Everything that happens to us enters our mind naked. Unadorned. The smallest events and the biggest episodes are devoid of clothing when they are first implanted into our memory.
But we don’t like that. We can’t look a naked stranger right in the eye. Their complete exposure is the only thing we can think about. Naked memories are like naked strangers. We can’t look right at them. We can’t talk with them. Their very nakedness drives everything from our mind. It paralyses us.
But unlike the naked stranger, we can force clothes onto our memories. We can dress them up as we see fit. We can attach any narrative we want. Spin them however we choose.
A few years ago, I lived in a house with three good friends. It was a tough time for me. I had three jobs but somehow I still struggled to pay rent. There was one point at which I didn’t have enough money to buy food. I felt powerless. Humiliated.
At least that’s what I remember. Was I actually on the verge of going hungry? I don’t know. Maybe I had one shopping trip remaining in my bank account? Maybe I really was unable to buy food? The exact circumstances are blurry.
But the story of having no money for food is a more useful interpretation than me just being poor. So I’ve twisted and distorted the episode. I’ve taken something naked and dressed it in a way that makes it nice to look at. I can think back, tell myself that story and use it as fuel. I can use it to kindle the fire and propel me forward.
But I’m aware that it’s an unfaithful retelling. I can sense that much about that particular memory. So what about my other memories? What about my recall of other events that I’ve deemed critical to my life and motivation? What other previously naked events have I dressed up to suit my own purposes?
If I can do it for a single episode in my life, I can do it for every other one. That realisation makes the faith I have in my own recollections weaker, and forces me to ask myself a question. A question I’m unsure I want the answer to: If I am able to fool myself one time, how do I know that I’m not fooling myself all the time?