Rita Mae Brown
“One of the keys to happiness is a bad memory.”
Not remembering is one thing. What about remembering something wrong?
Writing, recording, speaking, and distributing anything for public consumption is not for the weak. It often comes with a heaping side helping of “imposter syndrome”. Hugely successful writers will even admit to sometimes feeling, who the hell am I to be doing this? And there’s inevitable criticism, most times it’s just people blowing off steam. But sometimes it’s valid.
This rose up for me recently when a memory I wrote about was challenged. Not just challenged but said to be an outright lie. I had hurt someone’s feelings by the way I wrote of their role in the story. The story itself was described as wholly inaccurate. But what stung was the assumption that my motivation was to be manipulative. Nope, my memory simply failed me.
I’m far from perfect. (That’s a sentence I’ve probably written in this space more often than any other.) First, I apologized. Then, I searched my conscience and questioned my motives. What was I trying to accomplish? What were the circumstances and why did I remember it so differently? And how could I have just written, re-written, and published it without thinking about how it would affect this person? My goal for doing this blog is to be authentic and honest, to show the good and the bad. To prove that perfection isn’t attainable or necessary. And that failure happens, and can be overcome. Clearly, I’d failed this time.
It’s Not All Memorable
Memories are strange and complicated things. I’ve written before about how I don’t have a lot of childhood memories compared to so many others. And I’m not great at recalling the names of even relatively recent coworkers. (Thank you Facebook for saving my butt!) It’s not that I don’t care to remember. They just don’t stick.
But there are incidents I recall in HD, minute-by-minute detail. I’ve discussed some of them with other people who recall them the same way. Other memories are sketchy, like someone’s taken an eraser to some parts. And then there are, apparently, false memories. Memory experts say almost all of us have them.
Some false memories are harmless, like mixing up the details of two separate vacations taken years apart. Others happen when subsequent information about an incident gets mixed in. Like 9/11 for example. One’s own memory can get infused with details we’ve learned since it happened. In fact, a psychologist writing for Very Well Mind says false memories are more likely to spring from emotionally-charged situations.
The incident I wrote about was emotionally charged, for me. The person who called me on wasn’t – and couldn’t be – aware of what happened before the story, the context and pattern it represented for me. Since it happened, I’ve been told a lot of negative things about the third person involved – the person at the center of the story. I can only conclude that all of it combined to create something that didn’t happen the way my brain tells me it did. Because I didn’t “make it up” or try to make myself come off better in the retelling of it. It must have gotten scrambled in my brain.
As a wise man once said, “Don’t mistake thoughtlessness for malice”. I don’t say this to let myself off the hook. Just to understand how I possibly could have mucked this up and negatively affected someone for whom I hold no ill will whatsoever.
Taking Care to Take More Care
I do try hard to think about how anybody – even a famous person – might feel if they saw something I wrote about them. They’re humans, after all. Coincidentally, I recently had fun at the expense of Gwyneth Paltrow who’s at the centre of what seems to have been a false memory situation with a fellow skier. Paltrow just won a court case against a man who accused her of plowing into him on a ski hill. The jury believed it was the other way around. He swears he isn’t lying. Emotionally charged false memory, maybe? Or an attempt to extort a wealthy person. Hard to say for sure.
It made me nauseous to have publicly insulted someone I personally know, who was innocent of any wrongdoing, although I hadn’t named them or intended to do it. I was shocked that I’d done it. But I did. I think I’m already pretty careful about what I write but obviously, I can do better. And I will.