Where do our memories come from

What selects what we remember?

For many of us writing we use bits of our own lives in what we write, adapting people, events, places. We can change the outcomes so that we ‘get the girl’ or ‘win the race’, our characters can do the things we don’t or daren’t. Barry wrote about using your own experience or not in his blog yesterday (http://barrylillie.wordpress.com/2013/03/14/method-writing/) and I have in the past. I think when I write stories/novels there is far less of me than in the very personal writing I do as poetry. The character Vincent I am writing about is a million miles away from me, perhaps at times a wish fulfilment – handsome, tall, owns a beautiful Leica, everyone loves him! Though I am making him manipulated by sinister forces with little control of his life outside his photography.

In another blog I read by Shannon (http://shannonathompson.com/2013/03/15/to-my-mother/) she talks about her mother who dies when she was very young and another friend has recently lost her father. It is very moving and brought many memories back, especially of my mother always reading and my father writing music. The memory of grief is very hard to remove, overlaying the memories of happiness, but I have found that writing the poetry can force the happy memories forward. In Telegraph Hill I told about spreading my mothers’ ashes in a place she loved, a sad memory, but it reminded me of the very happy holiday memories and the safety I felt as a child knowing that my mother was waiting for me/us after the adventures of play, with a warm caravan and wonderful breakfast.

Grief is a part of life. It comes as an unwelcome shock to us but it is going to happen. I can see it as a theme in much of what I write. We cannot select what we remember, I recently read William Boyd’s Waiting For Sunrise, a disappointing book and I felt he could have done with a few sessions at Renegade Writers to improve it. In it his rather dislikeable character goes to a psychologist in Vienna in 1913, he has a destructive memory, he tells that and through hypnosis the psychologist changes the outcome of the memory, so he doesn’t feel guilt and his sexual problem is solved. If only it were so easy! So in some ways we as writers can change the outcomes of our actions, but not in reality just as a fiction, there are so many outcomes I would love to change in my 59 years the book would be encyclopaedic in length!

Huge events in our lives can be wiped out in our memories because we don’t want to suffer them again. Also I often feel memories can be warped by the fact we have photographs of something or are told a story. I look at old family pictures, I am in there standing with my grandfather or grandmother, they died before I was 5 I have no memory of them except when my mother told my grandfather off for putting a handkerchief round my moth when playing cowboys because of the germs, but the events in the photographs, they are there in black and white, but not in my memory. Of course I can adapt those and make a story around them, so is that the real memory?

Today’s photograph is to celebrate Red Nose Day taken at midday listening to the new David Bowie album, which is rather good and takes me back 42 years!



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