What’s the best use of time to think?

Thoughts while, and about, falling down.

fallingSeveral years ago, I tripped on an uneven sidewalk and fell, landing more embarrassed than scathed. As I lay on the ground assessing myself for damage, I realized that I’d had several remarkably clear thoughts between tripping and landing.

At the time, I thought, How interesting. There’s actually time to think even in such a short time.

I tucked the realization away – something to use someday in my writing. I wonder if I might have put that realization to better use than just writing.

When I fell on the ice last month, once again thoughts raced through my mind. Realization that my foot had landed in a slippery spot and I was going down. Noting the hill I would land on. Thinking I was careless to have let that happen. Again, several clear thoughts during an event that lasted not much more than a second.

The result was worse this time. I wound up in the emergency room with a broken wrist.

When I posted on Facebook about my fall, someone suggested next time I should remember to “tuck and roll.” What a joke, others laughed. It happens so fast, how could you ever do anything but act out of reflex? But I wonder.

My aunt who’d broken her ankle as a teenager, suffered from ever more frequent falls as she aged.  Once as she crossed a street, she fell. Later she told me that her thought as the ground raced up at her was, “Well, I’ve done it now!”  Indeed she had. She broke her wrist.

Another time, my aunt tripped in her living room and had the presence of mind to fling herself forward so that she landed on the couch. That gave us all a good laugh. Particularly since she managed not to hurt herself.

Because my mother lived alone in her home, I convinced her to get a Life Line button. One day she fell. It took considerable time and effort before she was able to drag herself to the basement stairs, get her feet under her and get up. I asked why she didn’t just press the button hanging on a cord around her neck so someone could come and help her. She looked momentarily puzzled and then responded, “I guess you’d have to remember you even had the button to do that.”

Doing things automatically is often a matter of practicing enough. Since my fall, I’ve worked to implant the idea of “tuck and roll” in my brain. To that end, I’ve been thinking about it, talking to others about it, writing about it. I hope never to fall again, but if I do, I hope “tuck and roll” is the first thought in my head.

What do you think, my friends? Have you had experiences with split second thoughts? Do you think I can be successful at retaining tuck and roll? Have you done something like this? Or should I just resign myself to using this learning in my writing?

How real are your memories?

Research indicates our brains edit the past to accommodate present views.

Brain

When we build a new memory, we gather little bits of information and store them together, say researchers at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. Then, when we bring up an old memory, those bits of information are melded with new bits relevant to present life. The resulting “memory” may be far from the event that actually happened.

The research, shared in an article in USAToday this past weekend, makes me re-think the accuracy of memoirs.

When I wrote the stories of a happy childhood in my memoir GROWING UP COUNTRY, many of the memories were as clear in my mind as if the events had happened last week instead of fifty years ago.

Though I have no doubt my childhood was happy and I’m comfortable with that picture, another memoir I wrote but didn’t publish covers the years of my first marriage. My first marriage included plenty of happy times, but the memoir dealt with those times that were not.

When I began to write those stories, I couldn’t remember much at all. The process of pulling those memories out of the deep recesses of my mind was difficult and often painful.

I felt devastating conflict between what I remembered and the way I viewed myself. In the course of the writing and with the caring support of my writing partners, the memories – and perhaps more important – my interpretation of those memories, adapted.

According to the Northwestern researchers, the brain’s ability to edit to current circumstances may explain why we can be convinced something happened when it didn’t.

In writing about my first marriage, I came to realize that certain things that I was convinced had happened could not have. They were a logistical impossibility. Yet, I was as convinced that those stories were true as I am that my childhood was happy.

Our memories are “a record of our current view of the past,” says Donna Rose Addis of the University of Auckland in New Zealand. Addis suggests the Northwestern University research has implications for understanding imagination.

I would say so! As a writer, I recognize there are many “truths.” I realize that each of us gets to tell our own story, yet I feel an obligation to be as close to factual accuracy as I can when I write memoir.

With research like this shining a light on how the brain works, I am left to wonder: are the memories I’ve had stored in the dusty corners of my mind accurate? Are the adapted memories that emerged as I wrote accurate? Or have I simply created a memory I can live with today.

What do you think my friends? How accurate can our memories be? How accurate do you believe writers need to be?