Writing As a Way to Remember

Painting of a girl in white turned with her back to us writing at a desk

Memories are some of our most precious possessions. But as the years march by, they fade.

Writing can help us preserve memories. Returning to our journals, notebooks, poems, or posts years later can resurrect time from the abyss of forgetfulness.

By the time you will be in your 80s—and keep in mind that life expectancy will likely increase in the coming decades—you could lose as much as 20% of the nerve connections in your hippocampus, and that’s bad for your memory.

Also, even significant memories we don’t often recall may start to fade from our brains within 10 years or so after they are first stored.

Like other parts of our brain, memory too prunes itself away.

Writing down our memories isn’t a simple process of transcription. It’s fun because it is to some extent a creative process.

We don’t remember as computers do, byte after byte. We embellish our memories, alter them, change details.

“S(he) was still too young to know that the heart’s memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good, and that thanks to this artifice we manage to endure the burden of the past.”

― Gabriel García Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera

Each time we remember, we confabulate. That is, memories become labile and subject to change.

A great testament to the power of writing to remember is Marcel Proust wrote to remember in his In Search of Lost Time. (Okay, I only read the first volume.)

Writing down our memories, the big ones and the small ones, the dreams we want to remember, the little daily incidents that gladden us by surprise, is a way not to lose time, not to have to rummage for it in the mothy drawers of our memory.

It’s a way to preserve it and be able to return to it.

Even a few notes, a few sentences can provide enough cues for us to remember a faraway memory that otherwise would have lost its way in the tangle of neurons within our brains.

Whether you do it through journaling, poetry, stories, or notes, whether you do it every day or only once or twice a month, write as a way to remember.

You don’t have to be a writer to do this.

Only a human being who knows that memories are the stuff we’re made of.

“The past beats inside me like a second heart.”

― John Banville, The Sea

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