The unreliability of memory (6)

Most of this web site looks at how and what we remember. It often shows that the mechanism of remembering remains a mystery, and that exactly what we recall can be a surprise – even to us.

Memories are malleable and constantly changing, never exactly the same as last time. The main insight we derive from the writings of Marcel Proust is that our first memory is the only legitimate one. Every memory after that is an attempt to recapture the previous memory.

Another category on this site, which contains links to articles on impediments to memory, provides reasons for much of this; still another, on false memories, examines the consequences. Our thoughts can be derailed by physical, psychological, or environmental factors. What other family members recall can affect what and how we remember. A clever adversary can make us think we remember what we in fact do not.

There is a unique pressure and tension when recalling memories while being interrogated by the police or testifying under oath in court. In most circumstances, the consequences of fudging details are trivial; they are far more serious when our own fate, or that of others, is at stake.

The legal system seems to ignore the fact that memories change over time. It assumes that memories will be accurate and dependable and recalled in good faith. However, witnesses or principals in a court case can be influenced by the haze of time, as well as by interrogators with an agenda, who can change what people think they remember and later plant doubts in the minds of listeners as to whether what is recalled is true.

This aspect of memory may be of interest to memoir writers, as marginally relevant to their craft as it may sometimes be. Because justice can be served only in relation to the past, law courts want to know exactly what happened. In memoir, on the other hand, the focus is on what writers remember, and not necessarily on facts.  If memories are false and fuzzy, the consequences are rarely as serious or life altering as in court.

To me, this is one of the most interesting aspects of the whole subject.

 

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/kerry-malawista/unreliability-of-memory_b_4220368.html

What memories are made of

There is truth and there is Truth, what we believe to have happened to us and what might have been evident to an objective observer. When we act on the basis of our beliefs and memories, we are perpetuating “facts” that may have no basis outside our own minds.  The significance of that observation is an open question, and it depends on much more than objective reality.

 

http://ijpr.org/post/can-eyewitnesses-create-memories#stream/0

Can eyewitnesses create memories?

We create memories all the time, filling in the past because our brains were busy doing something else at crucial moments.

 

https://www.nbcnews.com/health/emb-3p-even-people-super-recall-tripped-false-memories-study-2D11603596

Even people with super recall tripped up by false memories, study finds

Evidence that, where memory is concerned, we are all human, equally liable to make mistakes.

 

https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/articles/200105/the-seven-sins-memory

The seven sins of memory

There are several ways our memory can mislead us. This essay enumerates seven of the ways and shows how we can become aware of them.

 

http://torontosun.com/2016/11/08/wifes-recovered-memory-disrupts-marriage/wcm/b0cdeda7-613e-4a48-aca2-d16498e96796

Wife’s recovered memory disrupts marriage

Our past can be a Pandora’s Box, even if we don’t always remember why.

 

http://www.brooklyneagle.com/articles/malleability-memory-plays-out-new-thriller-2013-08-06-130000

Malleability of memory plays out in new thriller

This psychological novel plays with what we remember, how we remember, and the possibility that there is more, or less, to our memories than we imagine.

 

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/meta-wagner/memory-loss_b_3618387.html

You must remember this

A whimsical look at memory overload. Interesting slide show at the end of the article.

 

https://www.lifehacker.com.au/2013/06/why-your-memory-sucks-and-what-you-can-do-about-it/

Why your memory sucks (and what you can do about it)

There are many factors that twist how we view the past. Unfortunately, “what you can do about it” does not include fixing it.

 

https://www.nola.com/crime/index.ssf/2013/06/nopd_taser_video_case.html

NOPD Taser case tests difference between lying and faulty memory

Maybe some day the courts will have a way of proving whose word should be accepted when people differ, but that day is far in the future. Accepting the word of a law officer over somebody who has been convicted of a crime is not always the right choice.

 

https://edition.cnn.com/2013/05/18/health/lifeswork-loftus-memory-malleability/

Trust your memory? Maybe you shouldn’t

We are rarely aware of the factors that make us remember or forget. As a result, our memories are capricious and do not necessarily reflect what actually happened to us. We may unconsciously fabricate memories, and other people can manipulate them.

