(re)Searching for Distant Memories

I am trying to write a reflective piece that brings light to major and transformative life events, thus the research needed to conduct this task is not in the form of your standard academic writing research.  Rather, I have found myself contemplating interviews with my parents and siblings, as they have lived through it all with me.  I have also been scavenging through my old Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram posts to collect summaries of rather large events.  Most of my research includes efforts to restore memory.

There is a major roadblock in my research, however.

The problem with memory is that it is malleable.  Between my 5 family members and I, we would be lucky to restore the memory of a historical event to the exact precision of which it happened.  And when it comes to looking at old social media posts, who even knows how much I might have exaggerated the circumstances?

A story changes a little bit every time it is told.  If you tell it many times, how far from the truth can it get?

Similarly, everyone remembers and thus, experiences things a little differently.  For example, when 9/11 happened and I was just 4 years old, my take and experience on that day was a heck of a lot different from my 14 year old sisters.

I have come to this question in my project: Do I want to tell stories as they are skewed by my own memory, recalling things in a way that is through one view, and one set of eyes only? Or would I rather get multiple opinions and open the conversation up with my family, friends, and others to really try to identify the exact existence of an event of my history?  And which of these will leave me with a more touching piece to look back on in 20 or 30 years?

So, you asked “How’s the research coming?”

And I say “It’s coming.”

Image of girl sitting on bench. Text features quote:
I really should have just kept a diary when I was younger.


Caroline Petersen

Caroline is a contributing writer to the Sweetland Minor in Writing Blog. She is an architect in training and spends a lot of her time sipping on cappuccinos and discussing elements of malfunctioning building features. She is a city girl who spent her elementary summers in the middle of Iowa at her aunt and uncles farm. She is a woman of many (unusual) facets that are traditionally fairly useless.

3 thoughts to “(re)Searching for Distant Memories”

  1. Hi Caroline!

    Thank you for this post. It allowed me reflect on the brainstorming and writing processes I underwent as a gateway student. I am now currently a capstone student, and ask myself the same types of questions you ask yourself in this post. You bring up a very interesting point: the problem with memory is that it is malleable. For this very reason, I feel that you do not have to choose between the two options you are presenting yourself with (telling your own story, or opening up the conversation to family, friends, and others). I think that because memory is so transient and dynamic, no one person’s recollection of a story or experience will be 100 percent valid or correct. This, however, is what makes reflective writing so interesting. We can capitalize on the things we do remember, and come to new and better revelations than before.

    For these reasons, I do not think you should force yourself to choose between the two options mentioned above; rather, draw upon both of them. How do your memories compare to those of your family and friends? How do they differ? What new things did you learn or realize through the self-reflection process. In the same way, what new things did you learn or realize in listening to others recall particular memories and experiences? I think the aspect of reflective writing that you claim to be the most problematic (malleability) is in reality the most appealing. As writers, we are given the privilege to spin stories every which way, and to recreate them as best we see fit. I think you should take advantage of this!

    Good luck!

  2. Caroline!

    I love talking about this kind of stuff, and I really just enjoy your topic. Reading about your process is fun, to put it differently. Anyways, the questions you are facing are natural, of course, and come from a really honest place. As writers, we want to get behind stories that are true – we do not want to skew any information unintentionally, and we do not want to lie (maybe? I guess that really depends on the writer). What I’m saying is that I think it is O.K. if you just tell your version of the story (and using other accounts to help you shape it)! For me, as a reader, your history could be anything. Certain details are interesting, but as a reader, they will not change the way I think of the piece or evaluate its meaning. As a reader, it is the emotions that I will be able to relate to. And in many ways, I think it is the way in which you, as an honest and reflective person, as someone who is rummaging through the past in search of questions and answers on yourself and your values, I will be able to relate to that search and the ways in which you recall memories. It is a really interesting balance, memories and history. Your memories certainly are not history, and yet each individual’s history is their set of memories and associations with past events that come together to shape their understanding of the past. So, this history we all truly want to know of ourselves and the past events we have experienced… well it may not exist! But we definitely have these memories no matter what, and the emotions and associations to go with them. I would love to see you explore that, and see where it goes! Hopefully, that is good food for thought.

  3. Hi Caroline,

    You bring up some very interesting topics in this post, with a lot of almost existential implications – what is memory? How precise can we truly remember the past? Very interesting stuff, although I suspect you’ll come across a challenge in your work when having to face these questions that have very little semblances of answers. I’d be interested to know what you decide; my two cents is that a dialogue with your parents and friends would be beneficial not only because it would bring you the closest to the facts, but also because multiple dimensions are important to each story we tell. However, if you wanted to do a more fluid piece that focused less on the exact events and more on how we interpret past events, going just from your own memory would be fine too. I just think you need to consider what “feel” you want your project to have (and I imagine our talk in class today on style will help you get there!). I look forward to seeing what you come up with!


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