How to Write Yourself a Past 

by Michael Angerer

Our memories are the stories that we tell ourselves: to remember is to scribble in faint pencil across the fabric of our lives. When inspiration strikes – a light across the ceiling, the warmth of a bed, a cup of tea – we conjure up an image of the past that neatly fits into its slot. Together, all these moments coalesce into a single stream, not of consciousness, but of narration leading to the present self; only as an old man can the artist paint the true portrait of his youth. Yet memories are no diaries: they are not fixed with treacherously truthful ink onto a page. Whenever we add to the story, with every new storyline, character, chapter, paragraph, we rewrite the previous text, adding another layer of faint lines.

As we go on editing our life, we are not, of course, bound to be honest with ourselves – or others. Good authors know their audience; they know the time and place for action or for pathos. After-comers need not guess the beauty been of a rural scene we used to love: all current longing, passion, fear of change we can distil and carefully infuse into the story we rewrite. In the journal of our mind, heaven slightly tarnished becomes earth and polished earth is heaven, depending on occasion or popular demand. Who would dare to admit they are more reckless than in childhood or work less than at school?

It is this exchange of stories that we commonly call history. As in the single mind, a shambolic heap of half-remembered fragments is continuously inserted into the whole, leaving broken shards by the side; and what a volume of adventures cannot be grasped within this little span of narrative! To create a coherent strand is to reshape the memory of mankind so that it makes sense to modern observers; like strangers among giants, we can only guess at far-off faces and then reconstruct them in our imagination. And so the memory of all is reduced to the commonly known and accepted facts of their life: ‘born in 1632 in York, to a father from Bremen who had first settled in Hull’.

And yet individually, our memories are above all epics. We strut and fret at the very centre of this tale told by the self, full of passions and impressions, signifying everything. A single memory has only one perspective, and it is that of the protagonist; we are then free to assign the roles of antagonist and other archetypes within our tale. The cast may change, the setting may change, the genre may change over time; but undeterred, we always shape and reshape our story during our lengthy pilgrimage, not to be outdone by our peers. What ideally remains at the end is a polished epic, a four-dimensional image as envisioned by the self, both creator and creation. This is our bid for immortality: as the grey smoke is swallowed by the cloudy heavens, we hope that our story as we wrote it will remain.

The Poor Print

Established in 2013, The Poor Print is the student-run newspaper of Oriel College, Oxford. Written by members of the JCR, MCR, SCR and staff, new issues are published fortnightly during term. Our current Executive Editors are Siddiq Islam and Jerric Chong.

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