How memory works — or doesn’t (5)

https://www.thecut.com/2016/08/moving-gives-you-a-more-memorable-life.html

Moving gives you a more memorable life

Memory experts say you should do something to make every day special – that is, memorable. They do not necessarily advise moving often, but they would agree that the event will be easier to recall than a day when nothing seemed to happen.

 

https://ottawacitizen.com/opinion/columnists/new-memory-and-the-muse-how-do-we-know-if-weve-plagiarized

New: Memory and the muse – how do we know if we’ve plagiarized?

Is creative inspiration just a matter of recalling something once filed away and buried in the mind, or is it truly the breath of a muse?

 

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/language-and-mind/201807/the-surprising-power-language-over-memory-and-choice

The surprising power of language over memory and choice

The language we know affects how we think, feel, and act, but the extent of that influence is debatable. And people who speak more than one language complicate the situation.

 

https://www.news-medical.net/news/20160518/Basic-mechanisms-behind-memory-are-more-dynamic-research-finds.aspx

Basic mechanisms behind memory are more dynamic, research finds

Neuroscience for the uninitiated – as of today.

 

https://www.buzzfeed.com/kellyoakes/things-you-probably-didnt-know-about-memory?utm_term=.wb8MzdwG4#.viJbkWN8D

11 memory facts that prove your brain is weird

An oversimplified article, full of tantalizing half-facts or hints about facts that can be pursued in greater depth on other sections of this web site.

 

https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2014/02/04/memory-revisions-accuracy/5192089/

Your brain often edits that trip down memory lane

A study that verifies one of the key insights about memories: they are colored by what has happened to us since they originated. This means that who we are today – everything from our values to our likes and dislikes –  is a major determinant of who we think we once were.

 

https://psychcentral.com/news/2014/02/05/memory-capacity-quality-more-important-than-quantity/65473.html

Memory capacity: Quality more important than quantity

Working memory is a survival mechanism. We become aware of and remember only the most necessary details as they develop. We do not remember the model, style, or color of the vehicles in front of us, but we do notice the motion of every object that might be entering an intersection as we approach. And we remember how to avoid it.

 

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/may/01/how-good-is-your-memory-and-what-it-says-about-you-quiz

Sticky brain or memory like a sieve?

What we remember may have more to do with how we see the world in general than with any verifiable facts about the past.

 

https://medicalxpress.com/news/2016-03-memories-age.html#nRlv

When memories age

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

 

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2530044/How-youre-affects-memory-Americans-recall-objects-better-East-Asians-likely-remember-people.html

How where you’re from affects memory: Americans recall objects better while East Asians are more likely to remember people

The kinds of things we remember are affected by cultural factors as well as physiology.

Forgetting (6)

https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/review-in-praise-of-forgetting-historical-memory-and-its-ironies-by-david-rieff-1.2620774

http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/opinion/william-armstrong/in-praise-of-forgetting-98426

Review: In praise of forgetting: Historical memory and its ironies by David Rieff

Two reviews of a book with a compelling argument not to dredge up the past but to let it stay in the past, because that is where history belongs.

 

http://time.com/4386098/emile-weaver-denial/?xid=tcoshare

Emile Weaver and the dangers of denial

Denial is pushing the present away. That is obviously related to suppressing the past.

 

https://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-life-and-religion/203634/never-forget-i-dont-remember

When ‘never forget’ becomes ‘I don’t remember’

As traumatic as an event might be, its traces in the brain can be deleted by dementia. This story offers a compelling reason for writing about as much and as deeply about our life as we can, and soon rather than late.

 

https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2016/06/knowledge-compendia/485507/

The human fear of total knowledge

What parts of our history do we remember and how do we document it? Here is a discussion of how Jorge Luis Borges imagined an institution that would keep humanity from forgetting anything it had ever discovered or created. The implications are complex.

 

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/may/28/alzheimers-orwell-prize-societys-ghosts-johns-campaign?subid=16140909&CMP=EMCNEWEML6619I2

In telling their life stories, we seek to restore dignity to society’s ‘ghosts’

When people can no longer remember, their stories need not be lost if those who can remember take the time to tell their stories.

 

https://aeon.co/ideas/what-amnesiacs-tell-us-about-memory-q-a-with-brenda-milner

What amnesiacs tell us about memory: Q&A with Brenda Milner

A look at neurosurgery of the 1950s, which showed which part of the brain contains memory.

