Coloring the Past

old photos in the box
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Memory. A crazy, convoluted, existential crisis.

A rather interesting thing happened this week that solidified my belief that how we see the past has everything to do with how we are in the present, both emotionally and mentally.

The Thing that happened involved my grandmother. She offered to help us with something financially. The help was greatly appreciated and a surprise (we didn’t ask for help, she just offered). After this offer of help, I recalled fond memories of spending time with my grandparents. Because my mom was only 16-years-old when she had me, I spent a lot of time with my grandparents while growing up. We lived with my grandparents for the first couple of years and I spent a good amount of time there over the subsequent years.

Even into adulthood, I went to my grandparent’s house when I need to get away from life.

Rose-colored glasses included memories of sitting on the porch and reading books into the summer afternoon, lazy and content. Eating my grandfather’s pancakes that he mixed up especially for me and my sister before leaving for work. I have fond memories of sitting in the cool grass as the heat of the summer day faded into evening. Playing solitaire on a plaid couch, the evening news droning on.

Walking around in my grandfather’s giant wellies.

All true memories.

But colored by my grandmother’s generous gesture.

Then, the help was withdrawn. Entirely. Not because of anything I did, but because my grandmother had a change of heart. There were reasons of course, but without getting too much into the psychotic nature of my family, I should have known that the help would disappear (modus operandi and all that).

I was mad at myself for believing the offer in the first place. I was disappointed, of course. And I was also left with a rather challenging situation that the help would have… well, helped.

And suddenly my memories of the past were tinged with something a little darker. Those moments were not so rose-colored. The tension that constantly existed between my grandmother and mother suddenly flared to the forefront of my thoughts; a tension that I always had to navigate with caution and maturity. And I recalled that those idyllic summer days also included a great deal of weight gain, lethargy, and arguing with my sister.

These darker memories of the past are just as real as the better ones, the only difference being that when I was grateful and happy, the memories corresponded, and when my mood turned negative, so did my memories.

As mentioned I have long thought there was some kind of correspondence between the present and how the past is interpreted, so I decided to do some low-key, surface digging… ie, Googling.

The first thing that came up were articles about memory distortion.

Memory distortion is the concept that memory can be manipulated by an external force, or, in some case, even created… ie a false memory. For example, your parents tell you a story of you peeing your pants in public when you were two. They tell the story so much that you have an actual memory of the event, only to find out somehow, one day, that the event never occurred, even though you have the memory.

In other words, it is possible for a memory to be created out of thin air. This definitely goes back to my ideas on personal narrative and creating our story (which is another blog topic one day), and has some interesting implications. For instance, memory distortion can occur for different reasons, but the one that struck me as the creepiest is forcing false memories on a person for nefarious reasons.

This would make a good plot. Actually, now that I think about it, I seem to remember (haha!) a book or movie in which memory replacement is part of the plot… though I couldn’t tell you the name of the book or movie.

However, this memory distortion is not exactly what I was looking for so I kept on the search. Then I came across Daniela Schiller of Mt. Sinai School of Medicine. She says:

“Memory is what you are now. Not in pictures, not in recordings. Your memory is who you are now.”


She goes on to explain that our memories are such that we don’t recall the original event, but rather recall the last time we recalled the memory.


Meaning, I remember sitting on my grandmother’s porch reading a book on a summer afternoon. The bees were buzzing. It was hot and smelled dusty. Occasionally a hummingbird would wiz by and hover next to the feeder.

This memory, though it might have happened, is not the memory of the event, but the memory of the last time I remembered it. Further, the WAY I remember it right now has a lot to do with the way I FEEL right now.

So, I am still in a bit of a bad mood at my grandmother. The memory is not as rosy as perhaps it was last time I remembered it, which means the next time I recall the memory it will lack a certain glossy glow because I will be remembering this moment of memory and not the event itself.

Shew. That was a lot of loopy-loop thinking.

Interesting though, and further proof that our brains are:

  1. amazing
  2. intricate
  3. vastly unexplored
  4. and rely a lot on perception (so much perception)

But how about you, lovely readers? Do you have memories that you wrap up in cozy wrapping paper; or memories that are stark and terrible? How do these memories change based on your circumstances?

Even perhaps, try an experiment; next time you undergo some kind of emotional upheaval related to family or friends (good or bad), see if the emotional upheaval changes how you recall an event related to that family member or friend.

Might be an interesting way to explore personal narrative.

Anyway, until next time friends, may your days be bright and your night filled with comfortable darkness.


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