Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Today, I stumbled upon the perfect epigraph for an essay I've been writing:

All of our memories are false, but how elaborate are the stories we tell ourselves? What role do we think we play in the lives of others? There are so many pathologies.

This I read in Stephen Elliott's The Daily Rumpus e-mail -- which remains the best thing I've done for myself all year.

As a nonfiction/memoir writer with 120 pages of a 150 manuscript under my belt, I've been thinking about memory a lot these last couple of years. "Memory is suspect," I've often said. But I like Elliott's assertion that "memory is false." As I write about things that happened 10, 20, 30 years ago, I usually sit back in my chair, close my eyes, and go back to that place--wait until I can smell and see and hear that experience before I write about it. Sometimes it feels fuzzy. Sometimes it feels like an exact reliving -- and I'll be (pleasantly or not) haunted by the memory for days afterward.

In all regards, my aim is to tell the truth. To be as honest as I know how.

Yet: My version of a moment, a week, a year, a relationship, is likely immeasurably different than the version of the person who shared that moment, week, year, relationship with me.

This doesn't mean that my version isn't the truth -- but it's my truth. A friend / family member's truth of the same event may well be something entirely different. Or it may be the same.

This fascinates me. Why is this? What's memory? How elaborate are the stories we tell ourselves? About even the most mundane moments? How is it that I can remember walking into the restaurant on the main floor of the Kahler Hotel... remember the tall wooden beams dividing the dining room from the kitchen, taste the walleye sandwich, remember telling the waitress that it was "too fishy" and her replying, "it's fish." Like it happened last week and not 8 years ago. Yet my husband tells me there were no tall wooden beams. That it wasn't at the Kahler. It was at John's Restaurant. And his co-worker was with us.

"But I've never been in John's Restaurant," I tell him. "Never."

"Yes, you were," he says. "You had the walleye."

We're both, somehow, right.

Anyway, that's what I've been thinking about lately. And, as I put together this collection of essays, I'm just trying to get it, somehow, right.

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