Your Brain on Memory

Your body knows what to do with your story. I didn’t say your body does what you want it to do with your story. I said it knows what to do with your story. We’re built to store and delete and revise and interpret. The hippocampus plays a major part in learning and memory. It is a vulnerable structure that is impaired and damaged by many things and the hippocampus being an integral part of the limbic system is noteworthy because your limbic system locks in certain responses to certain stimuli and your hippocampus is critical for regulating your learning, encoding, and consolidating memory. It’s said that the hippocampus stores long-term memories and makes those memories resistant to forgetfulness. And memory and learning fit together closely, and memory, like many brain functions, becomes stronger with practice. I want to provide you with practice opportunities that you can use to strengthen your writing and pull powerfully from memory. So, when I speak of misremembering, I am referring to the ways in which the heart vetoes the brain. Often times without our conscious knowledge. What we know emotionally and what is known intellectually ain’t the same thing. The data of what happened on the worst day of your life is different from the emotional recording of that same event.

Writing moors me. Drawing from different experiences and collecting them all in one place on the page helps me make sense of my world and my otherness…my in-between-ness. I am always interested in how place and history inform the stories we tell and how we tell them. I am fascinated by how different memoirs from writers in other countries are. Their points of reference are different. So too is their lexicon and cultural awareness. It produces storytelling that is unlike what I encounter in the US. I am often seeking a reckoning or a sense of belonging in the writing. If not for myself, then for my ancestors. That’s just me. I’m elegiac and long-memoried. That’s the writer that I am. What kind of writer are you? What are you doing with your gloriously complex life? Do you believe it deserves to be written down? I certainly do. There is an importance in storytelling. I think it assists us in having empathy and perspective. I also think reflecting on society and oneself within that society is a necessary thing.


Design a space. This could be a bulletin board, a dedicated space for you to pull from replete with images, words, anything that holds a memory for you or can help you access one. This wall can serve as a starting point for writing and illustrating sequenced narratives if you like.

Or if you have a writer’s notebook, you can capture memories and experiences in a section of your notebook for future writing.

Decide how you’ll share your memories. I’m a post-it-note enthusiast. There are tacked up cards all over my writing space. The things written on them often become doorways as I write. Words, images, names, moments, dates, and memories. I don’t always know how I’m going to use them. I just know that they exist in my consciousness and not on the periphery either. There are certain stories stay with me. Like skin. I bring them everywhere. They enter every room with me. To interact with me is to interact with those stories, whether you know it or not. The things that make up those with-me-always-stories are captured often in one way or another on notecards, particularly when it’s stream of consciousness writing.

I want to share a few examples of memoir(ing) that stick with me for different reasons.

But first, watch this clip from the Trevor Noah show as he interviews Jennette McCurdy, a child star who wrote a memoir entitled “I’m Glad My Mom Died.”

I just want you to know you are not required to be polite in the telling. You can be honest. Brutally so if you must. Again, the telling and the approach belong to you. You will be revealed regardless. Perhaps that inevitability is why I prefer to just say the hard shit with zero punches pulled since folks are bound to be offended by the truth no matter how I offer it.