In a novel I read recently, you start out convinced that this woman’s divorce happened because her husband had at least one affair, possibly several. By the end, you are persuaded that actually, the husband remained faithful. His wife was just overtired (looking after their only child) and paranoid. The problem wasn’t infidelity. It was trust. The facts, when rearranged, also rearrange our ideas about the characters.
It set me thinking about history and the way it works. Generally, history is written by those with power. But what about personal history? Can you change the way you think about your past and thereby change your perception of yourself? Can you change the part of yourself that holds that power?
Mr W (my year nine history teacher) had an unusual gap between his two front teeth and his big pale hands had long dark hairs on the backs. He would say “History is just one damn thing after another. That’s what Henry Ford said.” He seemed to find it amusing. I dismissed Ford’s view as simplistic because, having gone on to do history right through school, I learned how so many things are related and I studied all the complex, entwined reasons for why things turned out the way they did.
My memory is as patchy as our back lawn. I remember, in a storage space under the pitched roof, my family had a wooden box of unordered photos. Every now and then I loved to retreat into that little cavity and flick through them. My memory is exactly like that box. It is not chronological and it is definitely not neatly labelled in albums.
My perception of myself is bolstered by snapshots from my past. Stowed in that little, disordered cave inside my brain, I have selected certain images of my brothers and my parents and my classmates at school. From those pictures, I have arranged the story of me. But is it the only possible story?
Some days I watch my daughter enviously, comparing insipid eight-year-old-me to her strength of character and her will to keep trying. Until now, I have credited her strength to her father’s genes because I have written my history in shy lavender blue. But maybe that is all perception. Maybe if I adjust the focus knob, I will find bold streaks of high-lighter yellow. Maybe, by sewing those streaks into my memories, they will persist into the present. Other people see me differently to how I do. Why shouldn’t I?
The other night I began the process of rearranging things. I simply listed some dates and some events and I realised that there were factors I hadn’t even considered in the story I have been telling myself about who I am. Simple facts jumped into the limelight and made me feel stronger and more logical.
Imagine if, by simply re-joining the dots, one could untie particular knots in one’s self-image. I almost feel like I could rewrite my personality, my self-belief in this simple way. I think it’s a project worth working on. I want to erase some of the victim scenes and write in a little more of the star.