 

http://beatrice.com/wordpress/2014/02/05/life-stories-61-david-stuart-maclean/

Life stories #61: David Stuart MacLean

Memoir involves the reconstruction of the past. But what is an amnesiac to do? That is a person who has actually lost the past and has to reconstruct the life that came before. This podcast is an interview with a writer, now a memoirist, who lost his memory and created a fictional past for himself just to make sense of the present. Then he had to go back and pick up the pieces.

 

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/uloop/which-memory-can-i-erase-_b_4804678.html

Which memory can I erase for you today?

Remembering and forgetting are essential aspects of our identity and our sense of where we are in the world. We empathize with people who lose track of the past because we understand that they are beginning to lose their selves. This article reflects the recent debate over whether people should be able to delete some of their memories.

 

https://themunicheye.com/How-forgetting-helps-us-learn-3316

How forgetting helps us to learn

A study finding that learning and forgetting are part of the same process.

Technology and memory (6)

Technology has taken a bad rap ever since Plato thought writing would destroy people’s capacity to remember. After all, the argument went, if you can write down information, why bother storing it in your head?

Today the problem is somewhat different. For the past two hundred years people have documented moments in photographs. They can help us remember what happened at a given moment – but what of five minutes before that, or afterward?

Photographs used to occupy a special place in the lives of individuals and families, reminding them of who they were and where they had been. Today, there are no photograph albums; instead, many people own hundreds of disposable pictures of everyday life, too many to leaf through or sort through. Something about our sense of the past is altered when technological memory becomes a substitute for human memory.

Since the start of the digital age, people have tended to keep their memories in a virtual device, typically a cell phone. But depending on such aids, some people cannot be bothered to memorize even their own telephone number, much less a poem or basic mathematical concepts. The cloud can retrieve all the personal facts they need. Google and Wikipedia are the arbiters of last resort when they want to know less personal information.

But this innovation has its down sides. First, the online world never forgets. When potentially embarrassing personal facts persist, they can be used against the person involved. Second, when we depend so heavily on technological devices to keep our life straight, quirks of technology can make some facts less readily available to us when we need them.

Technology, it is said, is only a tool – a tool that deserves neither credit nor blame if it is used for our benefit or to our detriment. How it helps or impedes our memory is up to us.

But a contrary argument is also worth our attention. Many of the links that follow spell out the cautions and controversies surrounding the almost universal use of techno-gizmos in Western society.

 

https://www.cnn.com/2018/07/17/us/goodwill-projector-photos-mystery-trnd/index.html?utm_source=CNN+Five+Things&utm

A woman bought a projector at Goodwill and needs your help finding the family in the photos

The era of photography, with actual pictures that people could hold in their hands, lasted less than two centuries, from the 1840s to the early 21st century. The memories those photos hold are part of a blink of history, but comprise a major technological repository of memories of the age. Few people know anything about their ancestors more than two generations back, but these pictures are tantalizing glimpses into a past that was intensely meaningful for somebody when they were taken. This will never be said about today’s digital pictures.

 

https://pagesix.com/2016/05/14/michael-strahans-memory-will-be-exorcised-from-live-studio/

Strahan’s memory will be scrubbed from ‘Live’ come Monday

Our perverted social memory refuses to recognize anybody or anything that is not documented. History is a tough concept for people who have known television all their lives. Many people act as if their will be no record of their existence if they do not leave records of themselves, such as selfies.

 

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/pythia-peay/on-memoir-writing-my-fath_b_4267227.html

On memoir: Writing my father’s face

A picture, it is said, is worth a thousand words. But when pictures are all we have of somebody, the many thousands of words they evoke can become questions. And these doubts and wonderings can be as interesting as any other story of a person’s life.

 

https://www.smh.com.au/technology/rebooting-your-memory-20131031-2whyq.html

Rebooting your memory

Knowing where to find information is often more important than retaining the information itself. That makes search engines especially valuable for the recall of public information. But if we are going to remember the details of our own lives, we must train ourselves to pay constant and close attention to  the world in front of us.

