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writing from memory

There’s a reason.


Writers walk atop a paper-thin edge. They must get to the truth of a tale–but that does not always mean they will present the events of the story accurately.

Or maybe they will.

We draw on our own memories for our sensory details, which might be extremely helpful.

Or not.

Some of you might have heard about my *unexpected surgery. Blahblahblah. The point is:

I mentioned to Big Bopper that while I was waiting for the ambulance I had been rolling around in pain. He said, “No you weren’t. You were lying perfectly still.”


Geez. I was rolling around in pain in my head.

Now, as a writer, what would I do with a scene like that?


A wave of nausea surged through my chest. Someone lodged a giant baseball bat under my ribs and pushed–shoved my insides out of the way to make room. Cold sweat beaded up on my forehead and back. I moaned, crumpled to the floor, my hands holding my abdomen. I rolled back and forth like a whipped dog. “Make it stop,” I said.


A wave of nausea surges through my chest. A terrible weight under my ribs. Clammy, I lie on the couch. Is it what I think it is?

The pain spreads–burns–hard to bear…

“I’d feel better if I could lie still,” I say.

My husband frowns down at me. “What do you mean? You’re not moving. At all.”


No freakouts. It was not what I thought it was.


I don’t think either piece  of writing is particularly superior or inferior. I think it has to do with who your audience is, and what you’re trying to accomplish.

Have any opinions on which audience these two examples might be suited for? Because I’m tired and I need you to finish this blogpost for me.

After all, I just had some *unexpected surgery.

*disclaimer: oh, please. i am fine. pay attention to the point i’m trying to get across, will you?


Ah Yes, I Remember it Well

Jill Price remembers everything that ever happened to her.  She can relive any incident in her life as if she is watching a real-time video.

I can’t imagine a worse hell.

A faulty memory system is probably what has kept the human race humming along.  A  complete and literal memory would paralyze us.

The most obvious place where faulty memory works to preserve the human race is child birth.  Squirting that little sucker out really hurts, ya know?  But the universal truth is that seeing the result of all that pain–a beautiful baby–makes it all worth it.  The importance of the physical discomfort dims in the memory, and therefore, women go on to do it again.     

And then there’s forgiveness.  Suppose your little brother scratches your new bicycle.  With pliable memory, his remorse mixes with your thoughts about his sweet baby-smell when he came home from the hospital.  (Not his ugly, ruddy red face.)  There’s the way he looked at you when you ruffled his hair, like you’re some kind of god.  (Even though he had oatmeal hanging off his chin.)  Yeah, you forgive him.

But what if every time you looked at your bicycle you zoomed in on the scratch, just like you did on the day that you found it?  What if your heart beat harder and a growl rumbled in your chest, just like that day?  Forgiveness would be difficult, and you would have to re-forgive your little brother every time you looked at your bike.

It’s hard enough to live with embarrassing events.  The wind blowing your dress over your head in sixth grade, to reveal your Barbie underwear.  Singing off-key at the sorority talent show.  Farting during a kiss.  What if you remembered every detail of these mortifying experiences, sweaty palms and burning cheeks included?

Yeah, it sounds great to replay your first kiss, relive earning your first paycheck, be the homecoming queen again.  But I have a feeling that those things weren’t as great the first time around as you think.  It’s only in retrospect that you realize how special those things were, and they are enshrined in a special golden corner of your brain. 

Give me a semi-faulty memory.  It’s a lot easier when I have to remember tripping in my high school cafeteria and sending my tray hurtling through the air to land in that cute guy’s lap. 

Nah, he didn’t notice.

I remember.

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