Fickle Memories

I have traveled that long and winding road connecting my future to my past. My truck is eternally almost out of gas. The potholes knock my fillings out. The dust plugs my nostrils. And the map gets more incomprehensible the farther I go. That’s not a mountain on the horizon, it’s a volcano.The_Scream As soon as I get there, good book and lawn chair in hand, ready to enjoy my reminiscences, the damn thing erupts. The harder you work to recall an old memory, the faster the landscape changes. We tend to think of memory as a huge canvas scene we create and display in the museum of our minds that we can revisit and sit beneath whenever we wish. It hasn’t started fading. No flash photography in my mind, thank you very much, or senility…yet. But at night, when the museum is closed, little imps sneak inside and repaint the details. After awhile it feels like something a stranger produced.

This is natural, it happens to everyone, but writers are not so passive. The writer is unnatural. We do not sit on our hands and watch our memories change, we don the white beret and coveralls, grab a brush, and join the imps in their delightful desecration. We alter our memories for the sake of art. We modify old anecdotes and characters we know from life for the sake of art. No memory is safe. We even steal good bits from other artists for the sake of art, but we always add a few brush strokes of our own, brand it with a unique je ne sais quoi before we sign the bottom. We are not plagiarists, non?

We sometimes even fall in love with our own motifs. I cannot count the times I have read either a single book or, worse, a series which recycles the same worn imagery, tired plot lines, or dullard expressions. Such an author has spent too much time roaming around their own museum. Or more cynically, they have found a method of painting which sells like hotcakes and why endanger success for the sake of innovation?

My memory makes for a better story.

We cannot be pure artists these days and hang our paintings on the wall. We must swap our berets for slicked hair and a smile and sell our art, too. The entrepreneur in me does not object to pleasing the public; I write to entertain others, not myself. The artist in me likes huge rambling metaphors and time skips galore. An honest reader would tell me the rambling draws focus from the story and all those flashbacks muddle my timeline. Sometimes, you gotta kill your babies. So, brush in hand, I tone down the abstract, but the imagery is still fresh, the plot lines vibrant, and the memories distorted. Sure, it didn’t really happen like that. My memory makes for a better story.

Thanks for reading!

J. H. Bardwell