My mother and my sister Kim were arguing at the hair salon.
Kim texted me: Mom swears that you went stag to your senior prom.
I know. Tell her that.
My mother had misremembered: My sister Lori went stag. I went with my boyfriend. He was my first boyfriend, and I was his first girlfriend. We were supremely innocent, made mix tapes, and thought we knew everything.
We had a perfectly nice time at the prom, though I don’t remember much about it—some disco lights, Neil Diamond. The only bold thing I did actually was wear polka dots. Long pink taffeta was out, sassy, cocktail length was in. I even got a polka dot sash to tie in my hair like a bow, which was the only truly regrettable part.
Memory is not fact-checked record; it’s a living, evolving, tricky thing. It leaves its fingerprints on us in wildly diverse ways, changing impressions of a single event, depending on who you ask.
What’s even crazier is that once you introduce imagination, and have re-imagined an event, it’s hard to separate it from what actually happened. It’s like trying to take salt out of a soup.
Every time we write we trigger, trip through, or graze the edges of memory. On Tuesday night, when the Six Week Sprint met to write, I drew our prompt from this fabulous piece on memory and nostalgia by Charlotte Lieberman in the NY Times (“Why we romanticize the past”):
“…there’s a common misconception that memories are accurate records of the past, pristinely preserved in a mental filing cabinet. “Memory doesn’t really work like that,” said Anne Wilson, a professor of psychology at Wilfrid Laurier University… “We reconstruct what happened in the past on the basis of little bits and pieces of memory. We’re acting like archaeologists — picking up the pieces and putting them back together.”
You should have heard the writing that rose as a result. It was incredible. It didn’t matter what “actually” happened. The truth that rose from their stories mattered more.
Think your memories aren’t relevant to what you’re doing now? Wrong. Your memories, clear or hazy or slightly skewed, matter; it’s where we write from, how we connect with a reader or listener.
I’ll give you the same prompt I gave the Sprinters: Think of a time you remembered something differently. Set a timer for 15 minutes (that’s all I gave them). Start writing. See what comes up. What you remember may surprise you.