mad in pursuit journal

DISPATCHED FROM THE CROSSROADS

Memory Gathering Task

As I look at another round of story-writing for radio and/or video, I'm battling with myself over the issue of "scenes." It's pretty easy for me to lecture or to spout an opinion. But writing is about "showing" not "telling." Good writing puts you into a time and place. A good scene has tension, conflict.

Since just about everything I do is based on memories, I really need to start keeping a notebook, to capture some new memories that are not already part of the Susan mythology contained in these web pages. Sometimes the same old stories are worth retelling. Or looking at from a new perspective. Sometimes they feel stale... Party bore: "Did I ever tell you about the time I...?" Pul-leeze!

I've been listening to an audio book of Marcel Proust's "Remembrance of Things Past" -- it's one of those books everyone talks about but no one has actually read because it's a bazillion pages. He's the one who dunked his madeleine cookie in tea and is inundated with memories. In fact, he took to his bed and spent the rest of his life writing down every little thing he could remember.

I was intrigued with Proust after reading "Proust Was A Neuroscientist" by Jonah Lehrer. From Newsweek:

So what did Proust divine about humans ahead of neuroscientists?
After he dips the madeleine into the tea and recovers those lost childhood memories [in "In Search of Lost Time"], Proust realizes that our noses bear a unique burden of memory. "It's by smell and taste alone," Proust writes, that we can recover "the vast structure of recollection." Neuroscientists now know that Proust was right, and that our senses of smell and taste, centered in the olfactory cortex, are the only senses that directly connect to the hippocampus, the center of long-term memory. All of our other senses are first routed through the thalamus. Although we like to think of our memory as a repository of inert information, like a hard drive in the mind, our memory is actually always changing. The memory is altered in the absence of the original stimulus, becoming less about what happened and more about you. It's ironic but true: to remember something is to misremember it. The best way to accurately recall a memory is to record it as soon as possible, before you've had the chance to remember it too many more times. This is one of Proust's main morals: the act of remembering is a dishonest process. [emphasis mine, source]

So I guess setting up a scene from memory is an act of art, not "fact-gathering." Our memories reinforce who we believe ourselves to be at the moment.

7.7.2008

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