Fallacies of Memory

I’d been giving some thought to writing my autobiography. Then I quickly answered – No.

I find the idea of an autobiography suspicious. I believe a person is simply too close to the subject to write about their life subjectively and accurately. And when a second writer is brought in to assist, it is their words and interpretations of events that tend to taint the purity of what the autobiographical experience should be. It’s a slippery-slope.

Besides, no way am I famous enough nor has my life been interesting enough to write about. (And some things just shouldn’t be shared. To paraphrase Dorothy Parker, if I related too many details of my life you wouldn’t want to be in the same room with me.) If an autobiography is to be written, it should be by someone who other people expect have led a life worth reading about.

Also, I’ve been questioning the validity of my memory of late. My concern is not about an onset of dementia or Alzheimer’s. Rather, I’m referring to a messy entanglement of recollections that have a name:  The Mandela Effect.

The term, coined by theorist Fiona Broome in 2009, refers to the phenomenon wherein a significant amount of people believe an event occurred when in reality it did not. In this case, the death of Nelson Mandela inside a South African prison in the 1980’s. Broome observed that a great many people, including herself, believed that happened. In actuality, the one-time President of South Africa died in 2013 at the age of 95.

Some other examples of this situation include:

Recalling a painting of Henry VIII holding a turkey leg when no such painting exists.

Thinking New Zealand is northeast of Australia rather than southeast.

There’s a movie called “Shazaam” starring Sinbad in the 1990’s, when it’s really “Kazaam” (1996) and starred Shaquille O’Neal.

(How’s your collective memory? Try this quiz.)

I’ve come to discover that I have a few of my own personal Mandela Effects, facts that I’ve erroneously convinced myself were true:

I’d been searching for a song from my teens for some time. “Darkness, Darkness” by Ian Hunter. I plugged as many configurations of the question as I could into various search engines but came up without a match. Yet I could distinctly recall the melody and a few of the words looping in my head and Ian Hunter’s distinctive voice. Finally, I entered only the opening lyrics Darkness, Darkness/Be my pillow…And there it appeared. Written and performed by – The Youngbloods? Specifically, Jesse Colin Young?

How the heck did I convince myself all these years it was by Ian Hunter? Maybe if you stretch your imagination, he and Jesse Colin Young might sound alike. No wonder I could never find it.

Here’s another. I lived in Denver for a short time. One of the sites of the city that intrigued me was the von Richthofen Castle in the Montclair community. Wow, how interesting it was that the infamous Red Baron had a home in Denver, Colorado! I’ve shared this bit of trivia with many people, and no one questioned it. If they had, they would have enlightened me to the fact that the castle once belonged to Baron Walter von Richthofen, not Manford, the renowned World War I German fighter pilot. (In my defense, Walter was Manford’s uncle.)

Now, here’s the one that enlightened me to this condition. I was talking with friends about cigarette ads of bygone days when I made the claim, “Tom Selleck was the original Marlboro Man.” They questioned the fact, as they should have, but I was 100% sure I’d heard the claim in an expose’ about Selleck, and I could distinctly remember the ads depicting him as the advertisement icon. My friends, with the help of Google and their phones, immediately shot my statement down. The original Marlboro Man was rancher and philanthropist Robert Morris, who died in 2019 at the age of 90.

So, I imagined the expose’? But I can still see the rugged-cowboy image of Selleck so clearly in my mind, cigarette in his fingertips. Or is that just him from one of my favorite westerns Quigley Down Under? (In my lame defense, Selleck did appear in ads for Salem cigarettes in the 70’s.) What concerns me most about this realization is that, even after discovering the facts, I still have a very distinct memory of what I imagined as being true. Tom Selleck was the original Marlboro Man remains indelibly ingrained within my psyche. I can’t shake it.

What other muddled, crisscrossed remembrances are tumbling and tangling about in my brain? Have you any? Please share if you do?

This brings me back to where I began: The chronicling of one’s life. I really have been considering writing about the events (or selected events) I’ve lived. Now, for good reason, to help me sort out the truth from my own personal fiction. If I choose to proceed, I’ll make sure to do lots of fact-checking and rechecking.

Gordon Gravley


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