Photo by Dương Nhân
Memoirs! I still write fiction, essays, and screenplays. But I take particular pleasure in composing the My Real Memoir posts I hope one day to publish in book form. These have been gratifyingly received by blogger friends, many of whom have asked how I remember my life in such detail. The answer is two-fold:
First, I lie. Which is to say that, when the details are fuzzy, I go with what I think happened, even if I can’t be absolutely certain. Friends from my past have confirmed these recollections, sometimes with the caveat, “Yeah, that’s more or less the way I remember it.” Each of us is one of The Blind Men and the Elephant. (I also invent in-the-spirit-of-what-was-said dialogue.)
Hence, I refer to these posts as a memoir rather than an autobiography. Memoirs are allowed to be a little loosey-goosey in the service of self-reflection. As Marcel Proust put it, “Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.” Autobiography, on the other hand, implies a high level of journalistic punctiliousness with citations up the proverbial ying-yang.
In addition, autobiography can sound self-important, as though it were something the world were breathlessly awaiting. I once met a particularly arrogant fellow at a soiree. “I have decided to write my own autobiography,” he announced with profound gravitas. “Yes,” I replied, “it’s best that way.” He nodded in clueless satisfaction as I joined a group of less significant people.
Second, I do brain archaeology. A blogger friend, Annie, responded to the current My Real Memoir post with, “I wish I had a memory like yours for delving into my own childhood.” “Oh, my memories aren’t exactly ‘on tap,’” I replied. So, how do I remember my past? I thought about my process. I go on “digs,” I realized, with my spade (pen) in hand, scribbling down memories as they appear, along with the peripheral memories they reveal. I make no effort to organize these yet, just brush them off and put them in the artifact bin (notepad). Later, I’ll assemble the shards in chronological or thematic order.
I also use whatever sources I can. Seeing the cut-out 7th grade photo space in my junior high school yearbook triggered the memory of how much I hated that picture, fearing my ludicrous broken-toothed grin would end my nascent career as a movie star.
In addition, I google era-specific categories, like movies, music, tv, and news. In this case, discovering To Kill a Mockingbird was released that year jogged my memory of repeatedly reading the book all summer, and of Dad slamming the car door on my finger when we went to see the movie that fall. Which in turned triggered memories of angsty pre-teen longings.
So, become a “brain archaeologist.” You’ll be delighted, and maybe a bit rattled…
At what you uncover!