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WHAT'S ON YOUR MIND?

Caption, Capture

11 comments | October 22nd, 2012

(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)

11 comments

  • RuthWells

    Posted on October 23, 2012

    Time to watch “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” again…

    (I do know what you mean. My memory has gotten ATROCIOUS.)

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  • Wendy

    Posted on October 23, 2012

    I always think I have a good memory until I run into some old friends and hear, ‘remember the time we all got together and…’ and I have no idea what they are talking about. Do I only remember what was photographed by me and documented like your mother directed – and the rest is all gone? I sure hope not, but it seems that way sometimes! :-)

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  • Laura

    Posted on October 23, 2012

    Honestly, for me it’s been about blogging. I just keep a small, personal blog to allow family back home to keep up with life after we moved across the country. Having it small means I can blog about pretty mundane things without worrying about an “audience,” but keeping it public so my in-laws and employers can see it keeps it mostly positive. Some days I’ll just post a picture here or there, but now I could tell you exactly where we went for our last anniversary, everything we did on that last vacation, etc – it’s just enough to keep the memories – and the details! – alive.

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    • Rachel

      Posted on October 23, 2012

      Same here! Just a small, personal blog inspired by Mir. I started it for the grandparents and great-grandparents but now I make sure to post anything I’ll want to remember down the road.

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  • The Other Leanne

    Posted on October 23, 2012

    First, I remember a field trip to L.A. City Hall (and Olvera Street, and the LaBrea tar pits) when I was seven…with the old Brownie camera we had; and I remember too clearly picking up the pictures at the drugstore and…they were all a hideous blur. I remember crying.
    I had a teacher who told us all to write the names on our class pictures. I only did it a little, but I’m glad I did.
    I take a lot of photos in my job, so I can document the successes. Seeing engagement in the previously un-engaged keeps me focused on the “why” of it.
    I take photos of spiders and spiderwebs, leaves in autumn, because I want to remember the simple joys of looking up and seeing something I didn’t expect to see (“I am grateful for every stupid minute of my stupid little life”–American Beauty).
    I write in my journal so I don’t forget how far I’ve come when I was miserable, or, when I am miserable, that I have experienced joy and peace and contentment and will again.
    I always carry my camera, and I actually download the photos and sometimes I print them, and I often post them on Facebook (with captions and explanations!), because I want to remember. The older you get, the more you want to rely on something than your own memory.

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  • Rosie

    Posted on October 24, 2012

    My mom has Alzheimer’s, and her mother before her had Alzheimer’s. When I visit her in the nursing home, she has no idea who I am, and sometimes isn’t even aware that I’m there. I often wish I could go to my mom and ask her for parenting advice or even what I was like as a child. I can only rely on my own spotty memories and faded pictures in my baby book.

    You might think that this would result in me wanting to document every little thing, so that even if someday I lose my own memories, they are captured somewhere. But, no. I do take lots of pictures, but I never do anything with them. No scrapbooks, no baby books for my kids. I always intend to, but never make the time. I always want to capture my thoughts and memories of events in writing so that my kids can read about them, but again, I haven’t.

    I do try to live in the moment and create happy memories for my kids. I think that it’s the big picture that people remember about their childhoods; how they felt most of the time, whether it was a happy childhoom, whether their parents were there for them. The big events, like vacations and parties, might stand out, but I think they’re of less importance.

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  • dad

    Posted on October 24, 2012

    So, you have already have experience with my favorite drug, Versed, which provides convenient amnesia of those painful and yucky times when they are bright enough to administer it before trauma. I’m sure the government has secret drugs at their disposal that will cause one to call up memories hidden deep within the brain. I bet we have the capability to mandate to forget the bad and remember the good. The hard part is knowing which is which.

    I have recently noted that there were incidents in my youth which, at the time, I viewed as horrific that I now look back at fondly such as the sleep deprivation routinely required to get through architecture school. The friendships solidified then have lasted over fifty years. I attribute that longevity to the binding force of mutually shared misery and am really glad I didn’t take Versed.

    And then there is raising kids! Don’t get me started. The ability to remember is both a gift and a cross to bear.
    In any event, you should have taken the advise from your mother.

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  • StephLove

    Posted on October 25, 2012

    I am having such trouble with this now on my blog. I’m going through things I can’t write about, because of people I know who read it, and it feels hard to come up with blog posts that feel honest and relevant. Sometimes I insert little details that mean nothing to anyone but me I think will jog my memory in the future if I re-read the post. (Okay, when, I re-read all my posts at some point.) And I try to write between the lines and sometimes I just say there’s something I’m not saying but I try not to do that too much because it drives me crazy on other people’s blogs.

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    • Arnebya

      Posted on October 25, 2012

      The one thing I’ve found to help with this is guest posting anonymously elsewhere. Sure, you can’t promote that post to your friends, but it might make you feel better to get it out and people will still respond/comment/possibly lift you up (even if you’re still vague).

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  • Arnebya

    Posted on October 25, 2012

    Why does it seem like all the bad crap is embedded in our brains no matter how vigorously we shake (Yes. Yes, I have actually done this. An Etch A Sketch it ain’t). I am horrible at documenting, even with my blog. I feel like even if I caption something perfectly, the memory of that thing and all its cirucumstances might still get lost. There is a photo of me in a felt and sweater majorette uniform. It is labeled as ’85 — 7th Grade — Monique. This photo makes me smile every time I run across it because I remember we were such good friends, Monique and I. But how we got to the parade, what we did after? Gone. (She’s gone, too, having simply vanished after high school.) My point is, I have no suggestions on how to retain. I think back to my oldest daughter at my son’s age and I come up blank, even when I refer to pictures.

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  • Cindy

    Posted on October 26, 2012

    My ex husband passed away last year from cancer. He was a drug addict and alcoholic and that made our relationship SUPER challenging. He had two kids when we met and I fell in love with them as much as him. Then we had a child together and that helped me decide to divorce because I didn’t want the baby brought up in the same lifestyle as the older kids. So the older kids have lots of memories, many of them not great, and the younger one has very few memories, most of them relatively positive. As we looked through pictures and I handed out advice (like, your dad loved you all, keep the good memories, let go of the bad), I ran across a picture, long forgotten and shoved in a box. It was of my ex getting into the van we drove for years. There was a bouquet of wildflowers that he had picked for me (in a beer can vase, natch) sitting in the console between him and me (the picture taker). And all of a sudden, these memories came flooding back….he picked flowers for me all the time back then. So in comforting my kids, I got a memory gift of my own. He wasn’t a bad person, just a person with a bad addiction.

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