Last night I ventured from the safety of Twitter, and joined Tumblr to post a question to one of my favorite Twitter companions. A few hours later, Tumblr emailed me an auto-bot question asking, “What is your earliest human memory?” The question prompted me to think about memory, how it shapes our character, and how we reshape it each time we take the time to reflect on something in our past.
After consideration, a memory of sandworms popped into my mind. No, not the variety popularized by Frank Herbert – the real, and much more frightening variety, “Cutaneous Larva Migrans”. The larvae of these parasitic little monsters penetrate the skin then burrow around leaving itchy trails. I must have been between three and four when the tops of my feet developed the visible tracks left by the infection. My memory, is of none of these things. No, my memory is of some brutal, nameless, faceless doctor deliberately freezing my feet.
As soon as I managed to cast aside the sandworm experience, another immediately popped into mind. I’m guessing the connection between the two memories is of approximate age. This recollection is about another traumatic experience. Our dog, Ginty, had a litter of pups. After finding homes for most of them two puppies remained – I adopted one, my brother, the other. Life was good. Then, someone who had been on vacation returned and offered to take one of the puppies. My father gladly accepted, promising we would keep whichever dog remained. An intense competition with my brother ensued, both of us attempting to convince Uncle Eric that the other’s dog was the better. I lost, and Uncle Eric departed with my pet. (The name literally popped into my mind as I typed that sentence.)
Now let us consider how these memories shaped me, and how I’ve just reshaped them.
The sandworm incident was particularly unpleasant, and quite likely the start of my lifelong distrust of doctors. Although I’ve never analyzed this before, I suspect one of the reasons I never had another dog as a growing child, or even realized I wanted one, was because of the devastating loss of a treasured pet. The memories definitely shaped me.
With the two memories are now associated in my mind, and because of the order I recalled them, an assumption that the sandworm incident happened before the puppy incident is trying to take hold. I’ve also taken a few minutes to research “sandworms”, which is where I found the Latin name for them. During that research, undertaken to validate the memory, I saw some pretty horrible pictures of the infestation the parasites leave. When next I reminisce on that incident, I expect the memory will include frantic itching. Simply by remembering, I’m reshaping my own memories.
As humans don’t have digital brains, memory is far from perfect … every time we recall something, tiny portions of it change. Memories are in constant flux, and seem more and more real, the more we remember them. We’re effectively creating our own past, the more we think of it.
As a writer, I reverse that process and create a future by imagining it. Are my novels filled with my thoughts and memories? How could they not be?