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Personal History
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"History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation."
-- Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending

When I was twenty I wrote a weekly column for the local newspaper. Inspired by James Thurber's fanciful depictions of his family history I occasionally delved into my own not very deep past for some vague recollection of a childhood experience around which I could create an essay. Even then my memory was so poor that my "personal essays" were mostly an excuse for me to make up stories which is what I loved to do.

Over the years I've often reached back to my childhood for essay material, mostly for amateur publications, but for newspapers and magazines as well. And here I am, four decades after my old newspaper column expired, wringing a few hundred words out of the painful memory of dropping a flat iron on my foot when I was a bored kid in an antique shop.

I've come to regret all the years of remembering and reworking. What sort of perspective can a twenty year-old, or a thirty-year old have on his childhood.? Surely, at my age, I would be able to see those events more clearly, would be able to better judge their significance, if only I could see them at all through the layers of re-imagining and reevaluating and memories of recollections.

All of us rewrite our stories as we go along but I wonder if writers are even more prone to do so? It is hard for me to say for sure if things I remember as being pivotal in my life really were so or only seem that way because I happened to agonize over turning them into pieces of writing because at a certain age, during a particular time in my life, they felt important to me. Or maybe not even important -- just the basis for a good story!

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