Memory Play

I’ve always thought about my past. Sitting in silence, letting my mind roam, it will naturally begin replaying moments, zooming in on details, reexamining passages of time. When trying to write, I will often mine my past for situational catalysts and characters I hope will bring about a wellspring of words. It’s been a habit for a good part of my life. I’m guilty of experiencing something and almost immediately thinking about it as if I were thinking about it years in the future. It’s not that I think this is unique, or something special, it’s just something I’ve always done and I’ve never really thought much about it, or really mentioned it to anyone. For all I know, everyone does this.

I’ve read the more you replay a memory, the more it changes. Over time, the memory drifts further and further from the truth of the original memory. This transformation begins the very first time we recall something. The more we recall a memory, the more the original memory is worn away and replaced by what is essentially a fantasy. Our mind fills in the ground away spaces over and again, and we may introduce new characteristics and perspectives to the memory. Because this happens over time, the replacement is subtle, and a person is unlikely to detect any change to the memory. That would make so many of my memories fiction seeing as I’ve replayed them countless times. Yet I wouldn’t be able to tell you what was truth and what had been introduced. There must still be some truth to parts of them, right? I mean, isn’t there a form of the truth inhabited in the memory, even if little bits and pieces are injected with new bits?

I am the culmination of the stories I tell myself, about myself. Over time I add to these stories, building a history of myself. Because these stories are built over time, and built on reflection of what I’ve experienced, the truth of what I have experienced and what I have done, has become a fiction due to the ever changing nature of memory. When you boil it down, are we something akin to a dream of ourselves?

This all reads like something a group of friends might come up with while passing around a joint. Anyway...

When I was young, I was told negative stories about myself. Eventually I told myself similar stories. Many of the new stories I told myself were based on actions inspired by those negative stories. In many ways, the person I became was a self-fulfilling prophecy. I spent a long time letting a story play out that was self-hating. With hindsight, it is easy for me to understand how a person can be shaped by the stories they are told about themselves, most especially at a young age. You can inflict profound damage on a child through language. When I was young, I thought abuse was only in the form of physical punishment. Over time I came to learn that language can inflict emotional abuse. Older now, I’ve come to suspect this may be more damaging then physical abuse.

A fundamental building block of changing yourself is to tell yourself a new story about yourself. This makes changing yourself seem like it is something easy. What’s easy is to tell yourself a story of how you’ve changed even though you have not. Telling yourself a story of change also involves acting out the story. You have to put the action behind the words. That’s why it’s hard. This is likely why many profess that people never change. Or, if they do change, it’s for the worse.

How awkward sounding it is to say, “Or, if they do change, it’s for the good.” Changing for the good just seems like such an upward battle, it takes too much mental energy, something in the phrase just wants to move down. It’s atrophy everywhere, all the time; it’s the only thing that makes sense.

But, if everything I’ve already said were somehow actually true ( I suspect my reasoning above is flawed, but who knows ), wouldn’t that mean we are all changing, ever so slightly, simply through the act of remembering ourselves? For those that like an easy pat on the back, you can now do so. Good job. You changed without effort.

Author: Jason Jacobs

Jason Jacobs is an artist, project manager, and frontend web designer living and working in Boise, Idaho. Beyond work he spends his time with family, as well as reading, writing articles for Uhmm, and working on his art. All words and opinions, etc., are his and do not reflect the positions or beliefs of anyone other than himself.