Monday, March 30, 2009

"Get Back to Where You Once Belonged"

Plato said that writing would rob people of memory. We'd record what we wanted to remember thus decreasing our ability to mentally store it . We would no longer have to remember everything. Lists replaced mnemonic devices. Traveling bards were replaced with books, written plays, films, photo albums, and scrapbooks. Sure enough, we don't have the memory to remember to charge our cell phones let alone recall the entire story of The Iliad.

More and more I'm becoming disenchanted with our high-tech world. Today's pet peeves include computer social networks (yes, still) and other desperate attempts to record life as it's being lived instead of living it and letting it record itself.

I understand blogging. I don't understand Facebook. I've dallied with it for several weeks and find it frustrating for the most part. Sure, positive impacts are recognized such as family and friend connections. But then, that's just it. Have I really connected? Or do I just know a few more tidbits and statistics about these people? I haven't seen their eyes, smelled their breath, touched their hands, or heard voice tones. I only know what tidbits they willingly share. While it's encouraging to know they are okay for the most part, that their lives give them pleasure and growth, still, I am frustrated. Like smelling dinner but never eating it. 'I can't get no satisfaction.'

This morning I reclaimed some of myself from my Facebook 'Info' section and removed dozens of 'friends'. It's impossible for me to do right by nearly 90 people, so I'll try to keep it under 50. I certainly don't require ego boosting by having inflated numbers. My ego is well out of its box as it is. It's challenging enough to stay true to my in-the-flesh friends and they will always have priority.

Equally perplexing is the constant craving to over-photograph life in stills or video. New cameras make it easy for even a novice like me to take pretty decent pictures and I do. And it gives me joy to capture special moments, though I often notice that I think too much about recording a thing rather than simply enjoying it. Lately, my mind relaxes into the idea that moments can remain unshared, that it's okay to keep them to myself or share them with whoever is with me, but I don't have to exploit the moment via some form of media. After all I can't record every single fantastic or beautiful or zany thing I witness. The freedom to pick and choose - without regret - is sweet.

I do understand the persistent recording of children. They grow and change quickly and without some sort of record it's easy to forget their small antics and adorabilities. This is all well and good. Though sometimes it seems we make them the stars of our world and go overboard. Life becomes a movie and is seen as such; realness is abandoned. It's a subtle thing, and regrettable. I've photographed or video-recorded kids only to have them grab and turn my camera hand to look at their image in the viewing-window, judging whether what I've captured is good enough or needs to be redone. I see kids aping for the camera, one eye on it instead of on the activity in which they participate. This bothers me.

Of course, lots of things bother me.

Like scrapbooking. I don't get it. I've done it, I have scrapbooks of trips, of occasions, of my dog. They take up an enormous amount of space and rarely are perused. I find it rather boring looking at other people's scrapbooks preferring to look at just photos without all that crap that the sticker and doo-dad people sell as must-haves for scrappers. Cartoonish. My life isn't a cartoon and neither is anyone else's.

Tell me about your trip with your body, your voice, and show me the photos as you go. Photo albums are big enough without adding silliness which bloats them up to sometimes unwieldy sizes. Can you imagine where they'll end up? I am eternally thankful that my mom is not a scrapper. Oh, the miserable responsibility of lugging those things through life, passing them down and down, hauling them around because you just can't throw away Grandma's scrapbooks. I refuse to do that to my kids. My memories are mine. The kids each have a lovingly-made baby book from their father and me. The rest of my recorded life is either verbally passed along or being sparingly written in journals (feel free to toss them, kids. I wrote them for me, not you). There are photos. The rest can be imagined, romanticized, lived without. I encourage my kids to live their own lives not feed off of the residue of mine. "But they can learn from my life." Yeah, sure, but how about this? How about they learn their own version, unique to them, discovering it for the first time through reality rather than a two-foot square, four-inch thick scrapbook filled with your memories? Walking backward instead of forward through life is to merely exist, to stumble, to react rather than to observe, decide, and create. The wisdom necessary to pass down takes up little space. The rest is gleaned along the way.

I remember reading an article about a young, vital, athletic woman who cancer began to kill. Independent though she was she was swayed to follow traditional therapy to the fullest including massive radiation and chemotherapy. As the cancer began to retreat so did her quality of life. Bout after bout of nausea-inducing foreign matter entered her body. Her hair fell out. That didn't bother her. Her body shriveled. Again, something she could live with. Her time was swallowed up in table-lying sessions as toxins dripped into her veins and rendered her useless, slumped over her toilet, and drained of energy. Weeks turned into months. Her life became a blur, unreal. She couldn't enjoy the fresh air, good food, or the touch of her husband's hand. She'd nearly forgotten that life was more - much more - than the sickly smell of a hospital, the phoniness of a doctor's office, and waiting rooms crowded with sick people who mirrored her misery.

While lying in the medical facility on a narrow bed, needle stuck in her arm, familiar white walls and disinfectant smells surrounding her this woman had an intense flash of memory. She remembered feeling alive. She remembered laughing and running, the feel of lake water rushing over her swim-suit clad body, picking and eating juicy berries after hiking for hours in the mountains, and her husband's relaxed countenance as they met in bed at the end of the day. That was life. Hospital beds and sickness were not.

