The memory that we choose to remember is what is interesting, Werner Herzog said.
But why is this important to me? Memory is never perfect. If you think of memory as a map, the geography is always changing. And there are places left blank, sort of like the ‘Here be Dragons’ sketched into old maps. Some of the time, I leave these parts alone. They must be unknown for a reason. And I’ve got to work with what information I have. That means better understanding what I already remember.
Other times, I pore over the blank areas. Why do I have no recollection of that event? It must be repressed for a reason, right? Something juicy from my family history? It’s this type of thinking that often leads me to hope my backstory is more interesting that it actually is.
I recently came across the above piece of writing from my days as a freelance journalist. It is a written form of a story that I often tell orally. More than 10 years ago, my wife and lived in West Africa. I was a trailing spouse who didn’t have much of a financial reason to work but wanted to be set in a career I cared about. I learned quickly that one of the great afflictions of trailing spouses is you don’t know what to do with this freedom.
You aren’t obligated to work, so for perhaps the first time in your adult life you are free to do as you wish. Many people thrive in this reality and carve out very productive existences. I was one of those who stared every morning at the same abyss: If I could do anything, what would I do?
This lead to a flame out of this life. It wasn’t a lack of desire that was to blame—it was focus. I would swing from one project to the next, throwing myself in the new ideas a full 100 percent. The next day I would decide my work from yesterday was no longer worth my time. So I would scrap it and rush to start a massive project afresh.
After a few years of this, and very little to show for free work, I decided I needed more structure in my life.
But this may be one of the few works from that time period that addresses the problem. I edited it a little bit, but it is funny how this version and the one I tell still lines up. It’s the memory we choose to remember, I guess.