I’ve read a lot of memoirs lately. I like funny protagonists who don’t whine about their lives and the horrible things that have happened to them (see “Glass Castle”); instead making each crappy event hilarious. Anyone who has listened to “The Moth” podcast knows that drowning in the Atlantic ocean and watching your ship mates get eaten by sharks is absolutely hilarious.
So I wondered what would happen if I wrote a memoir. Would it be interesting? How could I make my moments of hell funny, if I even had moments of hell. Would what I write just be considered another white girl with “problems”? Would the people I mention be okay with what I write? Probably not. Best wait until everyone’s passed before I write anything too funny, at least according to my theory of what makes a good memoir.
So why don’t I just start with a memory. I have a very odd memory bank. You could say that my memory is like the director’s alternative ending on a DVD promising 90 more minutes of unseen footage. What I can remember of my childhood is a mash-up of stories my mother has told me and real Wendi Memory (TM).
In junior high and high school a friend remembered everything we ever did or said. It was a freaky talent, but in some ways it was reassuring to have someone who would remember all the stuff I was sure to forget or remember incorrectly. Even then I knew something was off about my memory.
Of course, the Southerner in me would have you believe that my incorrect memories are not incorrect just embellished. And who doesn’t like a good embellish story? Isn’t it more interesting to read that the two-inch scar in my left elbow-pit was from a dark time in my past when I lost a match in a local Fight Club and not just a relic from surgery to remove tissue that grew too big in that area of my arm?
Okay, so maybe that’s not just embellishing but outright lying. Let’s forget about lying and go on to embellishing. Did you ever see the movie “Big Fish”? The general story is that the protagonist’s father always had a version of the proverbial fishing story in which the fish caught gets bigger and bigger every time the story is told. When I think of embellished stories I always call them Big Fish stories. My dad is an excellent Big Fisher. Apparently, so am I.
I have this memory that I have Big Fished for years now. I thought it was time that I get the real skinny on what happened. So during a recent visit with my parents I asked my mom to help me clear up this particular memory. Here is my version, the one I’ve actually been telling people:
I’m four years old. My uncle Jack is a photographer and film maker. He’s making a commercial and he needs a little girl to star in it. Who else would he turn to but his older sister and her adorable daughter (me), who was also a ham for the camera.
The commercial is a PSA for drivers: Watch for children at play. My uncle films me chasing a ball across the road while my mother drives her car towards me and barely misses hitting me. Tight shot on my face full of fear and shock! Flash to a flattened ball. Look what could happen if you’re not paying attention! You could flatten a ball or kill a child! The ball, my uncle promises me after filming, would be returned to me with air in it again.
The only truths to this memory are: my uncle was making a commercial and he did film me. Pretty much everything else was Big Fished by my wacky brain. My mother’s memory is thus: My uncle Jack was filming a commercial for Volkswagen “or some other car company, who knows”. There was a ball but she is certain it belonged to my Uncle Jack and not me. She did not drive the car. In fact, the day we filmed there was no car. It was just me and the ball. Even now, my memory of what my mother told me just a few weeks ago is fuzzy. So I’ll stop there. Maybe my Uncle Jack can finish the story for me.
What gives? A few years ago I learned that people with anxiety disorders and depression often lose memories. People with depression and anxiety have too much cortisol floating around. Too much cortisol causes belly fat (but so does cake) and memory loss. Basically, the cortisol is like a few pints too many at the pub and makes the brain all drunk and bumbled. Sometimes this is really funny. Like the time my husband, his mother, brother and I went out for dinner and I exclaimed, “Man, this place is great! We have got to come back again!” and my family told me that this was the “again” visit. We had been there just a couple of weeks earlier. Oh, too funny! I laugh every time I think about it until I wonder if we ever went back. I don’t think we did but at this point who knows.
I find my memories quite entertaining. God only knows how I’m going to remember any given situation. I do try to at least put a positive spin on my memories. I have some sad ones, yes, but ultimately, they’re damn funny (which means, according to the tales told by the author of “The Glass House” they’re horrible memories filled with starvation and fleas.)
Postscript: My uncle writes, “Gosh Wendi I don’t remember that. But did you see the silent super 8 film we did in college starring your mom and dad? If I can find a projector, I’ll transfer it and maybe put it up on YouTube.”