Memory is a funny beast

Memory is a funny thing. If you want a phone number, the date of a friend’s wedding anniversary, the details of a long-ago conversation, I’m your woman. The Carnivore, on the other hand, like many men, can’t remember his own children’s birthdays. Some days he’s not even too sure how old they are.

You’d think, being an accountant, he’d have a bit of an edge in remembering such number-related things, but no. His memory appears to be jammed full of the plot of every novel and B-grade movie he’s ever read/seen. He can even recite dialogue from some of them.

Whereas I, the more word-focused person, can reread novels without remembering anything of the plot. Sometimes I can recall one scene, or a character I liked, maybe a hazy recollection of the initial set-up, but the ending comes as a complete surprise.

It’s a little alarming to realise how fast my brain empties, but quite handy too. I never run out of new stories to read!

I was reading today and a new application of this anti-skill occurred to me. My eyes filled with tears at a moving bit, and the writer part of my brain stopped to analyse the effect. I wondered if the author felt moved when she wrote it. Maybe she was deliberately trying to engender this effect. If so, how would she know if she’d succeeded? Since she knew what she was aiming for, since she’d constructed the sadness, she couldn’t very well come at it as a new reader would, and experience the sadness.

Then I realised, due to the black hole in my memory where plots go to die, I can have my writerly cake and eat it too. (Which has always struck me as an odd expression. “You want to have your cake and eat it too!” people say, as if that’s a bad thing. But what else are you going to do with cake? Who are these weirdos who just want to look at their cake?)

I only have to leave anything I write a few months and I forget so much of it it’s like reading something somebody else wrote. Very handy for assessing what effect the story might have on a reader, though a little awkward if I ever do get published and people want to discuss my novels with me. “So Marina, why did you have So-and-so do X in your story?” “Er … remind me who So-and-so is again?”

Yesterday I reread a short story I finished back in June. That’s only three months ago. Couldn’t wait to get to the end to see what happened.

How could I forget so quickly?

At least I still liked it. Old Whatsername writes a pretty mean story when they let her out of the padded room.

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