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Autofiction: Reflection and Regret

Slightly BrokenLife Mirrors

Any period of introspection seems to invite everything else in the world to be dodgy metaphors for how I feel about myself. It’s rather annoying and I suspect it’s the sort of egomaniacal habit that religion and superstition have been bred from. I suppose it’s because any introspection makes you vulnerable and so the whole universe is potentially oppressive. ‘Course it could be a positive thing too – like when you’re really happy and the sun is shining and butterflies burst into your path and it feels as if the whole world is supporting you. It’s especially nice to ignore all the awful things happening to other people at that point, but how bad can the world really be if there are butterflies? See, they just aren’t looking hard enough for the good things. Isn’t life always better when the sun is shining?

Well now, that’s called confirmation bias. We do it automatically, associating memories and feelings with our environment. In fact we twist and distort our own memories routinely, creating the narrative that we want to believe in. It’s what allows us to do terrible things to ourselves and each other, yet reinforce our own insane behaviours with narrow recollections that appear to support the story. It’s not always intentional mind. I guess I’m phrasing it with a sense of intention because it seems to me that we could surely do otherwise. Maybe we can’t.

Once Upon An Imaginary Time

In any case my point is that we depend on the stories we create about ourselves, where we place ourselves within that story defines our attitudes and outlook. It also strongly affects how we view others, and therefore how we’re prepared to treat them. Remembering and misremembering actively reinforce those narratives, and we’ll selectively analyse and appropriate the behaviour and actions we observe in others – especially where they could be seen to support those narratives. We mindlessly ditch the anomalies or the inconvenient facts, statements, truths and arguments of others. They are too much of a threat to a narrative to which we have become committed and accustomed. So what if the narrative that I have constructed is at odds with someone else’s narrative? Well, they will likely ignore anything I say that conflicts with their picture and respond with outrage and denial. It’s a problem. 

Thing is, those narratives are all false. I don’t say that lightly, but it is astonishing how much we misremember. It’s very hard to check back though – when you recall a memory you’re only reinforcing the memory of recalling it, not the original memory. There have been so many psychological studies into how easy it is to create false and distorted memories it’s actually embarrassing. It suits us to recall some things and not others. Most of the time all you end up debating with someone is who has the better memory of an event neither of you recall fully enough to justify the inevitable claims and rebuttals. Makes it difficult. 

The Man In The Mirrored Time Tunnel of Whirliness

When I finally dragged myself into proper counselling I did so knowing that my recall of events was partial – both in quantity and attitude. When you want to reflect on events that happened nearly twenty years ago, separated not only by a gulf of time, but by trauma, fear, drugs and alcohol (yes I know it’s a drug but we Brits are daft and consider them separately…) it’s frankly a bit of a fucker. All I’d really remembered on their own was a nightmare zoetrope strip of images I stamped out as fast as they appeared. Of course, in so doing I was editing those memories down to just flashes, and then remembering the flashes. Multiply that by twenty years and well… reconstructing memories without prompts or supporting material is almost impossible. That’s where the distortion comes in. We can fill gaps so easily and fluidly and once you’ve poured those ideas in they don’t go away and you can’t tell them apart from the “real” stuff. Yeah, inverted commas of doubt mofos. 

I was lucky enough-  I think lucky is the right way to put it… Lucky enough to have been an introspective teen who found his main outlet to be in writing about himself. And now describing myself in the third person – I think this is okay: I am not under the illusion that I’m the same person I was at 14, or 18 or 30. I think it’s a serious mistake to take that continuity of identity for granted. It allows narratives to vary – some stories end or bleed into new ones or into new genres, or something. See what I mean about metaphors? They’ll stab you in the back with their vagueness – and of course they imply and push a narrative of association themselves. You can’t win. Anyway… what I was saying was that I had maintained a diary of sorts, which described in well, pretty hurtful and plain language some of the major plot points (Jesu-fuck) and character motivations (I’m sorry, really, but I’m stuck on this). By no means was everything there, but it was more than enough to properly recall and see how I actually felt at the time. Remembering feelings is so much harder than ordinary dates and places (though I’m probably even worse with those), and the value of being able to see them for what they were was incredibly beneficial.

I had huge gaps in my story, missing whole chapters and subtext and context. I was able to put some of that back in, to re-craft the narrative that I believed myself to be in. It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t fun but it was very important. I think that we frequently define ourselves as martyrs, victims, heroes and survivors entirely in error. It’s easy to label ourselves – it appears to help, and it probably does sometimes, but those labels trap us. It doesn’t matter if you’re discussing philosophies, sports teams or sexuality – we get lost in the label, draw it over ourselves and get locked in to it. Once we’ve labelled our narrative as ‘the hero who overcomes opposition’ it’s really hard to get out of that story and find that well, just maybe, we’re not the hero after all and that opposition – well, it was support after all.

It’s also easy to get stuck in the victim role and not realise that the story has changed – nearly twenty years of the story have gone past. The victim ending would have come much sooner, so this must be a different story. Maybe a better one.


Things That I Have Felt and Written

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