Cover of "Thinking About Memoir (AARP)"

Cover of Thinking About Memoir (AARP)

Memories: recollections, reminiscences, remembrances. So many of us have been talking about our memories of Christmas past,  but do we trust our memories? Are they faithful to what really happened, or coloured by our particular rose-coloured glasses or half empty attitudes?

Abigail Thomas says this about memories in her book, “Thinking About Memoir”: “Memory seems to be an independent creature inspired by event, not faithful to it. Maybe memory is what the mind does with its free time, decorating itself. Maybe it’s like cave paintings. The thing is, I’m old enough now to know that the past is every bit as unpredictable as the future, and that memory, mine anyway, is not a faithful record of anything, and truth is not an absolute.”

Ms. Thomas describes the way I remember things. I know this because when I talk to my siblings about events that took place in our collective childhoods, we all remember things differently. I remember details that they did not notice and they remember things I do not. Sometimes it seems we were not even  at the same event, but we were all there. Of course, I think I am right—but I am not. My memories are tinted by my personality and by what I want to remember.

Maybe Memories

Maybe Memories (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Being in the same place at the same time and having a totally different recollection of the event is not all that surprising. Perception affects memory, altering it from the truth to perhaps something more palatable.

What do you think?

Published in: on December 28, 2012 at 3:07 am  Comments (53)  
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  1. Me and my sister even get into arguments about “what really happened,” or “I taught you that, not the other way around” when it comes to a skill or fact. (I’m usually right, but if you ask her, she’ll tell you the opposite is true.)

    Oh the memories!

    • I know- we all think we are right–when in fact our memories are the way we want to remember it

  2. It’s a mix with my siblings & me. Mostly – we’re on the same memory lane though. I guess we remember things that either affected us directly or had a strong impact.

  3. I think you’re absolutely right that any two people will likely remember the same incident in different ways. I think it is personality …yes but also just the way people concentrate on different aspects of the incident. ….like 3 people seeing an accident and reporting it differently because one was looking at the driver maybe of one car and one looking at the damage and maybe one looking at a frightened child in the back seat….The same accident but each having their own view…..

    Memories are sometimes not so great but there are times that they are and so we choose to remember the better ones….Or…the ‘little gray cells’ as I call my brain….decide….Diane

    • I do think we have a strain in our brain that lets us seive through things

  4. Memory fascinates me – all the different versions of the same event

  5. This is so true. It definitely applies ro my chlldrens’ memories of their childhood – my memories of the same events and places are quite different! Disconcertingly so!!!

    • I know–you wonder where you were or they were to have such different accounts

  6. I agree. In school I read a lot of first hand accounts from history and everyone was different. And then there’s my personal experience. i swear my memory is the best, but ask the better half and you’ll get a different opinion. But seriously, I know I’m right all of the time.

    • I am right too – what is wrong with these people – ha ha

      • I think they can’t face the fact that we are smarter. Don’t see another reason for their being stubborn

      • me either – ha ha –are you ready for mystery photo today?

      • Maybe I should start drinking–might help my chances

      • I am with you, though it is only a little past 6 in the morning here, I am up for a new tradition–after all, it is 5 o’clock somewhere

      • I love taking advice from country songs–never make a decision without consulting at least three songs. A foolproof plan.

      • love this – we should do a post on this

      • I’ll have to brush up on my country. Don’t hear it as much since moving to London. I think I have a few cds

      • I am not too country either so we both will have to do a little research

  7. so very true on the 2 “p” s — perception and personality. It is all relative and we all have our own truths

  8. The key word you used is “perception”.. I have started writing down some of the important moments of my life and I have to try very hard not to write them slanted. It’s difficult because we are the one who lived it and we percieve it one way where as another person in the same scene as us could (or not) see it differently.. Interesting post here.. Making me think even more..

    • thinking is good–but it is the holidays–don’t think too hard–but you are so right about perception
      as a reporter I have to be as unslanted as possible but in my other writing, memory does get twisted to make a good story

  9. Memory is a funny thing….we sat at the same dinner table every night as kids, and we have either no memory of specific events or a completely different memory of family life. I guess that’s why bystanders’ account of accidents don’t hold up well in court…..everyone sees things with their own perspective.

    • I wrote a paragraph that I deleted from the post about all of us sitting at the dining room table yet having different memories of the events that happened–it is funny that you and I came up with the same scenario

  10. You make a fair point. My little brother, for example, always seems to remember events the way he wants them to be, or rather, he always makes himself out to be the “hero” of each memory, regardless of whether or not it’s true! In the case of my brother, he’s always the rascal; not the hero.

  11. Great post, LouAnn. Yes, our memories come from our perceptions and our own unique viewpoint – so mine will be very different from those of my sister. But we do share a common heritage so I think it’s useful when we do talk about it together. I helps me to understand her and vice versa. And that brings us closer!

  12. To put it bluntly, my memory sucks!! There is far too much information in my brain, and old memories keep leaking out. My hubby remembers every detail, but that’s because he is a man and doesn’t have to remember as much as we mothers do LOL!!! 🙂

  13. This is the dang truth. I think this is where having so many siblings helps. Between all of us we can usually eek out a kernel of actuality.

  14. I agree with the fact that memories are certainly tarnished by our perceptions about the events that happened in the past… I have come to realize it recently when I have started to look back and find evidences of depression persisting in my life since as long as I can remember- may be my perception of searching darkness is making me come across the not so pleasant memories… it is weird to even write that and even more so, to think about that.

  15. So true! My eldest son remembers things so differently from myself and his brother it seems like he has made up a story for better or worse that he needs to have.

    As my boys were growing up I reminded them that biographies will always be written from second-hand (or worst, never having known the person) accounts and auto-biographies are written trying to convey some truth the writer wants conveyed. That they would need to read more than one type of story and just try to come up with what felt like the middle of the road when truth was involved.

  16. Coloring the memory with what we want to remember and what we choose to forget is human nature, I think — looking back through photos is always interesting as we review memories from vacations years ago, and the photos can “prove” someone’s memory wrong. . . or right (or perhaps that photo did not capture it at all 🙂 ) ~ Happy 2013! ~ Kat

  17. I’m so thankful that my siblings and childhood friends honored my memories of our shared years together. We all have a different take on the same event.

  18. I think the way we remember things tend to reflect what we value the most. It’s always interesting comparing memories with people because you almost always are surprised by what other people remember. Good food for thought here! 🙂

    • I think you are so right–that we remember those things that we value–very astute– thank you

  19. This is fascinating! At our family reunion in the summer, the three of us who were there all had different memories of the same event, even relatively recent events, not just from our childhood. Thanks for this. 🙂

  20. I’ve solved it all by only thinking mine is the one that matters, so there is no dilemma. Ha!

  21. Love this post, LouAnn. The quote from Abigail Thomas makes me want to read her book. The topic really struck a note with many readers, me included.

    • This is one of the best memoir books, or best books that I have ever read–I strongly recommend it — she gives advice but it is as if she is not giving advice but talking to you–I am glad it struck a note with you

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