The human brain is a funny thing. It doesn’t really hold on to the past very well. I speak for myself of course. Every brain is different. Some people, I’m told, have photo recall. They see remember everything exactly as it happened.
I know a girl who forgets some things almost immediately. Other things, her brain clamps down on and holds close with the teeth of a vicious attack dog. Her brain does one thing with the past and mine does another. We’re different that way. Someone else I used to know turned everything into a life or death emergency. Yet another person who passed through my life insisted on revisiting every recent event in the hopes that all concerned would agree with her version of how things went. She had a compulsive need that way.
My brain turns memories into stories. Softens the edges. Creates heroes and villains. Adds richness and descriptive details. Changes the timeline for dramatic effect. Sometimes I think that makes me a liar, and sometimes I think it makes me a good storyteller. The truth is probably somewhere in between.
I have to deal with the way my brain holds on to the past and processes it. Acknowledging my own tendency to distort the past and turn it into an entertaining story is important.
I can process a trauma by making my own role something I can live with. But that might not be what actually happened in the moments. In the story I might be brave. In real life I probably wasn’t. My hands were shaking. My teeth were chattering. I was behind a wall when the bullets started flying. Not running towards them.
There are 1,000 ways to get through events that should have or could have killed you or left you mentally broken. My way of coping is to make the thing into a story. But I mix up the pieces and parts of everything after a while. The faces get stuck on other bodies. The weather is more menacing and alive. Timelines get stretched and compressed. Antiheroes are born out of the shells of boring people.
In my stories, the omniscient narrator is me without the omniscience. How it happened and how it happened in my head are often two different things. Especially after years pass before I write the story. Often times I change details or major plot twists intentionally. I’m a fiction writer after all. Most of my stories start out that way intentionally. In my stories the line between reality and fantasy gets blurred. It happens to you too. Trust me.
It was like this doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing as what actually happened. My brain tricks me. Chances are yours does the same thing. Memory is all we have sometimes to chart the course guiding us into the future.
Remember that. Looking back through the distorted lens of your own filters can be inspiring but it can also be deceiving. Stories are an important part of being human. Be open to the way others see things too. Hear their stories and pick the pieces that fit into your own.
No guide for life is the complete truth because every single one of them has been produced and filtered through human brains. In a world filled with a hundred million stories, pick and choose the ones you believe in carefully.
Make your own stories. Write them down before too much time passes. Pick out the truths that resonate with you and live your own fantasies. Memory is what you make of it.
Also published on Medium.