The elusive nature of memory

For the past couple of years I’ve been working on a memoir. I say ‘working on’ in the loosest sense because I’ve not got very far.

I think it’s my boys who’ve inspired this, they are at an age now where I am starting to forget little details of their infancy and I want to get it all down before my sieve-like memory forgets it all. But I don’t just want to begin when they were born, I want to delve back into my past, to look into my motivations for leaving it until later to have children. That’s where the problem lies because, hard as I try I’m finding it really difficult to remember events in my childhood.

I knew memories of my childhood were elusive, like little wisps of air that hover just beyond my reach but I thought that if I actually took the time to think about it, events from my past would start to reveal themselves, but no, I can honestly say that I have little recollection of my own childhood, which is a little disconcerting to say the least.

So why can some of us remember great details of our childhood while others struggle? It is said that many people ‘recall’ memories from their childhood but actually memory experts insist that these people are not remembering everything but taking pieces of a real memory and adding details that didn’t really happen. So, whenever we think we are remembering an event what we are actually remembering is the memory of the event. Constant reinforcement and our brain’s willingness to fill in the gaps lead to the development of memories of false events.

According to memory experts we all remember some parts of our childhood, and the average age that adults will remember back to is 3 ½ years old. Personally, there are things I’m supposed to have done in the first 10 years of life, according to my mother (who had a tendency to embellish somewhat so is unreliable) that I’m not convinced about.

I remember very vaguely a day on the beach when I was about 4 years old. I have a photo of myself in a blue towel bending to rub the sand from between my toes. There is no one else in the photo and the beach behind me is empty. I remember little else. So do I really have a memory or is the photo convincing me that I have the memory? Could it just be my mind filling in blanks? Perhaps I don’t have a memory of the beach at all, such is the elusive and tenuous nature of memory.

I frequently scribble memories down in an attempt to fill in some of the blanks, hoping that the every act of writing will open up a small window in my memory, which may lead to more memories being revealed.

I’ve actually visited a hypnotherapist to see if I could open up the darkest recesses, a few sketchy details arose, my grandparents black plastic sofa with orange cushions, a parental dispute, nothing earth shattering and to be truthful I couldn’t say whether they were memories or simply constructions of my suggestible mind.

This topic needs more research. As I get older I feel the need more acutely to remember details of my past before they are lost forever. I would like to remember me in the past because I think it’s important in understanding me in the present.

The past is a foreign country, wrote L. P. Hartley. My own past is a distant shore where I see only trees, which offer hallucinations and obscure my view.

 

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