Tuesday, October 4, 2011

'Memory lane is a learning curve'

I had a column in yesterday's Canberra Times, 'Memory lane is a learning curve'.

I was looking into memory - memories of my son's infancy, in particular.  What facts are remembered, and how are they warped and recoloured?  A sample:
What I remember keenly is the edge-of-sanity moments when midnight crying seemed to last for hours, and the grey malaise of the next day: struggling to feed, change, clean up, cook and then pluck polished adjectives from thick air.

Yet these memories are not perfect snapshots. First, because I simply cannot recall much of it – it is a distant blur. Teething dates, amounts of milk imbibed, names of toys have vanished, perhaps precisely because of the domestic havoc.

It is also because I remember events, but no longer endure them. I recall the stifling madness, but its sharp points have dulled in the years since. ‘Time heals all wounds’ is an old saying – and a sometimes inaccurate one. But clearly memories do lose their bite. We recognise what was felt, but we do not feel it so intensely.

Yet the looseness of memory is more than simple forgetfulness or blunted feeling. Memory also turns feelings into ideas of feelings – they become meaningful. And this meaning can change over the years – unwritten autobiography is revised as we go.

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