he encountered when he wrote a memoir after a successful career publishing fiction.

Unique memoirs, unique memoirists (5)

While the main focus of this web site is memory and memoirs, it does review individual memoirs that have some unique quality as first-person narratives. All of the books cited below have an unusual slant that makes them stand out. Some are collections of photographs. Others are films or stage presentations. There are also memoirs written under difficult circumstances or from a point of view that you cannot imagine until you read them. Memoirs do not fit into a box.

Some memoirs are here because their style is compelling. Some qualify for other parts of this web site, but they call attention to themselves more as memorable reading than as examples of their subject matter. Finally, some of these works are not memoirs at all, but writings about memoirists.

All the links in this section prove that there are no rules in this genre. Lives are unique, and  there are more ways of documenting them than anybody can imagine.

My mother’s keeper

A short excerpt from the memoir, rife with the mystery of growing up in the shadow of a father’s disappearance and colored by his mother’s seemingly greater interest in TV characters and quotations from movies than in the family she is raising.

A memoir of self-understanding

Memoirs always reflect a work in progress. Even if literary necessity gets us to the end of a narrative, life continues. This memoir shows how, as long as we are breathing, our experiences just carry us to another plateau, which becomes the next starting point. This is less a memoir about a life than a look at life itself.

There’s no place like home

If we live in one town as we grow up, it remains home forever, and its places never stop evoking the things that happened there, the people we knew then, even if it has been paved over beyond recognition. This short memoir by Garrison Keillor, one of the great story tellers of our time, recounts how a return home resurrects the past and brings the long-dead back to life.

Duncan Fallowell’s ‘How to disappear: A memoir for misfits’: Book review

There are no formulas for living, or for writing memoirs. We are unique, and so should be the written record of our lives. The subject matter of a memoir usually focuses on the subject of the book – that is, the writer – but this is not an unbreakable rule. In this series of essays not linked by theme or chronology, the author is revealed little by little.

The death of my father

A large part of the mystery of life is the inevitability of death. It is in the background of every life, yet we often refuse to focus on it. It is rare to find a memoir like Joan Didion’s “The Year of Magical Thinking,” which traces the author’s emotions through a year in which her whole world collapses in death, disease, and depression. This essay is a lengthy, detailed attempt to understand why we feel as we do at the departure of those who mean the most to us.

All about my mother: Brandon Taylor on love, rage, and family

A beautifully crafted, evocative short memoir about the author’s relationship with parents. The essay gives the impression of being artless, but it touches the reader deeply as it deals with how memoir dances around truth and fiction.

Give me everything you have: On being stalked by James Lasdun – review

What has he done? On James Lasdun’s memoir

A review of this gripping memoir, plus a look at it through the lens of a previous novel written by the author. An example of art imitating life imitating art?

‘A memoir of finding things, not just losing them’

Memoirists choose their tone. After a childhood suffused with pain, do they focus on self-pity or do they emerge with hope? Here is a good example of the latter.

Hector Abad’s memoir: Oblivion

A tribute to the man described as the person the author would have wished for as a father if he were born again.

Our stories and identity (6)

We want our stories to reflect an objective past,  but they rarely do. The factors that underlie our memoirs include not only the events we have experienced, but the attitudes we bring to the telling. Perhaps most important is our conception of self. We tell the world stories to demonstrate that we are, or have been, patient, kind, misunderstood, and so forth. In the process of writing life stories, we sometimes discover aspects of our personalities that we did not suspect before we began to write. These essays focus on the link between stories and how we perceive ourselves.

‘Flyover Lives’ looks at an author’s life through her ancestors’ stories

Individual lives are part of the cavalcade of history and the product of the past. We can understand aspects of ourselves better if we have insights into the people who used to be in our families.

Our stories are our lives

When we are gone, all that remains of us are the stories about our lives remembered by others. If there is to be anything of us at all left, we must tell those stories ourselves unless we develop a wide reputation along the way.

Editing your life’s stories can create happier endings

The stories we internalize about our past eventually influence what we think about ourselves. We may not always be what or who we think we were, but our stories have a lot to do with how we move forward.

