“I was so ashamed the other day. I couldn’t remember my neighbor’s name!”
This was a writer friend of mine, lamenting about his fading memory.
“That’s not the half of it,” he continued, “The three things I have the most trouble with are: names, faces, and I’ve forgotten, for the moment, the other thing!”
And this was the fellow that wanted to write his autobiography!
“I’ve got to get this sorted out so I can recall my past experiences for my life story.”
“Well my friend, lets try to dissect the problem, because, I too am writing a memoir.”
My friend had a far away look in his eyes. I knew he was using his cognitive abilities, the wheels were turning!
“Sometimes, when I try to recall an event in my life, it’s not an accurate account. I know this because my mother has told me so.”
“That’s right, our memories are flawed. They are constructed, made up, by our brains. They are connected with everything we think and believe.”
“Oh no, that’s terrible!” my friend cried.
“That’s the reality, my friend, memories degrade, they join with other memories and they change over time. We are not good at remembering details.”
“I guess you’re right, the other day, I witnessed a car accident and the cop taking my statement asked for a detailed account and I had a hard time giving him all the details he asked for.”
“You see, that’s what happens in our memories, we alter or even invent details to complete the narrative in our mind, to fill in the gaps, so to speak!”
“My mother has straightened me out on a lot of my childhood memories for me.”
“Yes, that’s what we need to be accurate. We need external verification, which is what your mother was giving you. Without this verification, you don’t really know how accurate your memory is.”
My friend looked at me quizzically.
“Well, what can we do about improving our recall?”
“What I do, when I’m writing my memoirs is: I look at different things to get a retrievable cue to trigger my memory, such as old photos or objects that remind me of events.”
I smiled, I hoped I was helping my friend understand that our memories are slightly fallible.
“We have vast amounts of info in our memory, far more than we can retrieve. So we need a cue to trigger lost memories.”
The writer had a very serious look on his face.
“So, I’m writing my autobiography with an “unreliable memory!”
“When I recall a past event, a few highlights come to mind, but not all the details. So, in my brain, I reconstruct the rest of the event adding info so that it all makes sense.”
“Well, thanks a lot for these revelations! That means I am writing a “fictional” autobiography!”
He had a frown on his face.
“Don’t get upset, just think, you could change the names and sell it as a novel!”
“I kid you not!”
“And to think I’ve been taking vitamins to improve my memory!”
I left my friend with these words:
“MEMORY IS THE THING WE FORGET WITH!”
PS-Writer Dave’s novel, “WEB OF GUILT’, coming soon on Amazon Kindle