(by Mir from here)
I am obviously given to documenting through words, whenever possible. My penchant for writing about my feelings, the day's events, and whatever else goes back to early childhood. But the saying is that "a picture's worth a thousand words," right? Back in ancient times, or, you know, the 70's, when I was a kid who regularly went to sleep-away camp, what I wanted most in the world was a camera. Of course everyone in the world owns a camera now, seems like, but back then it wasn't so common. I don't think the standard 110 cameras—like the one my parents surprised me with one summer before I left for camp—were all that expensive, really, but you had to pay for film, and developing, and if you were a kid who knew nothing about composing a decent picture, your roll of 36 exposures might yield two or three decent shots.
That camera was my pride and joy. Finally, I'd have pictures of my friends and my adventures! I came home at the end of summer and pestered my parents until my film had been dropped off and the pictures came back. I thumbed through every blurry, too-far-away, just-missed-the-moment shot with pride. This was AWESOME.
When we picked up the first set of prints, my mother said to me, "Now let me tell you what you need to do with your pictures each time you get them back." I probably rolled my eyes (or wanted to, if I didn't dare to actually do it). Of course my mother had some directive to issue. I already knew what to DO with my pictures—bring them to school to show my friends, hang them up in my room, and generally bask in their reminder that I had far-away friends and a pretty cool camera. My reverie was interrupted by my mother's continuing instructions, however. "Get a pen, and go through and write on the back of every single photo. Write where it was taken, when it was taken, and the names of everyone in it." I mumbled agreement, meanwhile thinking this was the dumbest thing I'd ever heard. EVERY photo? I knew where they were taken! I knew all of those smiling faces! I didn't need to write down the names of the girls I spent my summers with; there was no way I'd ever need help identifying those all-important compadres.
I continued to keep a journal, and write letters, of course. But owning a camera and having photographic proof of my summer adventures somehow made my experiences feel more legitimate.
Years passed, and eventually I learned that my strengths lie in writing, rather than in visual capturing of the moment. (The joke's on me, of course, because now with digital cameras my less-than-stellar efforts cost me no wasted film and/or prints.) During a household move a number of years back, I opened one of those boxes of "stuff" that had been moved from house to house to house over the years; in it, among other things, were some pictures from that first camera I'd taken to camp all those years ago.
Despite my mother's instruction, I hadn't captioned them. And it's true that I was easily able to identify camp as the setting, and because I knew it was camp I was able to narrow down the possible time to a three-year time window (or so), but I couldn't identify most of the faces. And I felt a stab of regret at not having heeded my mom's advice. Those girls had been so important to me! And now all I could say for sure was that this one was named Sue, and this other one was… Barb somebody. Plus I had a vague memory of that other girl being a jumprope fiend. But the details have slipped away, and I can't get them back.
Last week I had surgery, and a few days later I went to my husband in a panic over not being able to remember anything about it—not even getting dressed and leaving the hospital afterward. The lapse is because they gave me something that affected my memory, and really, it doesn't matter if I can't remember a wheelchair ride down the hall. But I felt I might have lost something, there. Not being able to remember is unsettling. What I'd forgotten there was mostly pain and discomfort, so no real loss, right? But not being able to remember the names of my camp-mates in the photos really did feel like a loss, even though I haven't thought about them in decades.
That got me wondering about what does and doesn't get embedded in our memories. Wouldn't it be wonderful to always be able to forget the bad stuff, and remember the good? A sort of cosmic, deliberate captioning of the snapshots we want to hold on to, and a turning away from those which are blurry, hurtful, and don't help to feed our happiness? I think I try to do this when I write—I look to find the funny parts in the events I would otherwise remember as just plain awful, and I try to make sure I solidify my memory of the good parts, because I want to hold on to those. But I also think it's human nature to assume "I'll remember," and then we neglect that captioning we'll need a few years down the road to jog our memories.
It's an interesting strategy, stopping and asking myself "What will I remember about this time when I look back in 5 years… 10 years… 20 years?" Sometimes the answer helps to clarify what I need to be focusing on right now. Sometimes the answer surprises me. But knowing how much that seems "so important" can slip away once the moment is past… well, that can sometimes lend some much-needed perspective. My goal right now is to attach the right captions: note the important stuff, let the rest go. I want to look back and enjoy the memories, not wonder what I'm looking at.
How do you do at captioning your life? Are you remembering the right things? Any tips for keeping the scales tipped towards the good stuff?
(for more Mir go to WouldaShoulda.com)