Memory is fluid. It evolves as we do, changes along with us. It is, by its nature, both truth and illusion.
I think one reason I started keeping a personal journal so many years ago is that I realized this to a certain degree. I knew that what we remember about any given event in our lives is selective, filtered by the current moment. If we are feeling good, optimistic, we may remember an event in a positive light, whereas if we are feeling down, anxious or depressed, we might remember that exact same event, but focus on elements that were not positive.
RAM: On childhood and being good.
Sometimes I wonder why I was always so intent upon being a “good girl”. Was it my religious upbringing? Was any adventurous spirit smothered by doctrines and reminders to be good? I know that must have played a part in it, but for the most part, I think I ended up okay, and am a good person, if I say so myself. Of course, one could always ask to define “good”. I didn’t always follow the rules, but it took me a long time to realize that it wasn’t the rules or whether one followed them that made a person good or bad.
The one thing I loved about Kindergarten, well, two things actually, were story time, and learning the Alphabet. There were not pre-schools back then, and daycare was something mothers did, this was still a time of stay-at-home moms, at least for those families that could afford it.
My mom wasn’t one to “tell stories” though I’m sure she must have read a few story books to me, at least when I was little. I wish I could remember. What I do remember is when I would have an asthma attack at night, she would come in and tend to me, and sit in the bed with me, holding me up in a semi-sitting position, so I could breathe more easily and eventually go back to sleep. I remember how secure I felt in her arms, and so, strangely, some of my fondest memories of that age involve being sick. Something to think about.
1966 age 14
Life is a series of first times, that begin when we are born. First breath, first cry, first word, first step, so many firsts that fill out moments as we grow. Some firsts are considered milestones, many are not. I may include several of those in this RAM series, after all, we tend to remember first times more easily than others, because they are moments that are, at the time of happening, unique to us. As life goes on and we experience the same event more and more, it loses the impact of that first time.
The following is about my first period, and a terrible event that happened almost simultaneously, and how the two are forever intertwined in my mind. If you are male, and squeamish about women’s bodily functions, it may be best not to continue reading, though I promise it’s not that bad. I’m not embarrassed, so you shouldn’t be either. 😉
Earliest memories around 1954-1957
I wonder how far back most people can remember events in their life? Do some people have clear concise memories from when they were tiny? Or is early childhood more of a fog, with only small bits peeking through from time to time? And how many of those memories are “true” memories, coming from within, spontaneously? I know some memories can be “grown” and nourished, perhaps through photos and family stories – you may not remember exactly but you have heard the story and seen the photos so often it becomes like your own memory.
Those are not the kinds of memories I intend to share here. what I want to share are memories that come to me naturally, not from stories I’ve been told, but from tiny bits that are saved in whatever long-term storage locker I have in my mind. Which can cause a problem for early memories, because my early childhood is very much a blur, aside from a few tiny glimpses, vignettes of the past. Here are three such glimpses.
I’m starting with this, because I wrote it by request for my daughter’s blog, Inspire Project, and it seems a nice place to start. My forth-coming memories may not be as inspired as this one, no promises, but I wanted to start out my RAM project with something uplifting.
This may be a sweet little story, fun, but sweet, too. It’s something nice I did, that inadvertently brought me something even nicer in return.
After I moved to Switzerland and began to speak French most of the time, I got so used to it, I often even thought in French. One Saturday I was in the city shopping, I’d had lunch, and browsed my favorite stores, but now was heading home. I was feeling rather low at the time, thinking of my family in Texas, feeling a bit out of sorts. After 10-12 years living in Switzerland I still had the occasional bout of homesickness.The shopping trip was supposed to make me feel better, but thus far, nothing was working.
On January second of this new year, I lost internet for five days. Five days!!! It was scary at first, wondering what to do with myself while having my morning coffee – I am always in my email then, writing friends, visiting sites of interest. Now, for the first time in a long time I was left alone with myself. It was an interesting experience.
This project came to me while I was spending time without internet. I have a couple of friends I write to regularly, and I realized while cut off from them, that I have what can be described as a Need to Write, even if it’s not written specifically to someone.
Often while writing my friends, something they say will trigger a memory in me, and so I will share it with them, but in less detail than my memory is throwing at me. But it gave me an idea. I decided to start recording these Randomly Accessed Memories – to just think of something that happened in the past, and start writing. I guess it’s the Blogger’s way of creating one’s Memoirs, albeit in a un-ordered state, hence the word Random
First of all, I want to wish a very sincere Happy Holidays to all out there. I mean it, I know this time of year is one of family gathering and celebration and many happy feelings. I enjoy seeing festive decorations, look I even put the holiday theme on my blog, what’s not to love?
Well . . .
