Friday, September 16, 2011

You Must Remember This

Memories are tricky tricksters. I say this after unearthing a late 1980's photo of myself. In it, I'm wearing a mid-calf skirt, a striped blouse topped by a cable-knot vest, and a floppy tie at the blouse's collar. To my 2011 self, the tie looks costume-like, the clothes add bulk, and you don't want to know about my big hair. Drat. I'd have sworn I passed the eighties in relative cuteness, but, no, I was channeling Annie Hall a decade after Annie was cool.

When my daughters reminisce about their childhoods, I don't always recognize the places, people, and events they describe. Most women have selective memories that take the sting out of childbirth and reduce the terrible two's to one challenging week, but if, as my children claim, I served the family chicken five nights a week, I've blanked it out. (I do, however, know at least thirty-five ways to prepare poultry.) My kids blame me for their hatred of road trips. They say I insisted we stop at every scenic overlook. Every overlook? Surely they exaggerate.

"Some of our memories are true, some are a mixture of fact and fantasy, and some are false -- whether those memories seem to be continuous or seem to be recalled after a time of being forgotten or not thought about. "-from the website of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation.

My false memories aren't dark and don't touch on abuse. No, mine are everyday, ordinary cases of looking back through rose-colored glasses. Perhaps that's why I remember certain movies and books with a fondness that doesn't always hold up to re-viewing or re-reading. The Year of Living Dangerously, a movie I loved in the 1980's, didn't thrill me when I viewed again a few days ago. Oh, Linda Hunt's performance still mesmerized, but the plot seemed to have grown holes, and I wasn't impressed by the Mel Gibson character's journalistic ability. Worse, I wasn't convinced he and the Sigourney Weaver character belonged together. What had changed? My perception of the movie has been altered by world events, the skepticism that comes with age and experience, plus every film I've seen since.

Have you ever re-read a book you adored in your teens, twenties or thirties only to be surprised that there's more description and less dialogue than you remember? Does your old favorite feature lots of adverbs and adjectives rather than the spare prose style that's in favor now? I almost stopped reading after page two of a book I'd long revered, but then I rediscovered the magic—terrific characterization--that had made me a fan the first around.

Our memories tell us more about ourselves at a particular point in time than they do about the thing or event recalled. We infuse things, people, and the places with our enthusiasms and hopes. Once upon a time, I did want to look like Annie Hall. What's more, I have a thing for mountains and probably overdid the scenic-overview stops. (Now that Texas is parched, I fantasize about lakes, waterfalls, and rivers. Heck, I'd pull over to gaze at filled-to-capacity stock tanks.)

The Year of Living Dangerously appealed to my younger, travel-hungry, up-for-adventure self. The beloved book tells me good characterization has been my go-to in books for decades.

I still serve a lot of chicken. Hey, what's wrong with lean, relatively cheap protein?


Lark Howard said...

Good food for thought, Pat.

My youngest sister and I have compared childhood memories over the past couple decades and are amazed that we grew up in two completely different families. Sometimes I think we shorthand our memories to make them fit neatly in a comfortable history--a Cliff notes bio that allows us to forget the bad times, ugly hair-dos and less than noble actions of our pasts.

The big question, however, is who are all those people on Facebook who think we went to high school together?

aroseisarose said...

Your memory is tricking you again. We had pasta for dinner every night, not chicken!