Understanding family history helps children cope with life

There is more to our identity than the circumstances of individual lives. Stories about our ancestors give us more than a sense of who they were; they can also help us know who we are.

Pride or prejudice

Who we become is often related to how we fit into where we are. This essay, showing the link between personality and place, will be especially evocative for readers who have lived in Boston for any length of time, though it should entertain and enlighten anybody who has lived in a new city.

Be anonymous. Can a writer escape vulnerability?

There is your public self, there is your private self, and there is who you reveal when you write about yourself, either in fiction or memoir. At bottom, the urge for expression subsumes the desire to be known; there is an inherent contradiction between writing and remaining anonymous.

With fading memory, Terry Pratchett revisits ‘Carpet people’

Memory is a precious possession, one we too often take for granted. As it changes and fades, as it transforms our recollections, the past too changes. This author is attempting to retain the past in all its guises.

‘I thought she must be dead’: B.C. woman finds mother alive in the Yukon 52 years after she disappeared

Family gives us our identity, for better or worse, and family ties remain even if the family no longer exists.

The memory lady’s daughter tries to fill the gaps

Memory gives us identity, a sense of who we are through who we have been and what we have seen. Losing our grasp of the past is frightening because it is one way of losing our sense of self. As the generations succeed each other, we inherit the memories of those who came before us. We continue to give our elders their sense of being in their final days.

Upton: Rewriting our stories may revamp our lives

Before we can tell our life story, we have to discover it. Experience can be framed in many ways, and whether others see us as agents or victims, as empowered or inept, depends first on how we see ourselves. We may not be able to change the past, but we control our response to it.

Trauma and memory (5)

To write an effective life story, a writer must be a certain distance from the event – in time, in location, in emotional space.  A novice author can hardly expect to organize material well enough to write a gripping narrative while still suffering from the psychic effects of destruction or violence. Yet, people do manage to write memoirs that describe survival from war, hostage-taking,  and other life-threatening situations.

People who have gone through these events are sometimes so deeply scarred that they cannot recall them; or, if they can, their memories remain too chaotic to write about. On the other hand, people have been known to come through disturbing events with a heightened consciousness and what appear to be accurate, indelible memories.

Many people need psychological help to cope with their memories. Others, who simply want to get beyond them, look for ways to alter or delete them. That possibility, once a science-fiction dream, now seems attainable.

These links look at various aspects of this topic

Would YOU erase all memory of an ex if you could? Sex columnist Tracey Cox poses a very difficult dilemma…

Our mistakes are (usually) not the end of the world. If we are aware, they can help us grow and learn. Remembering our mistakes can help us move forward. If we do not remember a mistake, how can we avoid it when the situation comes up again?

Repairing bad memories

We attach emotional significance to memories, but this researcher claims it is possible to erase those emotions it we overlay them with information that conveys new or neutral emotions – but there’s a time limit. “When you affect emotional memory, you don’t affect the content,” she explains. “You still remember perfectly. You just don’t have the emotional memory.”

Why the memory never dims

Some events seem burned into our consciousness so indelibly that they don’t have to be recalled. They are always present. If they are traumas, the pain may fade but the memory remains as strong as ever.

Marking the moment with a meaningful ‘Exit’

Moments of change and loss leave us with some of our most significant memories. How we remember them and how we view their meaning can shape us forever afterward.

A foreign correspondent’s complicated relationship with the Middle East

The dilemma of a journalist who has written a memoir, an intense act of remembering, as part of her attempt to forget trauma. Paradoxically, another part involves going back to write about the things that remind her of the past.

Tsunami memoir helped author recover from catastrophic loss

It’s unreasonable to expect writing to undo the traumas of the past, but here is a good example of how recording and staring down the past can make it easier to recover from personal disaster.

Rabbi explores grief in new memoir, ‘Faith Unravels’

It can be a struggle to figure out what our story is. The clergyman who wrote this book following the loss of a friend hopes he can now help others discover their own stories.

The link between sleep, memory, and PTSD

Paradoxically, sleeping helps us forget as it helps us consolidate the memories of our waking hours. But it is possible to manipulate the brain so that we do not continue to be haunted by our worst memories.