I read something recently where it was suggested that people who have problems based on their past history, simply re-invent the past. By that, the idea was to take a painful memory, and change it, replay it over and over in your head in a new happier version. Apparently, this will take the edge off the sting from the past and you will feel better in general.
Now, I admit it sounded like maybe it could work. And I imagine for people who have suffered abuse or other terrible events that are holding them back from progressing in life, perhaps it could be a good thing. But… re-inventing the past? Where does it stop? Do we tell out children, if you’re sad because Janie said something mean to you, just pretend she gave you a compliment and it will all go away?
I’m not so much challenging the idea as wondering what others think about it. Do you think it could be a useful tool for trauma victims? Would it even work in their case, when the triggering event is so firmly rooted in their memory?
What about the small stuff? Small, but persistent. Imagine that as a boy or girl of 16 you missed the Prom, and all your friends attended but you. And what if you found yourself 10 years later, still shy, still feeling bad about yourself, low self esteem, all because of that one event? So, someone tells you, hey, you can just re-invent the past. So you do. You daydream that you did go to the prom, with an old crush of yours, and you imagine it in all detail, and re-live it over and over in your imagination. And what if, doing that, you find yourself more open to others, feeling better about yourself?
Is that okay? I’m really questioning this, because I honestly don’t know.
Personally, I want to keep all of my memories just as they are. But I also realize that we humans, in general, already do some re-inventing, some of it conscious, some not.
I once wrote a story, supposedly fiction, about the one most painful experience I had ever encountered in my life. And I changed the ending – it was fiction, after all. I changed it to what I would have wanted it to be, instead of what it was. Still terribly painful, but with a resolution of sorts. I didn’t pretend to myself that it had actually happened that way, but writing that story was a catharsis for me. The old pain didn’t so much as lessen as it was my way of resolving an inner sorrow of how things had been handled by me. I know the truth of the past, but this re-invention helped me abundantly, without changing the past – but mainly because I knew it was fiction. I can’t even imagine trying to convince myself that things happened that way. The idea of doing so is almost like… blasphemy. I own that past, it is part of me, and if in retrospect I might have chosen to do it differently, I didn’t do so at the time. I need to remember the truth, to own it, because it is my moment, and it’s honest.
So… what about when we re-invent the past unconsciously? Do you realize that memories can change with time? Sometimes it’s in little ways, other times it can be in big ways. We remember the events of our lives, some more clearly than others, because they are implanted into our brain cells – but the more we replay them, do they become more implanted? Or does our changing perspective sometimes change the memories, ever so slightly, so that you don’t really realize it – and the next time a little bit more, and so on.
Think of the whispering game where there are a line of people, one gets a message, then whispers it into the ear of the next one, and so on, so that at the end of the line, the message is often very different.
I’ve seen this happen. And I have proof that it does – well, not scientific proof, just my own experience. I’ve kept written journals since I was 15, often filled with details of events past. I don’t read them. I have occasionally skimmed them to find recorded dreams, but in general I am not one to go back and read my past – though I imagine it would be interesting one day.
However – on more than one occasion, something or other would trigger a memory, and take me back to a past moment – usually something long past, as in 20 or 30 years ago. I would daydream about it a bit, remembering what happened, mostly good memories. I’m sure it happens to you from time to time. Well, one day I decided to check up on a memory.
The memory itself doesn’t matter, just that it was pleasant and very clear, and I saw myself in a particular way, handling a situation with a certain amount of wisdom for my then young age. I decided to check it out, as I knew it was something I would have recorded in my journal. I knew the approximate timing of it and I found the entry in one of my notebooks. Imagine my surprise when I actually read it. Not only was I not as wise and adult as I remembered, but I had recorded a completely different perspective on the whole situation.The details were more or less the same, but the “me” I remembered was not.
So after that, I occasionally checked back on my memories. Some of them were exact, some not. There didn’t seem to be a specific element that I could spot as to why certain memories were different, and others not, nothing tieing them in together. All I know is that our memory does play tricks on us. We do, ourselves, in the most natural way, re-invent the past.
So, back to the original question – is it a good thing, a bad thing or simply one of those “each person’s choice” things, to want to consciously re-invent the past? If we do it already to a degree, why not do it as a kind of self therapy? I don’t have an answer, and I think it really is something that would have to be a personal choice. Still, something in me finds it worrisome, that we could so easily dismiss the lessons of our past. Because aren’t they just as much what make us who we are today as the easy times? Perhaps even moreso.
Personally, I wouldn’t change a moment. And I’ve had some painful ones, believe me – if you’re my age or near it, you will have too. No one gets through life unscathed, but I’m proud of my scars, because they are part of what forged me. Part of who I am.