Fact or fiction: my earliest memory (probably)

I participated in an exceptional and eye-opening workshop with Jacob Sam-La Rose at the Deptford Lounge last Saturday. The lounge in itself is an exciting venue. Above the library on the ground floor function room after function room of vastly different pursuits: children learning foreign languages, people adorned in gowns taking a dance class. In our room 4 writers huddled in a workshop facilitated by Something Human.

Jacob tasked us with creating a distinction between fact and fiction. Each of us having a different view of whether the truth was ever motivated, facts were ever sacred, or whether one ever led to the other. Are facts fragments of the truth. Is something true (or should I say pure) even if there’s scurrilous intent. Categorising the something us ‘true’ led us to memory. This is a topic that has always fascinated.

It’s apparent when you hear a friend entertaining others with a story. You are listening to that friend’s version of events. That friend may remember it more fondly, may have been part of the event in which they relish more than you do. That friend could embellish for entertainment, like we all do. Saliently, whether you’re a writer who writes from life experience, or a writer who imagines people they’ve never met doing things they’ve never done, the interpretation of the objects – the facts- are what create the impact of the story.  The sky was vivid blue and the sun blaring – but Mary (a character) may prefer the winter and feel most joyous at sunset.

Sam led us through our labyrinthine memories. We tried to remember things we didn’t remember, which took facts we felt to be true and attempted to add the context that had long since sailed away. We were prompted with words (milk, red, moon) and wrote our earliest available memory associated to that word. Milk led me to write about a memory gifted from someone else. My partner moved to London from Canada three years ago. It’s always enjoyable and entertaining to delve into the cultural differences of our different upbringings. Milk reminded me of one of these instanced, inspiring me to write:

When David was a young boy he drank Milk. He drank Milk at restaurants, as his Apéritif. Milk at home, in his den, while he played video games. It satisfied his tastebuds until dinner time. He did this in Canada, where you buy milk by the gallon and store it in a humungous fridge; so did his cousins and all of his siblings. This is disgusting.

Childhood is an ample source for memories you don’t really remember. In fact, so is what I had for dinner or what happened on my tube journey this morning. Memory isn’t an electrocardiogram, that can be observed and rolled through. It’s sights, sounds and smells. You remember flashes and feelings, and then prop them up on your assumptions. My earliest memory is similar. I remember a kite dropping to the floor and I remember disappointment. I think I remember making it in class and glowing with delight at the thought of it soaring.

After our preliminary and philosophical discussion about truth, fiction, fact, and memories, Jacob requested that we describe our earliest memories.

Here’s mine.

I think.

I’d made a kite in nursery class that day. I layered the glue on thin splints of wood and attached the frame to the quadrants. It never occurred to me that what we were doing was playtime and destined to fail. I fantasised all day about getting the kite – peach coloured and green – home to soar above my garden. I sombrely worked out a contingency plan if a gust of wind ripped the limp string from my fingers, and flew it into the cherry tree. Would my Dad climb on to the garage to rescue it for me? When I got home that day I bolted out of the back door, released the kite behind me and watch it drop to the floor.

One of the many lessons I took from the workshop is that, in writing, the event doesn’t necessarily have to be the truth. It just has to ring true.


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