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Your Origin Story Is Probably a Myth

As I write my memoir about my childhood, I am constantly sorting through voices in my head. Memories that I have taken for granted for decades of my life begin to reveal their sources in my parents' voices, their motivations, their interest in shaping my personal narrative. Do any of us know our origins? Our early years? What happened? Parents must, and do, fill in the gaps, but their words may not equal the memories imprinted on our bodies. Do they emphasize a violent encounter that imprints on us prelinguistically? Do adults try to rewrite a day of torment as not so bad? Or replace years of trauma with fake smiles in a Polaroid shot? In the book The Good Story: Exchanges on Truth, Fiction and Psychotherapy, written in collaboration with his psychotherapist, Arabella Kurtz, J.M. Coetzee wonders about the childhood "memories" we take as reliable stories of our origins but that are actually edited selections made adults: "I ask this question with the example in mind of how adults continually entrench memories in children: 'Don't you remember how...' I am properly wary of using myself as an example, but let me nevertheless assert that I have no recollection of the time before I was about four that was not reinforced, if not actually inst ...

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Apocalypse of Memory

"My story has to start with that night. I don't remember anything about it, though I was there, nevertheless it's where my story has to start. When something big like that night happens, time divides into before and after, the before time breaks up into dreams, the dreams dissolve to darkness." – Indra Sinha, Animal's People I am reading Animal's People by Indra Sinha about the 1984 Bhopal disaster in India, often called the worst industrial disaster in world history. This novel is on my syllabus next semester for my new "Environmental Apocalypse" course. My reading of literature could be divided into three categories: (1) memoirs, which I read obsessively to study the form as I write my own book, (2) literary works that I use in my Environmental Studies classes in my job as a professor, and (3) essays and novels I read purely for pleasure with no productive goal in mind. But when I read, these boundaries pretty much fall away, and all blend together. For example, teaching Environmental Apocalypse overlaps with my memoir: living in, steeped in, childhood trauma, and not knowing if you will survive feels apocalyptic in many ways. I didn't have that language as a child or a teenager. I would never have said, My parents' marriage is an apoc ...