She knew she was going to die from the cancer. It had spread. She'd agreed to attack and attack hard. She won a few years beyond what doing nothing would have given her. But she realized a tipping point while on that gurney with the needle in her arm. She could continue traditional countermeasures and feel sick until she died or she could unplug, walk away, and live - truly live - until she died.

As she remembered life and the glory of it which once was hers she made her choice. With index finger and thumb she firmly pinched the needle and slid it out of her arm. She stood up. She decidedly set the needle and tubing down on the bed still warm from her tiny body. And she silently walked away.

She died to live. Truly live. Again, before the darkness that was destined to swallow her could.

And that darkness is destined to swallow us all. The over-recording, the frantic expressions of our existence, our desperate pleas to be heard, known, and remembered, our needle-in-the-arm attachment to a world that is toxic will not change the ending or even delay it. It only robs of fullness, deeper knowing, understanding, and growth. Of quality. Here and now. Heavy laden, mentally crowded, junk addicted minds and hearts trudge and plod where there should be light, curious footsteps carrying unfettered minds and vigorous hearts.

Pull the needle of society's lures and expectations.

Die - to a world that has no heart - to live - in a world that does.


tony said...

The Best Images I have ever made have been when i forgot my camera or it didnt work properly! I am forced to remember these "photos" in my head..........They seem much more vivid than the photos i have actually taken!

Anonymous said...

Upside to our 50th class reunion I denuded my scrapbook taking all wedding photos, news clips of a classmate picked for the Olympics who broke his leg a week before he was to appear, war clips etc. As they each picked up what pertained to them, they were overjoyed to be able to show them to family. So sometimes it's good. And I don't do it anymore!! AJ & UF

Cherie said...

I know what you mean, Tony, about the best photos being the mental ones we're forced to recall because we don't have the crutch of a camera. Taking photos is great fun especially when they turn out well. But the moment is somehow diminished - truncated- when the camera comes out. There's room for all of it - just takes discernment to know when to snap and when to just relax into the moment.

AJ: Your scrapbook sounds like the original kind that is years in the making. I have no problem with those. It's the ones that are made for each and every little - or big - event a person encounters. A trip to Disneyland, and another and another and another, every birthday, every anniversary, every car trip, dog show, concert, Valentine's Day is photographed and plopped into its own book along with all sorts of doo-dads and page-fillers and silliness and who cares anyway? The books pile up as well as the expense of all the doo-dads and scissors and cutters and books and photos. I know women who have entire rooms devoted to scrapbooking with shelves, tables, boxes, and cubby holes full of 'stuff'. It's big business these days, the scrapping of books. A few stories and a handful of photos would suffice - or a DVD of photos and a computerized slideshow with running commentary. I'm a curmudgeon. I know.

Your scrapbook memory is a jewel! I'm sure you and your friends thoroughly enjoyed reminiscing. Thanks for sharing.

IndianaJones said...

I think I'm weird. I read over and over again of peoples inability to really experience a moment with a camera in their if removed because recording of a moment is somehow bursting in and taking some shine from the moment itself. I have always been the opposite. I remember my first camera and how having it in my hands and recording what I noticed brought me to life. It has been that way ever since. My girls I think would find it odd if I didn't have a camera in my hands 90% of the day. I certainly don't think I fall in the category of documenting for the sake of sharing though as most of what I photograph makes it nowhere but into a box for me to linger over years later or on to the external hard drive so as not to clog up the computer. I think for some it is an artistic drive or at least for me it is. I'm not trying to achieve anything by it, I just simply can't not do it. Like I said, I'm probably weird because for me to live life fully is to photograph it.

Cherie said...

You, Summer, are NOT weird. You have a very very special gift. You are a natural photographer/artist. You aren't anywhere near the category of person I'm referring to in this post. It's in the intention - to photograph in order to show and gain attention, or, like you, because you are compelled by some inner voice that moves you in order for you, yourself, to come alive.

My son is a professional photographer, you know, and he's like you. He sees things that we novices don't. The camera is an extension of him and his photos move me the way yours do. To tears, sometimes, they are so beautiful. He photographs for the art of it, not for a scrapbook for show and tell.

I think this post was too hastily written but as I re-read it I think I'll leave it up because it's making me think about things - important to me things about my own judgmental attitude, critical spirit, and crankiness. But it's also helping me to see that I need to go inward for awhile and quit contemplating what everyone else is doing.

Thank you, Summer. You mean so much to me and here is part of the reason why - in your comment - you are honest.

I love you!

tshsmom said...

Once again we're in total agreement!

Facebook bores me. None of my high-school friends are on there, although I've found their kids. Twitter is the latest rage, and to me, is even MORE ridiculous.

My view on scrapbooking is the same as yours. I don't have the room for it! One or two pictures on a page, give me a break! I have a hard time finding room for the space efficient, pictures only, albums I have.

One thing my cousin and I have learned the hard way is do not mix pictures of your friends in with your family photos. We've been going through my grandma's photo albums, trying to label all the pictures of family members for our kids. Pictures of friends, neighbors, and church groups only confuse the process. Who are these people? Some of the pictures I was able to identify as friends of my parents from 50 yrs ago. I'm certain that future generations of our family could care less about my parents' long-forgotten friends.

Cherie said...

Good point about the friends and family. I know now that my mom is losing her memory all those answers about 'who's that?' are gone. No one knows.

Ben said...

Well put!