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Recursive Images of Memory

I’m working on a memoir, so I live much of my life in the act of looking backward. And boy is my neck tired. Bah-dah-bum. Sorry, couldn’t resist.
Seriously though, I do accumulate a bit of tension from living in this state. My childhood before grammar school was fine, a bit isolated, a bit atypical for the late 1950s and early 1960s, but basically a bucolic time. But I spend a lot of time, effort and energy going back over my school days and early adulthood previous to try to understand why one thing was successful and another thing led to personal catastrophe. Decisions, chains of events, character traits, and family patterns all figure into the analysis I am doing in order to write about a difficult topic, successful and failed methods of coping, and how reframing differs from revisionist history.
When, in a Facebook Blogging Group to which I belong, Beth announced “retrospect” as the topic for group blogging this week I immediately began comparing what it is to engage in retrospect as opposed to what it is to reminisce, or to reflect.
Retrospect is a simple looking backward, it has no judgment implicit within it. Hindsight looks back over errors, reminiscing looks back with rose-colored glasses. And any remembering changes the memory that was a perception in the first place. It really does. I am not sure reflection involving the past can really exist. Any recollection adds a current lens to the event, no perception just mirrors an event. I’ve listened to lectures by brilliant neuroscientists about how memories are made, lost, retrieved, and re-visioned. Heisenberg abounds. And in my professional training I began to understand, though I will never fully understand, that every perception is a negotiated product. Memory is a perception of the biological, electrochemical, and neurophysiological etching, folds and pathways that past experience created in our brains and central nervous system. It is recursive.
So am I remembering real events? Yes. As much as any person can. But because memories change through time, I rely on patterns more than individual events. I am also lucky in that I am very visual and remember through images. It is called eidetic memory. While I don’t have a photographic memory in the way most people think of it, I do, apparently, make use of fairly high levels of eidetic imagery. And I am also lucky that I have been a writer most of my life. I have written so many poems, journal entries, letters, essays, articles, papers and more that most of the time, if I want to double check the validity of a memory, I often have something I have written from five, ten, or twenty years ago that touches on the event, so I have some means of comparison. Written records are one of the most amazing things we humans have ever created. I think I should print out my blog posts. I have print copies of everything else.
But now I’m wondering how retrospection relates to introspection and to circumspection? Oh geesh, it never ends… because it is recursive.

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16 Comments

  1. “Retrospect is a simple looking backward, it has no judgment implicit within it. Hindsight looks back over errors, reminiscing looks back with rose-colored glasses.”
    I love this post and this quote, and your recognition of the active process that is memory, constantly shifting. Just like reality: we can shift our view of it and create our perception of experience in the moment, too. Not just in retrospect. All a tribute to the power of the human mind.

  2. Have you read “The Life Expectancy of a Fact” yet? Really interesting look at how memoir and personal essay play with “fact” (quotes intentional) to reveal truth. You might want to check it out!

  3. The problem I have is that in my retrospective I always seem to remember the bad memories much more vividly than the good ones. It makes me not want to look back at all sometimes.

    1. Wendy, that is one of the reasons I learned to reframe experiences. I don’t deny or change the event, but I can choose to think ONLY about the good aspects, if there are any, or to refocus on the lessons I learned from the event if the bad experience is too painful.

  4. Very interesting post. I have been aware of studies on the unreliability of memory and that an event changes every time your mind reviews it. Keeping a journal definitely helps if you’re looking for accuracy, or relative accuracy. On the other hand, there some things I’d just as soon forget.

  5. Too much thinking here, Nancy. I prefer to just ‘remember’ with all the fantasy I can throw in! My life is way more interesting and much saner if I don’t worry too much about facts getting in my way.
    Retrospect…looking aback through my own experiences. Seeing what chose to remain.

    1. Oh and Jo, If forgot to say that because you do not obsess and thus don’t call up the past all the time, your memories may be less contaminated than those of us who think about thinking (also called navel gazing) way too much. LOL.

  6. Nancy, love the comparison of retrospect, hindsight and reminiscing. I don’t “live” in the past, but certianly appreciate how it shaped who Iam today and the paths I choose (and some I don’t) for my future. And… I learned about eidetic memory! Great post.

    1. Glad you liked the post, Amy. If we can learn to not dwell on the negative, even the negative from the past can guide us to positive action today. Learning is fun!

  7. After I posted this week’s prompt, I got a few private messages that were basically people groaning. :O)
    Oh, and I really loved this: “Retrospect is a simple looking backward, it has no judgment implicit within it. Hindsight looks back over errors, reminiscing looks back with rose-colored glasses.”.

    1. Thank you Beth! You see so much writing; it means a lot when you say you really like something I’ve written. 🙂 And I can understand the groans, but I was like, “Oh GODDY!”

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