Friday, June 18, 2010

Memory is a net

     Memory is a net; one finds it full of fish when he takes it from the brook; but a dozen miles of water have run through it without sticking. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.   

      Can we trust our memories? I recently got into a heated discussion with a friend about the details of an event in which we both participated. She became very angry that the version I remembered was different than what she remembered. Neither one of us wanted to budge from our position.
     Beginning the discussion, I had some questions about how things really happened, but her version contradicted what I was sure had happened.  The more she protested, the more amazed I became: not at the difference in details, but in the sureness each of us had of having the "right" recollection.
     And yet, after she hung up on me, I mulled over the conversation for several hours, and conceded that her version could be right.
     And that frightened me.  How vulnerable we are to suggestion, and how easy it is to incorporate someone else's version of what they saw or think they saw!
     When my husband did aircraft accident investigations, he learned that everyone saw something different in the event, often conflicting with each other.  The reliability of eyewitness reports also has an impact in criminal cases. For a further discussion on this impact, see How Reliable is Eyewitness Testimony?: A Decision By New York State's Highest Court Reveals Unsettling Truths About Juries by Michael C. Dorf and The Problem with Eyewitnesses by Finlo Rohrer of BBC News.

Thursday, June 17, 2010


As a memoir writer I have to wonder how my memories relate to the facts. Of all the events in my life that I could have remembered, why did I choose the ones that stick with me? And do I remember those events accurately as exact truth or do I recall them according to some emotional truth as I perceived it?

John Daniel, author of Looking After, a memoir about taking care of his mother as her memory gradually fades with Alzheimer's Disease, has concluded that "Memory is a system of near-infinite complexity, a system that seems designed for revision as much as for replication, and revision unquestionably occurs. Many details are lost, usually in ways that serve the self in its present situation, not the self of ten or twenty or forty years ago when the remembered event took place."

If John is right and my memories are primarily self-serving, I am presented with the challenge of trying to reach the honest emotional heart of my stories while still paying due respect to factual truth as well as to truths remembered by others who were present at the same events.


Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Doors open to new vistas and new experiences, and lead us back to old familiar places. But the door won't open if we don't take action to turn the knob. This blog uses the doorknob to explore perspectives on life. Sometimes the door opens wide and sometimes we just catch a glimpse, peeking through the keyhole, trying out other worlds. The doorknob develops a patina with use and time, and so too we develop a patina, a wisdom borne of experiencing and feeling much. This blog will be a conversation, sharing our thoughts and questions about life and its mysteries.