Monday, September 19, 2011

Memories and stories

I have realized (through the plunging popularity of my latest blog series) that a trip down memory lane is not nearly so interesting to others as it is to the person who once walked there.

Memory is a funny thing – and reading other people’s memories perhaps even more so. I’ve been reading lately a book about how babies' brains develop and there was a discussion about the plasticity of brains and memories – how over time our connections will be formed where our memories are stored with other things. Not only might our memories be imprecise due to forgetting certain events or having viewed things from only one perspective, but we will actually over time alter and embellish our own stories.

I’ve long been a fan of reading memoires and auto-biographies, especially of women writers. Margaret Laurence, Virgina Woolf, Simone de Beauvoir, Ana├»s Nin.

The Indigo Girls have a song about Virginia Woolf which resonated with me when I first heard it:
They published your diary and that’s how I got to know you
The key to the room of your own and mind without end.
And here’s a young girl on a kind of a telephone line through time
And the voice at the other end comes like a long lost friend.

But I’d been enjoying memories and diaries for quite some time before I discovered the added pleasure in reading corresponding biographies which often provided more detail about things that the subject may have left out or skirted around in her own writing. Through reading various and multiple accounts of the same person, I felt I could get a fuller understanding of who she was, how she worked and what things in her life had shaped her.

But sometimes I almost felt like I was betraying her by reading what others wrote, especially in those biographies written after she was dead or without the endorsement of her family. Skeletons were brought out of closets she had built, poked and displayed. Sure, it was interesting and even salacious – but I was finding out things that she had not chosen to tell me about. Or had she simply forgotten? How are our stories shaped and told?

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