 

http://www.foxnews.com/health/2013/08/15/digital-dementia-memory-problem-plaguing-teens-and-young-adults.html

Digital dementia: The memory problem plaguing teens and young adults

Leaving all our thoughts and memories in a technological repository may free our minds for other activities, but it has its down side as well.

 

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/jun/21/memory-sexuality-digital-age-changing-human

From memory to sexuality, the digital age is changing us completely

A frightening question for historians who look ahead to those who will follow them: will there be written records in the future, or will everything be relegated to an undifferentiated and seemingly infinite cloud?

 

https://www.fastcompany.com/3013099/what-it-means-when-every-digital-memory-has-an-audience

What it means when every digital memory has an audience

Recorded memories used to depend on a particular audience: a friend, the family, your club. Mass distribution of books made the context more impersonal. Now, when we write for social networks, it is more difficult to focus our writing because, while we are ostensibly writing for particular readers, we know the whole world can be looking over our shoulder.

 

http://www.inquisitr.com/537555/facebook-may-strengthen-memory-the-older-you-get/

Facebook may strengthen memory the older you get

Here is another factor to throw into the equation when comparing the risks and benefits of using Facebook. An intriguing possibility, though the link near the bottom of this article shows a decline in mathematical acuity on the part of the writer.

 

http://www.middlebury.edu/newsroom/node/451202

Class of 2013 celebrates commencement

We live on shifting sands, Emerson said. For every gain there is a loss, for every loss a gain. In gaining our technological advances, according to Foer, we have also lost our ability, even our willingness, to remember.

 

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/aug/23/memory-apps-dementia-reminisce-transform-care

How memory apps can help people with dementia tap into their past

Pascal said, “La coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connait point” (The heart has its reasons, which reason itself does not know). It turns out that the mind also sometimes has reasons that we cannot reason away.

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.

 

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2013/nov/22/pieces-of-light-new-science-memory-charles-fernyhough-review

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.

 

http://westallen.typepad.com/idealawg/2013/11/whats-the-value-of-nostalgia-.html

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.

 

https://psychcentral.com/news/2012/07/29/old-or-new-memories-can-bias-future-actions/42314.html

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.

 

http://www.bworldonline.com/content.php?section=Opinion&title=Imagination-and-memory&id=70094

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.

 

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/mind-guest-blog/colonoscopies-clarify-inner-workings-of-minds/

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.

 

http://www.themediareport.com/2012/07/31/minn-supreme-court-rejects-repressed-memory/

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.

 

https://psychcentral.com/news/2012/11/19/memory-research-sheds-new-light-on-depression/47893.html

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.

 

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/mind-guest-blog/the-rehabilitation-of-an-old-emotion-a-new-science-of-nostalgia/

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?”)

 

http://www.dailytarheel.com/article/2013/01/great-whales-explores-meaning-of-memory

‘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.

 

https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/01/the-value-of-remembering-ordinary-moments/384510/

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)

https://catholicsentinel.org/Content/Arts/Arts-and-Entertainment/Article/Self-absorbed-memoir-lacks-spiritual-context-for-former-actress-life/6/31/22021

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.

 

http://www.mennoworld.org/archived/2013/7/22/memoir-manifesto/

Opinion: Memoir manifesto

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

 

http://dgmyers.blogspot.com/2013/06/writing-memoir.html

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.

 

https://www.xojane.com/issues/i-wrote-a-memoir-about-getting-into-gang-bangs-and-having-an-abortion-and-have-gotten-a-lot-of-mixed-reactions

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.

 

https://lithub.com/write-a-sentence-as-clean-as-a-bone-and-other-advice-from-james-baldwin/

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

Treasured nuggets of wisdom from one of the great ones.

 

https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/08/how-to-write-a-book-without-losing-your-mind/566462/

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.

 

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/mar/08/vow-memoir-wendy-plump-review

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.

 

https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/minds-are-the-strangest-thing

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.

 

https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/douglas-kennedy-a-storyteller-grappling-with-the-larger-things-in-life-1.1381894?page=1

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.

 

https://patch.com/new-jersey/montclair/professor-talk-so-you-want-to-write-a-memoir

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..

 

https://brevity.wordpress.com/2014/02/04/memoir-as-fantasy-story/

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.

