User Error: On Memory and Nonfiction

September 21, 2008 § 3 Comments

From Brian Oliu, author of  “Virus 1″ in Brevity 28:

This essay came as a result of an “end-user error” on my part; I had originally written an essay reflecting on my birth and what I had ascertained to be the truth around the medical complexity of the situation.  Upon hearing a reading of the piece, my mother explained that this is not how it happened at all; there was no C-section.  I felt terrible about getting the story wrong all of these years, and especially relaying something that is considered to be non-fiction whereas it turned out I had gotten perhaps the most important fact incorrect.  As a result of this, I began to question all of these “made-up” memories about my childhood that had been passed down to me.

Naturally, I don’t remember being born or getting injured as a small child, but through stories and recounted information it is as if I created that memory, and therefore it was as valid as the experience itself.  I equated this idea to the computer virus; how these viruses fill in gaps left by human error in order to create new things and make programs do specific actions or simply overload the file with too much information.  These installed concepts “infect” us, causing our ideas to become more erratic, finally spitting out an amalgamation of truth, ideal, and excess coding.

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§ 3 Responses to User Error: On Memory and Nonfiction

  • This is an excellent way to understand the difficulty of finding “truth” in our own histories. These viral family myths become agreed upon truths, it seems. The myth for my poor little brother, since he was a “change of life” baby, is that he was a tumor.

    Luckily for me, my own familial viral myth is that I was switched at birth, thus setting me free to invent myself as I go along.

  • Bill says:

    In a practical sense, it pays to be the only writer in the family. Then you know your truth is the one future generations will be forced to take at face value 😉

    Aside from getting facts straight (who, what, where, when, why, how, and the weather), there is only personal truth, anyway. Things that haunt me or I find worth remembering sometimes don’t even register anymore with other family members who experienced the same event.

    My uncle once said of one of my stories: “of all the things to write about…you picked that one?” That particular event wasn’t one worth remembering to him, and one he wouldn’t have chosen to write about had he remembered it and had he been a writer–not because of anything embarrassing about the story…but because it never hit him as being that important to write about.

    But to me it was something I HAD to write about.

  • Tim Elhajj says:

    I completely relate to the discussion about some things being important to one person, but seeming trivial to another. I am fascinated by my father who started to retreat from our family when I was about ten. My mother is skeptical. “Why write about him?” she wants to know. But I can’t let it go.

    Indeed it does pay to be the only writer in the family. My younger brothers barely remember Dad. Each new story I write, they ask my mother if it’s really true. Do you remember any of this? She told me once that she thought I really had him and hearing that made me swell with pride.

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