Remembering is an imaginative act, actually, with some things dropped or canceled out while others are embellished. People do this all the time, sometimes for the pure pleasure of remembering things the way they want to with focus upon what is best, sometimes in service of making sense of difficult experiences. All of us tell our stories to ourselves and others. All of us try to make them better. Writers may just be a bit more compelled by this, but everyone does it, and everyone listens.
We all – readers and writers alike – place our experience in our collections of tales of what was, could have been, or could be, and we share them with others. There is deep satisfaction in wonder, and there is joy in creation and telling. Perhaps the difference is no more than that writers seek ways to communicate beyond the limits of the immediate spheres in which they live.
The freedom to remember selectively and expansively – dropping one thing, embellishing another, adding something that was not there – transforms what actually happened (and can never be truly remembered the way it was) into something of value that does not depend upon the “facts.” It is such a precious and natural freedom. It opens the writer to discovering a story – and perhaps meaning and truth – in a wild, crazy, and delightfully subjective, accidental way. It is all fiction, and it is all real.
Isn’t this also true for the person walking along a river merely reliving something that happened yesterday?