Scientists target and block a specific memory

It takes time for memories to move from short-term storage in the brain to long-term storage. This research used a drug to intercept a memory before it had time to solidify. Interesting, even frightening, implications for human application.

Michael Hainey book raises questions about truth versus family

In writing a life story, how do you treat the facts that everybody close to you is trying to deny or ignore? Here are a few perspectives, from the point of view of a memoirist, and an actor and a director putting on a play that touches on the cost of telling the truth.

Technology and memory (5)

Photographs actually impair your memory of an event, rather than support it

We don’t have to remember everything if we park the memory somewhere else, such as in a document or a photo that is easy to find later. This is called cognitive offloading. It is one of the strategies we use to free up our minds. But it is not all a positive phenomenon.  This article explains why.

His brain can’t make new memories — so he built an app to store them instead

In recent years we have relegated much of our cultural memory to technology. Here’s a man who has transferred his personal memories to an app.

Social media skew our memories in strange ways

What we put on line is not forgotten, though we sometimes forget what we have sent into the virtual universe, and even forget that we have done it.

Is Google wrecking our memory?

In a very short time, people have learned how to use search engines as repositories of facts they used to remember. Instead of using other people as reference sources, we are now more likely to depend on the ever-expanding, encyclopedic technological body of knowledge.

Meet your future memory, the internet

Here’s a technological dimension to the debate over what and how we remember, and whether our memories should (or can) depend on conscious thoughts and emotions.

Google quietly brings forgetting to the U.S.

This should be of great interest to anybody who has relegated the past to a virtual memory mechanism.

Using the internet in place of memory doesn’t make us dumber

Our memories create a mythology of our past and give us an enduring sense of who we are, who we have been, what we have lived through. Using the internet in place of memory makes us question our senses and doubt the evidence we believe was generated by our own experience. In any given situation, we must judge for ourselves whether that is good or not.

Post, “Like,” Memory

The pervasiveness of technology is changing the way we remember the past. With so many images and words bombarding us, this writer wonders whether we are capable of remembering events today as people could fifty years ago.

If we turn the internet into the world’s memory, what becomes of our own?

An intruiging question, with a video. This social conundrum remains less of a threat for those of us who just remember to pay attention to the life in front of us.

Recording ‘precious memories’ we promptly end up forgetting

Another look at how we erode and deaden our memory by relegating the past to virtual storage bins.

Forgetting (5)

Don’t panic about forgetting things! Memory loss can be GOOD for our brains by strengthening other things we’ve learned, study says

More research on an old subject, with comfort for those who fear that they are losing it.

What do you know: Why do people forget what they learn?

We do not forget all things at the same rate. We are far more likely to forget a lesson if we crammed for a test overnight than if we study the material over a number of weeks. And we are more likely to forget it than a memory of childhood, though all of those memories are subject to decay. This essay goes into the subject in greater detail.

Josh Freed: Faces, names and food — and the mysteries of memory

People are different, and so are their memories.

Why do we forget?

Because we do not stop perceiving the world after we register information, memories fade, get disguised, and shift in various parts of our brain.

9/11 and the inevitability of forgetting

The passage of time is one of the most important filters that affect our memories. So much happens to alter the past in our mind, or to diminish its significance.

Just a mild case of amnesia got you forgetting?

The other side of the coin.

What is Dory Syndrome? Everything you need to know about the memory loss condition anterograde amnesia

A basic primer on why some people develop memory leaks, and what they can do about it.

Executive suffers sudden memory loss

There are times when it’s appropriate to have your head examined. This is one of them.

Mr. Nobody: The bizarre story of Sywald Skeid

White, five-nine, one-fifty. Otherwise, little is known about this man, especially his past. He is a man without meaningful memory, whose mind can recall incidents but no contexts. How does such a person forge a future?

As dementia sets in, artists still recall drawing from memory

Individuals retain their creative abilities long after many other means of communication fade. It is well known that people with dementia can sing or play music they heard years before. Now studies show that drawing talent can also remain. If only we could figure out how to make the aging brain continue to recall and transmit words as well!

