Personal History

As I am writing this memoir I have decided that my memories are divided into three categories. First, there are the Unequivocals. These are memories burned so brightly and so clearly into my imagination that they need neither corroboration nor a definitive paper trail. I know my son told me that “crackers aren’t treats” and that David Wagoner told me writing is a lonely road. Next there are the Triangulated Memories. I’m pretty sure these things happened, but I’m not sure exactly when or precisely what was said and done. For these I call family members, ask my wife and children, and check emails, calendars, and datebooks. I have found that every time I believe when something happened doesn’t actually make any narrative difference, I am wrong. So I do my diligence and get it as close as I can.

And then there are those other memories, memories too personal to confirm, too dreamlike to have recorded, but as real within me as yesterday’s breakfast. These memories are often more important than either of the other variety, for they have stayed with me without the stiff bones of proof. To retell such memories I admit I am as much fiction writer as memoirist. That is, I take what I know or believe to be true and fill in the rest. The truth, in these cases, has more to do with the feeling than the physical evidence.

Having said all this, if someone had stationed a camera in my backyard and secretly recorded the moment I am certain my son told me crackers aren’t treats, or in the Richard Hugo House the day David Wagoner told me about writing’s lonely road, and if I watched these tapes and found I’d gotten it all wrong, that David had only said, “Writing stinks,” and Sawyer had only said, “I want a damn cracker,” I’d be surprised but not astonished.

Memory is a defiantly unreliable friend, being so fiercely untroubled by historical accuracy. I do not believe it is a faulty engine. I believe our memory functions precisely as it should, retaining only an elegant dream of what has passed. Who can argue with your dreams, after all? They belong only to you, as do your memories, as does your entire life.

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