I think I was fourteen when I learned about the fallibility of memory. My memory, ironically, is unclear about the exact age. But it seems most logical to assume that I read about psychologist Elizabeth Loftus during my freshman year, when I found a Psychology textbook in the Biology room and, like any good student citizen with a life, stole it.
In essence, Elizabeth Loftus designed a series of experiments that highlighted how prone our memories are to manipulation and distortion. It only takes a switch of a word – how hard the car ‘crashed’, as opposed to ‘contacted’ – or a deftly Photoshopped image – an image of you, a small child, in a hot air balloon you were never in, now with a newly discovered partial recollection of this hot air balloon ride you took as a small child – for the subject to craft a new narrative. Not all participants fell prey to memory manipulation. Enough, however, did, for it to raise concerns. Because distorted memories aren’t all that significant until said subject is in the courtroom as an eyewitness testimony.
I am, fortunately, not in a courtroom. I am, instead, just a girl on the Internet, who has been fastidiously and obsessively documenting her entire life, to nobody’s general interest. I started when I was six, when I learned how to write, and I learned how to read, and so I asked my parents to buy me fluffy pink diaries from the Scholastic Fair. This evolved into getting a camera at 11, and photographing everything around me so I could stick it on my walls and tack it in my diaries and post it on my blog. I printed my journals out. I added password protections to the sea of Word diaries. I made folders for every single day that I brought my camera to summer school, 8/25/10 – 9/05/10 – 7/03/10, and printed them out. There is now one incredibly heavy shelf in my childhood bedroom that sags with all the journals and diaries I’ve accumulated.
My old best friend used to make fun of me, that I would wax poetic about orange juice if I had the chance. She wasn’t wrong. I still would. This was when I had my Tumblr, which I discovered in the eighth grade, because this very pretty girl in our class had one and she reblogged angsty cool teen things, and she put photos of her and her new boyfriend from temple, and it all just seemed so cool and raw. So I made an account and took it and ran and made Internet friends – not unlike the ones I’ve made on here – some of which I ended up meeting in real life, most likely not fulfilling their expectations as this amorphous typing girl-cloud. When my Tumblr was almost shut down, I copy-pasted the content from all 12 of my defunct blogs and saved those on a hard drive. I still visit them from time to time.
All this is to say that I used to think that I was trying to accurately document my life. That I was trying to stay as close to the record as possible. That even though nobody in the world gave a flying fuck about what I had for breakfast, I was going to describe that breakfast in detail because it meant something to me. I now know, as I reflect on years and years of bloated hard drives and broken blogs and password protected Word documents, that I am not necessarily documenting my life. I am crafting my life. I am crafting these memories. I am crafting a story. Just as I go back and meddle in every one of my past WordPress entries, treating them like Play Doh, I treat my mind the same. I know memory is fallible. I know memory is malleable. I know memory is prone to distortion. But although I cannot change that it gets distorted, I can, at the very least, affect how it’s distorted.
One psychology article that stuck with me revolved around happiness and memory. How our happiness, or lack thereof, goes hand-in-hand with the stories we craft. The stories of our lives, the stories of ourselves. These stories help us create meaning and to make sense of the world around us. In realizing this, I note the importance of harnessing my memory, in all its flaws and fallibilities, to craft a story most meaningful to me. It may seem pointless or strange or unnecessary to others. It might be. It probably is. In the end, my story is a blip in the sky, but it’s my (crafted, diaried, documented, distorted, scrapbooked) blip in the sky.