Memory and aging (5)

Everybody knows that memory decline is common in older people. That does not mean that all seniors suffer from it, or that losing track of your keys when you are 40 years old signals the beginning of an inevitable downhill slide. Many  people retain their sharpness – their judgment and their memories  – until their nineties or beyond.

While it is no laughing matter, there are hundreds of jokes about older people who are losing track of the past. But everybody’s memory responds differently to aging. Generally, however, memories of long-ago events come back to mind with ease and clarity in older brains. The irony is that short-term memories are more elusive. Seniors can tell you old stories but often cannot remember that they told you those stories yesterday.

And the kinds of memories that are affected by the aging brain differ in individuals. My mother, a non-native speaker of English, who became proud of her precise grasp of nuance, was more irritated in her last years by losing her vocabulary than by any other result of getting old. Others suffer from terminal nostalgia or never tire of reminding listeners that they are losing it – whatever it is.

Why your memories are fading

Researchers are trying to understand exactly what happens in the brain to change memories. Repetition, significance, and distance in time all seem to play a part in altering how we recall events.

Important new theory explains where old memories go

We retain only some memories and forget others. When we remember, we often embellish the details. We certainly change them as time goes by.  If we recall often enough, we might end up with a totally fictional past.

Mid-lifers aren’t more forgetful, they just have better things to think about

This article claims that, contrary to popular belief, forgetfulness in older people is not so much a sign of mental decline but owing to the fact that they are focusing on other things.

Losing your memory? Not so fast…

Many people tend to worry about the deterioration of short-term memory as they get older, and even accept it as an inevitable part of aging. It’s not. They should spend less time worrying and more time concentrating on what’s in front of them.

When memories age

Recent memories, it now appears, are brought up by different areas of the brain than memories recalled from years ago.

As we age: They are full of fascinating life stories

The stories in everybody’s life makes them historians and archivists for the people around them, especially as they age, even if they slip a notch or two.

Memory and recall: 10 amazing facts you should know

Here are some some encouraging items for people who think they are losing the ability to recall the past.

Watch out for pitfalls on a trip down memory lane

A look at why people begin to document their past as they age. Many people do so because they are especially anxious to allay the fear that they might lose their memories.

Seniors lose memory as the mind gets flighty

Another clue hinting why memory fades as the brain ages.

Older adults have better memory retention when distracted

This research could lead to a new line for seniors: “Leave me alone. I’m not concentrating.”

Collective (cultural, historical) memory (5)

Pearl Harbor moves from memory to history

Strong cultural memories inevitably fade and become part of the arcana of history.

The selective memory of nations

Selective memory can afflict families as much as nations, even if their agendas are less clear. The same can be said about individuals.

Iconic buildings from the 1970s show UAE’s development, say conservationists

Written from an architectural perspective, this article insists that memory prompts are as crucial for the preservation of cultural memory as of personal memory.

Bill Morrison’s films stave off time’s inevitable destruction of memory

There is nothing we can do as individuals to keep memories from deteriorating over time. But technology allows us to sustain moments that individuals might forget.

Tom Hayden on the Vietnam War and America’s collective memory

Cultural and national memory unify groups and determine how they move forward and plan for the future.

National trauma and the memory wars of Asia

What happens to a country when the official national memories (that is, the accepted history) clash with the personal memories of the people who lived that history?

Slavery: memory and afterlives

History is a nation’s memory. This essay explores the imperatives and cautions bound up with cultural memory

This may be the last chance to tell the story of these survivors

The transmission of cultural memory is often a matter of parents telling stories to their children. But sometimes the job can be done more effectively by third parties, on stage.

South Africans look forward without forgetting the past

The past does not disappear as long as there are people who remember it. If it has been traumatic, suppressing it will not lead to healing.

Dead Presidents: History, memory, and the legacies of once ‘great men’

History does violence to memory, and memory does violence to history. When we re-evaluate the personalities of historical figures, do we wonder how their recently revealed foibles affected their achievements? What, for example, did earlier generations think about Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings? about their descendants? What do we think? Is there a difference, and should there be? Another example:  have Woodrow Wilson’s racial attitudes affected social views about his foreign policy achievements?