 

https://hazlitt.net/blog/sheila-heti-and-jian-ghomeshi-memoir-selfie-age

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.

 

https://lithub.com/edy-poppy-talks-sex-love-and-boredom-with-siri-hustvedt/

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.

 

https://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2013/aug/23/bill-shankly-red-or-dead-liverpool

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.

 

https://amyraby.com/2013/08/26/writing-technique-the-rule-of-three/

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.

 

https://alanrinzler.com/2013/07/ask-the-editor-memoir-or-novel-for-my-true-story/

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.

 

https://www.theage.com.au/entertainment/books/art-and-the-abyss-20130524-2k6gr.html

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.

 

https://lithub.com/all-about-my-mother-brandon-taylor-on-love-rage-and-family/2/?single=true

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.

 

http://www.oregonlive.com/books/index.ssf/2013/03/seattle_writer_david_shields_c.html

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.

 

https://inews.co.uk/culture/books/alan-garner-memoir-interview/

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.

 

https://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2013/02/michael-hainey-after-visiting-friends-memoir-excerpt

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.

 

https://www.oregonlive.com/books/index.ssf/2013/03/a_memoir_of_self-understanding.html

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.

 

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2014/02/keillor-geography/

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.

 

http://www.towleroad.com/2013/07/duncan-fallowells-how-to-disappear-a-memoir-for-misfits-book-review/

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.

 

https://aeon.co/essays/would-philosophy-help-me-to-deal-with-my-father-s-death

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.

 

https://lithub.com/all-about-my-mother-brandon-taylor-on-love-rage-and-family/2/?single=true

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.

 

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/feb/16/give-me-everything-stalked-lasdun-review

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

https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/what-has-he-done-on-james-lasduns-memoir

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?

 

http://www.alicespringsnews.com.au/2018/08/08/a-memoir-of-finding-things-not-just-losing-them/

‘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.

 

http://www.swans.com/library/art19/rajup75.html

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.

 

http://www.troyrecord.com/arts-and-entertainment/20140212/flyover-lives-looks-at-an-authors-life-through-her-ancestors-stories

‘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.

 

https://www.philstar.com/lifestyle/business-life/2013/12/23/1270686/our-stories-are-our-lives

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.

 

http://www.wbur.org/npr/258674011/editing-your-lifes-stories-can-create-happier-endings

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.

 

https://www.deseretnews.com/article/865591733/Understanding-family-history-helps-children-cope-with-life.html

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.

 

https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/pride-or-prejudice

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.

 

https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/by-anonymous-can-a-writer-escape-vulnerability

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.

 

https://www.npr.org/2013/11/03/241630751/with-fading-memory-terry-pratchett-revisits-carpet-people

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.

 

https://nationalpost.com/news/canada/i-thought-she-must-be-dead-b-c-woman-finds-mother-alive-in-the-yukon-52-years-after-she-disappeared

‘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.

 

https://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/12/booming/the-memory-ladys-daughter-tries-to-fill-the-gaps.html

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.

 

https://www.timesfreepress.com/news/entertainmentfood/story/2013/apr/25/rewriting-our-stories-may-revamp-our-lives/106240/

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

 

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2246895/If-erase-memory-ex-Our-sex-columnist-Tracey-Cox-explains-importance-bad-relationships.html?ito=feeds-newsxml

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?

 

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/515981/repairing-bad-memories/

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.”

 

http://lifestyle.inquirer.net/106321/why-the-memory-never-dims/

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.

 

https://www.npr.org/2013/05/27/186459548/marking-the-moment-with-a-meaningful-exit?ft=1&f=1032

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.

 

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/relationships/news-and-views/sarah-hampson/a-foreign-correspondents-complicated-relationship-with-the-middle-east/article2445626/

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.

 

https://www.thestar.com/entertainment/books/2013/03/08/tsunami_memoir_helped_author_recover_from_catastrophic_loss.html

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.

 

http://jewishjournal.com/news/los_angeles/112251/

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.

 

https://bigthink.com/matt-davis/the-link-between-sleep-memory-and-ptsd

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.

 

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-douglas-fields/scientists-target-and-blo_b_3342700.html

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.

 

http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-02-12/entertainment/chi-michael-hainey-20130212_1_book-tour-memoir-copy-editor/2

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.