Monday, July 21, 2008

Less-than-total recall

As Morrissey once said, "The past is a strange place."

And it can be a tricky, unreliable place, as well. Flint Expatriates tends to traffic in memory and nostalgia, which means you should probably bring a healthy dose of skepticism with you when you read it.

Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert points out in his book Stumbling on Happiness that we don't store intact memories of complete events. We rack up little snippets and piece them back together, as needed:
"Remembering an experience feels a lot like opening a drawer and retrieving a story that was filed away on the day it was written, but...that feeling is one of our brain's most sophisticated illusions. Memory is not a dutiful scribe that keeps a complete transcript of our experiences, but a sophisticated editor that clips and saves key elements of an experience and then uses these elements to rewrite the story each time we ask to reread it."

And editors, as we all know, make mistakes. In his new memoir, The Night of the Gun, New York Times media writer David Carr details how the mistakes magnify when you add drugs and alcohol — two staples of Flint. Watch this video of Carr recounting one emblematic night and the slippery nature of memory.

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Thanks for commenting. I moderate comments, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. You might enjoy my book about Flint called "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City," a Michigan Notable Book for 2014 and a finalist for the 33rd Annual Northern California Book Award for Creative NonFiction. Filmmaker Michael Moore described Teardown as "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." More information about Teardown is available at