Author L.E. Henderson, on how her selective remembrance of bad times in childhood was designed to conform to a personal narrative:
... Why had I believed such a terrible myth? After the sixth grade, I had “needed” to believe my experience had been purely black to match my feelings in the aftermath. To do otherwise would have invited cognitive dissonance, the anxiety that arises when you hold two contradictory beliefs at once. I had edited out anything good because I had “needed” to justify the intensity of my pain. But, in doing so, I had actually made the pain worse and for many years I had lived with a crippling illusion. I had not been exactly unconscious of my friend or my fight in the hallway and my black eye, but I had banished those memories into the shadows of irrelevancy because they were bad fuel for brooding.
I come back a lot to something Brad Warner likes to tell people: When you sit long enough with yourself, and you become honest with yourself, you realize there was never a time when you didn't know the truth of what was going on inside you and around you.
Maybe that "always" is a partial delusion — maybe you're just waking up to the truth in a way that only feels like you've "always" known it — but the fact that you can come to that conclusion changes everything. If you wake up all the more quickly at any given moment to how you're full of b.s., you stand less of a chance of becoming a spreader of b.s. and a believer, however unadmitted, in b.s.
Those last couple of words, "fuel for brooding", zinged me especially hard. Too much of my time in years past was spent seeking out fuel for brooding, trying to feed myself experiences and narratives that confirmed an insular and defeatist worldview. I know I still have defeatist and insular ideas — name one person who doesn't have them at least sometimes! — but at least now I can see them all the more readily as just that, ideas. Not things that automatically have to be taken seriously simply because they happen to be in my head at a given moment. Ideas may be the fuel for all things that are not themselves ideas, but that doesn't mean all ideas are worth stuffing into the gas tank.
This whole business of how we become the stories we tell ourselves is so easy to get wrong and in so many ways. For one, there isn't necessarily any connection between how we do this for ourselves and how we do this in a more public or professional capacity. An accomplished writer isn't necessarily a more insightful human being, because people are sensationally good at compartmentalizing and rationalizing. What happens on the page, stays on the page — or, what happens on the page justifies everything that doesn't happen on the page, even if the two have nothing to do with each other.
This also goes back into the myth of the Tormented Artist, that the only true art comes from suffering, and all the rest of that folderol. I get the impression the reason this particular falsehood is so persistent is because from the outside, to the uninitiated — yes, even other artists! — it sure looks like that. Creative activity does involve a lot of genuinely hard and thankless work, but that's not all there is. Another myth it took me years to shrug off.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind