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A Challenge for you: Memories & the Test of Time


The purpose of this blog is to challenge the way we remember our lives. But first, a little background...

I enjoy movies. This isn't unique, but it's true. As a kid of the 70s and 80s, the current availability of virtually anything I want to watch via streaming video is mind blowing for me, and sometimes even feels like gluttony.

Recently I've been watching older movies and experiencing them from a different perspective. They often seem altered to me compared to how I originally remember them. Which is strange, since I generally have a very good memory.

There have been movies I saw twenty, thirty, forty (I'll stop here...) years ago that have stuck with me. Specific scenes in these features reside in my memory as real gems, as favorites. Perhaps he was cool,she was particularly beautiful, the dialogue was really clever, or the feel of the scene was so dramatic that it moved me. Sometimes the film production or the framing of the shot created an experience that was particularly fantastic. Regardless, these moments in film history live for me as a memory.

Through time, sometimes I find myself reflecting on the original moment of watching these scenes. Doing so usually brings with it some version of the joy, pain, fear, or pleasure of that moment.

However, I do find that my prideful memory fails me. Or is it my perceptions that are failing me? One way or the other, my memory is proven to be more fallible than I ever want to admit.

In its extreme form, this happens when I see one of these films for the first time in decades. I wait patiently for that special section to arrive, and to my astonishment it isn't what I remember. It's different than what my mind has repeatedly shown me over the years. I've literally transformed the scene into something it has never been. The proof is documented right there on the screen. In some cases, I accurately remember the dialogue, but the camera angles are all different than I remember. The clip that has been running in my head sounds almost the same, but looks completely different than the movie has ever been.

My memory has been accurate and completely inaccurate, all at once.

In other scenarios, the glossy drama that was once so moving in the theater has become a lackluster, poorly lit dud that couldn't inspire anyone who didn't remember that it was once fantastic. The actors who were charming, beautiful, studly, perfect... seem much more human now. Not necessarily less entertaining, but much less sensational than my eyes and ears once told me they were.

Perhaps this can be chalked up to a movie not being able to stand the test of time. Surely, this is part of it.

Bringing this conversation into the realm of counseling and relationships, it seems like we tend to have more memories of real life than we do memories from movies. How many more scenes from our life do we watch on the screen in our mind over and again because they originally made such a profound impression on us? Movies are dramatic, but not real. Our real memories tend to be both positive and negative, but most of all very real.

That memory you play in your head. That scene from years ago that was so fun, painful or explicit that it has influenced your life since... Might it be susceptible to the same kinds of creative memory that I'm describing above? You're convinced you are remembering it accurately, but might the camera angles in your memory be wrong, o

r at least distorted? What if the dialogue, or even inflections in the dialogue have transformed the meaning of the memory into even a slightly different experience over the years?

Is this possible? Might it even be likely? And the sad part is, there is virtually never a celluloid, VHS, DVD, etc. reference we can go back to in order to authenticate the accuracy of our memory. We experience these moments, create the memory and then make them permanent, unquestionable, correct. They are subsequently relived whenever our mind chooses to pull them up. Sometimes we might even make an involuntary tweak here or there in order to make the message of the memory more concise, or so it will fit the theme of our movie more effectively.

This seems possible.

Good times become the best of times. A bad experience can become the worst, or a trauma that spins into something life-defining. These memories become extremely vivid and we are certain that we're right about all of the details. We proceed with our version of what happened and defy anyone to challenge us.

We are the ultimate authority.

I would like to challenge this authority.

Begin by dialing up an old favorite movie that you haven't seen in years, or preferably decades. Notice if somehow you don't experience this movie differently than you did originally. Then turn it up a notch with some of your real memories. Ask yourself how these memories may have been modified over the years. Is there a theme to the memory that may have been punched up a little? What is the reason we might feel it needed this embellishment?

Be honest with yourself.

I like the positive memories. The test with these is not getting so caught up in them that I don't live in the present. Regarding the painful experiences that replay in my head – have I adjusted the dialogue in those scenes for dramatic effect? Do I watch those memories from different camera angles that never existed for me while they were happening. If I see that scene from more than one angle, I know my creativity is engaged. If I can view myself in these memories, they have been altered... Voluntary or involuntary, why would I have made these adjustments? Do these adjustments make the memory more dramatic? Or less dramatic? My guess is most often the former.

Are the memories where I've hurt someone a little less dramatic and easier to dismiss?

How about the scenes where someone has hurt me? Are they a little more dramatic and harder to

downplay? If so, our perceptions are probably at play.

Am I seeing these moments from the age I am now? Or am I remembering them at the age I was when they happened? The person who hurt me, are they also their original age? Am I still allowing that kid, possibly a complete twit, to hold my happiness hostage by the way I re-experience that scene with them? In reality, would I currently allow a random child to hold my emotional life hostage in similar ways? Why am I allowing this otherwise insignificant person to have such power over my life?

If I challenged myself to reframe these scenes, or to see the characters from my past for who they are: an insecure teenager, a dysfunctional person who was raised by dysfunctional parents, the wrong relationship at the wrong time, my poor decisions that inevitably lead me down the wrong path... like a movie from the same time period, might it be a situation where these characters and memories simply don't stand the test of time? If I could see them again as they actually happened, might their emotional impact fade? The dialogue might seem rusty and dated? Maybe I could put them away and not let them cloud my current reality anymore? Could they become as laughable as high waisted bellbottoms and platform shoes, which were once deadly serious?

What are we to do about the memories that we're sure are just as disturbing and correct as we remember them? Can we purposely embellish them so they aren't as disturbing? If I put a child's Batman costume on him doesn't he become kind of silly, therefore not nearly as threatening? What if she's wearing curly-toed court jester shoes with jingle bells on the tips? She suddenly becomes kind of ridiculous. Right? Play the Batman and jingle-toes clip over in your head and see if the emotional impact of the scene doesn't change for you, even a little.

Try to make this version, or something even more silly, your permanent memory. If we're going to modify these things, let's make the modifications work for us, not against us.

Movies are one thing. But when it comes to life and our real memories, the conversation can become very serious. Why make life more dramatic than it already is? Our input may be the only reason these memories survive as dramatically as they do.

It might help if we look for ways that they simply don't stand the test of time.

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