The Editing of Memory

Retrospective Falsification

D. H. Rawcliffe coined this term to refer to the process of telling a story that is factual to some extent, but which gets distorted and falsified over time by retelling it with embellishments. The embellishments may include speculations, conflating events that occurred at different times or in different places, and the incorporation of material without regard for accuracy or plausibility. The overriding force that drives the story is to find or invent details that fit with a desired outcome. The process can be conscious or unconscious. The original story gets remodeled with favorable points being emphasized and unfavorable ones being dropped.


How true is this concept in my own writing? How easily can I, can we, rewrite the past, as opposed to learning from the truth- the mistakes we have made? To learn is to change, which is to alter the course of the future. The bigger question I am searching to answer is what are, if any, the consequences of falsifying your own personal history? If a writer chooses to do so, how much distance should be placed between the present and the past? Is there any difference between a day or a year? If you are writing about your childhood, from the location of adult, how accurate can you be? What about writing about an event that happened last week? How truthful is the writer, and more importantly, how reliable is memory? If memory begins to blur and the details begin to fade and bleed into one another, while new ones emerge, am I falsifying my personal history by basing my writing on what I think happened, and including it in a way to keep my reader hooked? What if the only person who will ever read my most personal writing is myself? Does it matter then how much the truth of the past has been altered? As a writer am I not allowed to embellish a story? The problem I am turning over and over, examining from all sides, trying to find a solid answer to, is- where do you draw the line between embellishments and lies? If changing small details in the sequence of events, or the outcome, or the players involved, makes a piece of writing more interesting, can it still be considered truth?

Every history, every personal history, could use a rewriting. I’m not insisting that all must be rewritten, but every person has parts that if they could, would go back, erase, and rewrite. This is only to say if we were all authors, and our lives were as simple as books. In writing down the events of my existance, for as long as I can recall, and using my writing as a way to reflect on my thoughts and choices, I am assuming authorship of my life. Because almost everything I write about has already happened , or are thoughts that have occured in the past tense (that being only moments ago), I have become an author of confession. Written confession is risky, because you’ve now allowed your most inner thoughts to be witnessed. I have broken open my head, with the possibility of my brain being served on a platter. To whom it will be delivered is always waiting to be discovered. The audience is the unknown. Will I open my writing to them, or will they read through it without my knowledge?

A journal is a medium- a medium of confession, truth, and exposure. It is a source to unload love as well as trauma. Fear as well as excitement, hope and anticipation. It allows me to tell a story, retell a story, whether it is for myself or others. Maybe a story to be recorded, lost, and never read again. In writing down certain words, in a certain sequence, I am taking control of my life in a different way, and documenting what I want known— what I want remembered. In writing down my life story I am acting as a censor, sometimes ommiting more than I should, while at times also admitting more than I could in speech. All of this is always at the front of my mind when I write such personal truths down on paper, because lingering before me is the possibility of an audience. If my writing is my personal history, my deepest confessions, my most painful memories, allowing it to be read is allowing someone to appropriate my emotions, my feelings, my experiences. To read my writing and to jump into my shoes, to see from my perspective what life has been like, to read about situations I have gone through, dark places I have been, does not mean you now understand what it means to be me. To read a story about the worst or best day or my life, and to absorb every little detail that I have written down, does not mean that at the end of the page you now can say, “Oh yeah, I know what that’s like.” We can never know what it is like to be another person, and the more truthful our writing becomes, the closer to the soul of the person the reader feels they are. I hesitate from writing down full truths, or uncensored truths, because often I don’t want my writing read in a way that the read thinks now they get it. Words are often misinterpreted and the same sentence can be read in a hundred different ways. What the author intends is not always what the reader understands.


Sometimes I think I subconsciously choose to write in a fact recording manner. As if I am trying to aviod diving into how I actually felt that day, or the day before, or even in that moment. Sometimes I drfit away as the author- creating a gap that allows me to become emotionally detached. A displacement of deeper honesty; of actual essence. The refusal to often dig deeper into who I am or how I feel, is my way of constructing a narrative that is created around blind spots and my own selected silences. The ommiting of details, of creating silences, is a way of postponing confrontation with myself. I substitute certain words for loaded language, in an attempt to again distance myself as the author. In this way things that need to be faced, integrated, and acknowledged, slip away under the radar. In writing the author is able to reconstruct reality as it will be remembered, and that may be a very dangerous action. There is a responsibility, to the future, to record life as it was, as it is, as it has been.


Yet the issue persists….

“An individual constitutes and invents herself through the constant editing and re-editing of memory.”