Time and memory are true artists;
they remould reality nearer to the heart's desire.
- John Dewey
The Brian Williams fiasco started me thinking about what I say and write regarding my life.
For those lucky enough to have missed the sensational story, news anchor Brian Williams talked about flying in a helicopter hit by enemy fire in Iraq. As it turns out he was in a helicopter traveling with the damaged one, but his copter was not struck.
Brian misremembered the facts. Maybe purposely, maybe not. He is now on a six-month salary-less hiatus from his job. Time will tell if, where, how, and when we hear from the man again.
If I were Brian (or if he asked my advice) I would spend time honing my resume.
I write. People read what I write (hopefully). Will I be caught in an untruth? A lie? An actual fabrication?
Do I misremember facts of my life?
Age dims, alters, forgets memories. Over the years the brain revisits and reformulates events, transforming them slightly – sometimes considerably.
Memory files collect in our cerebrum. We cannot shred unused or unwanted ones and make room for more. Occasionally files are carelessly thrown aside or left lying on the equivalent of the file room floor.
One day we attempt to retrieve a particular piece of information long ago stored and subsequently ignored.
Our brain frantically begins working, struggling to retrieve and make sense of scattered bits of data, putting them together like pieces of a puzzle. Our mind, in its desire to please, takes liberties with found data and reconstructs missing fragments.
Our brain also knows us well and realizes that, deep down, we may not want to remember certain events exactly as they occurred. Maybe they are hurtful, or embarrassing, or will open old wounds. On the other hand we may want to embellish selected circumstances. Events interesting or important to us may seem boring to others. We enhance the details so the story will be attention grabbing.
Politicians are geniuses at creative fabrication – always to their advantage – and embellishment.
I try not to purposely misremember or embellish events, but dredging up murky past happenings sometimes results in faulty truths.
Is that an actual term or did I make it up – faulty truths? It definitely describes the phenomenon.
I do not believe I misremembered facts or created faulty truths writing about the first time I laid eyes on my mother-in-law. I am sure, however, Mom would insist some of my particulars wrong…Does it matter if I mess up or mix up the names of people from my long ago past?...I have no doubt the details of a breakup episode varies depending on which party tells the tale.
Writers, storytellers, kids, most people (especially politicians and news anchors) put the best spin on events in which they are involved, whether consciously or unconsciously.
I try to be faithful to the facts, but if I misremember specifics please do not blame me.
I cannot control the workings of my brain, or the final interpretation of events, which may contain faulty truths and misremembered facts.
After all, I am a writer. Writers are allowed – encouraged - to be creative.
Memories are just stories we tell ourselves about our past;
and that's often why they don't match when we've shared
the same experiences with someone.
- John Slattery