HOW TO:Make a memory.

HOW TO:Make a memory.

Issue 52

, Starters

  • Words Lamorna Ash
  • Photo Duc Cuong Ha

Between 1983 and 1985, French writer Annie Ernaux obsessively chronicled her mother’s decline after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. These diary entries, published in 1997 as the short memoir I Remain in Darkness, have a relentless, agonizing perspicacity: The nursing home’s stench of piss and shit; the patients’ screams echoing through the corridors; her mother’s sores, her mother’s emaciated legs, her mother’s strange moods and momentary resurfacings (“I’m afraid my condition may be irreversible,” she remarks some months before her death).

This is how to remember a moment: You write it down as soon as it is over. Spare no detail—the weather, the color of the walls, every single thing that’s said (you will not accurately recall every single thing that’s spoken: Record all conversations you have). It would be quicker to photograph the moment, of course. It would be easier, less emotionally taxing. But writing it all down, as much as you can bear, reminds you, in the way a photograph can’t, that you were there inside the experience, trying to make some meaning out of it. 

In transforming her notes on her mother’s deterioration into a publishable text, Ernaux realized that “the consistency and coherence achieved in any written work—even when its innermost contradictions are laid bare—must be questioned whenever possible.” It’s a reminder that when we write to remember, we can only really illuminate the unequal relationship between what actually happened and our attempts to reconstruct it. What we are preserving, most of all, is our longing to savor and salvage the past.

The truth is—even if you’re a writer like Ernaux, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2022 and has published over 20 books filled with autobiographical events from her life—most of your memories will come to be irretrievably lost. And, whether you record them or not, you will remember the important moments: both the wonderful ones and those you wish you could forget. But if it helps you to process the congeries of personal experience, write it all down. Ultimately, nothing can guard against time’s obliterating work, but that’s not to say we shouldn’t keep trying. 


Take a look inside

The full version of this story is only available for subscribers

Want to enjoy full access? Subscribe Now

Subscribe Discover unlimited access to Kinfolk

  • Four print issues of Kinfolk magazine per year, delivered to your door, with twelve-months’ access to the entire archive and all web exclusives.

  • Receive twelve-months of all access to the entire archive and all web exclusives.

Learn More

Already a Subscriber? Login

Your cart is empty

Your Cart (0)