Looking out for Evan: A Brief Memoir

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She ponders and persists, through repeated phrases and rhetorical questions that convey to the reader a sense of persistent thought. Hamna Zubair, a writer for the media outlet Dawn. He divides bias into five categories: change, consistency, stereotype, egocentric and hindsight.

Most relevant to memoir is hindsight, which involves filtering experiences of the past through knowledge held in the present. Here, the literary use of hindsight and the neuroscientific explanation of hindsight diverge; what science sees as a distortion of memory is, for memoir, a critical component of storytelling. It is how writers make sense of their experiences and how they convey that perspective of understanding to their readers. To examine this type of bias, scientists asked a group of subjects on the day before the presidential election which was, of course, held on a Tuesday to make a prediction about who would win—Ronald Reagan or Jimmy Carter.

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Other subjects were asked on Wednesday who they would have predicted would win had they been asked to do so on Tuesday. Those who were asked on Wednesday predicted a much higher percentage of votes for Reagan, the ultimate winner, than for Carter Schacter When it comes to writing, however, hindsight emerges as something entirely different.

It need not diminish the memory or attempt to reconstruct the past. Rather, it serves to add a dimension of understanding that the writer did not previously have access to. Once the deeper understanding is reached, the writer can put the experience into proper context or perspective, for herself as well as for her readers.

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Without hindsight, writers simply recount the events of their past. With it, they connect their past to their present, which allows them to make meaning of their life experiences. If memories are the bricks in memoir, then hindsight is the mortar. Or, as Vivian Gornick might say, hindsight is the tool writers use to connect their situation the circumstances of their lives to their story the emotional experience of their lives. Even though his father was absent, Moehringer listened to him growing up, and referred to him as The Voice.

She presents the innocent, unguarded observations of Mary Karr the child with the insightful, discerning perspectives of Mary Karr the survivor. What connects the two personas is hindsight; her voice is in the scene relaying the situation but it is also somewhere floating above, telling the story from a more reflective vantage point.

It casts the zoo experience in a context that can only be fully understood and appreciated after Karr has grown up, after she has become an adult herself and can view her memory through a lens of maturity and experience. In the second chapter of The Memory Palace , Bartok describes a photograph in which her schizophrenic mother is holding Mira the newborn. Even Hampl, known for her introspective and honest essays, questions the point of memoir, given the subjective nature of memory.

But memoir, she says, is a hybrid form that mimics the quality of the memories from which it is made. It can only be what it is—a personal perspective on why certain events in our lives occurred in the manner that they did:. According to Birkerts, the literary critic, it is fair and reasonable to hold journalistic writing up to the demands of absolute truth.

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Newspapers report truth. Documentaries investigate subjects or events.

How to write a memoir?

They must be factually accurate. If everyone has a different definition of absolute truth based on their personal biases, experiences and perceptions, then what frame of reference do we use to establish what is true and what is fabrication? Memoir is not so much about the true recounting of events as it is about how the author made psychological sense of those events. To debate otherwise is to miss the point of memoir entirely. If the neuroscience is correct and human beings are biologically prone to manipulating their experiences in order to create and recall memories, then what is the value of memoir and how does this information fit into the ways writers conceive the genre?

One might ask, if memory is intrinsically prone to distortion, then why not simply refer to all memoir as fiction? Sometimes the truth of memory lies not in its reality but in its distortion, which is something that expert memoirists have discovered and used to express the meaning of their experiences, and with this research into the brain functions of memory, we have new ways to understand the stories we shape into memoir.

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The effect of this neuroscientific research on how memories are created and how they deteriorate has profound implications for how memoirists come to understand the stories that shape their lives. Writers who understand the neuroscience of memory can use the absences and the distortions of their memories to reveal their deepest truths. Sometimes the story lies not in what we remember, but in how we misremember. If we can understand that our brains do not manipulate us into deception on the page, we can start to consider the reasons and implications for how and why we remember what we do, which provides new avenues for deep memoir.

Wendy Fontaine is a writer and professor in southern California.

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She holds a masters degree in creative writing from Antioch University Los Angeles, where she specialized in creative nonfiction. Currently, she teaches journalism courses at Pepperdine University in Malibu and is working on her first book, a memoir. How Memories Are Made and Lost The process of writing about memory, as well as the controversy regarding the genre of memoir, is perhaps best understood through the neuroscientific research of Daniel L. Nor do I remember eating the barbecued crabs, which is a shame, since I love those crabs for their sweet grease and liquid-smoke taste.

From my spot in the backseat The Power of Suggestion Research also shows our tendency to incorporate information from outside sources into memory. It smelled like my mother used to smell—cigarettes and Tabu, her favorite perfume—our sense of smell, the strongest trigger of all, the only sense that travels directly into the limbic system in our brain. Then another picture of her rose up in my mind, her hands hovering over mine at the piano—a younger Norma; my mother in the bloom of life, a dark-eyed beauty in a red silk dress, her face unreadable, listening to something no one else can hear As she grapples with finding her place, so do readers: It is night.

Someone brawny is sitting beside me. Memories are not. Memories are by definition of times past, things gone. Memories are the Westlake uniforms in the closet, the faded and cracked photographs, the invitations to the weddings of the people who are no longer married, the mass cards from the funerals of the people whose faces you no longer remember. Memories are what you no longer want to remember In other words she was dying. I now knew she was dying. There was now no way to avoid knowing it. There would now be no way to believe the doctors when they tried not to seem discouraging…She would die.

She would not necessarily die that night, she would not necessarily die the next day, but we were now on track to the day she would die. August 26 was the day she would die I listened so ardently to The Voice, achieved such mastery at shutting out other voices, that I became a prodigy at selective listening, which I thought was a gift until it proved to be a curse. Life is all a matter of choosing which voices to tune in and which to tune out, a lesson I learned long before most people, but one that took me longer than most to put to good use Why Bother With Memoir?

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I saw this dynamic all around me.

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