Posts Tagged ‘memory’

The task this time is to write an early memory. My earliest, in fact. I’ve been thinking about this all day and came to the conclusion that when we are asked to recount our earliest memory, adults do tend to have an answer already (i.e. we have it prefab ready to roll out when required) and that the answer is an impressionistic, brief clip which might not stand up to rigorous interrogation for peripheral details or supporting evidence. My snippet was already referred to in Day Three’s posting; memory of seeing jellyfish washed up on a sandy/rocky beach in Ireland. But I have no way of knowing how accurate, or even genuine, that memory is.  Do I  now remember that this is my memory? In other words, I’m remembering the remembering, not genuinely going back to the original and creating a copy of it for the present.

Yet I hold on to it very strongly and value it greatly as part of “me”. Why? Because it’s Ireland, and ties me in to a fascinating story paternal history? Or because it would have stood out among comparison with peers when retold by me at a much younger age? Back to the theme; defining ourselves by sameness and belonging, or by  differentiation and separateness?

The earliest memory for which you can also provide witness statements, DNA results, fingerprints and signed confessions? That’s another story (pun intended).  Funnily enough, today in a sale bin at Foyles in London I came across a book called “Remembering our Childhood” (2009), by Karl Sabbagh, which confirmed for me that adults are not able to retain early childhood memories (or, rather, the capacity to form them does not mature until we are somewhere between 5 and 7, and not much from then or before then is ever retrievable – beyond a few fragments of visual cues from around 3 or 4, with some but limited narrative structure.   Sabbagh’s non-scientific survey for his book found that many people’s earliest memories were firmly anchored for them at ages 1 to 3, which contain no narrative.  [Aside: this probably should help it become clearer for us what narrative is]

With the caveat that one may draw plausible details from imagination just as easily as one may draw on facts, I do recall my first day at Primary School, where I must have been about 5.  My first day could not have been the first day of school because I remember being led into a class that was playing, and being introduced to a boy, who was assigned being my “new friend”, and the only scenario that would fit is if we had arrived in the town after the start of the school year. My new friend was Denis, and Denis remained my best friend until I left Secondary School. He was playing with a toy called stickle-bricks (coloured pieces of plastic with many small rounded spikes – like tiny hedgehogs).  I remember the name of the teacher, Sister John (why do some nuns take male saint names?), and what it felt like to have the sun stream in through the enormous windows in the classroom as the afternoon went on. There is narrative there, and it’s easy to want to stick more on, but I’m not 100% sure that the additional blocks of detail belong.

The main reflection-in this is about the role, and reliability, of memory in the reflection process. Reliable witness? The jury is still out.


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