Has anyone else ever discovered that their memory has been lying to them? That something you were sure happened in a certain way – you remember it happening with clarity – didn’t.
I have. (You probably guessed that.) Two stand out – one is significant to others as well as myself, the other only affects me. I guess the second one came as a shock because it was the second – i.e. my memory had lied to me about more than one thing. In the first instance, I remembered the wrong person doing something disgraceful (I’d say unforgivable, only I did forgive them – it was a long time ago and I forgive the real culprit now I have proof of their identity). In the second, I remembered something in the wrong context – similar but wrong. I’d been convinced that I’d been taught about defamiliarization in detail in an early lesson of my first year Introduction to Creative Writing module – yet I found no word about it in my old notes. I did, however, unearth a one-sentence definition of defamiliarization in my notes from the second year Creative Writing: Fiction module (both at university).
Now that I’m writing this, I’m beginning to think it might not be an all-bad thing. For example, I used the first false memory in a short story and felt a tinge guilty about that (sorry) but now that I know that’s not how it really happened, I don’t. I guess what I’m saying is, having an unreliable memory gives you more freedom to write about things you remember – because they may not have happened in that way, anyway. Your memory of something is influenced by you or your situation or your feelings about something – they have spin – they are not factual accounts. In a way, they are fictions in themselves – a story created by your subconscious about something that happened in your past. Therefore, if you write about a memory, you’re actually writing a fiction based on another fiction.
So, if you have a particular memory that’s haunting you – that you feel you want to write about it but think you shouldn’t – you can let go of the complications of it being about something that happened in reality and write about it.
You could also write a story about a character with an unreliable memory but I’d rather you didn’t – I’m doing that one and I don’t want to share.