Saturday, February 21, 2015

Catharsis, Nostalgia, and a Confused Idea of Making Memories

I remember a time when cell phones didn't exist, when an Apple II with green text was the best technology I'd ever used, and a 35mm camera required thumb rolling after a picture click. I remember having a high school and college pen pal (yes, we wrote letters to one another), spending the little allowance money I had developing what might turn out to be overexposed film cartridges, and filling photo albums that were nothing more than sticky plastic sleeves in a cheap book. 

Times were simpler, more enjoyable, and more genuine because we actually lived in the moments afforded us. We spent less time being electronically accessible and more time enjoying "catch up" with people we hadn't seen or talked to in some time. One or two pictures sufficed to capture a moment and laughter among family and friends was the result of reminiscing verbally of times gone by as opposed to reliving, through tens and even hundreds of photos, moments that weren't nearly as enjoyed because we were too busy trying to capture the moment instead of live it. 

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I bring all of this up because the only perfect score I received in college speech was when I covered the topic of journaling. For years, I'd kept tiny, faux leather journals with heart-shaped locks, and I hid them among mismatched socks and days-of-the-week undies in my nightstand drawer. Most of the musings were trivial at best, and I think I spent more time trying to fabricate secrets and mystery than actually having anything substantial (or interesting) to contribute. After laughing over and tossing out the majority of my childhood scribbles (all unsubstantial and more a platform for drawing stick people), I forgot the art of writing down my thoughts and desperately trolled LiveJournal in hopes of receiving an access code for an online account. A few online handles later, I had a well-read journal where I "met" many people with whom I'm still in distant contact today. Thanks to Facebook, LiveJournal lost her luster, and we all moved on to more important forms of social gathering: status stalking. 

Along the way, I found myself forcing thoughts into journals but never really feeling satisfied with the results. Each time the contents of the book failed to align with my current life, I found myself reading over the atrocities and wanting to burn them, back over them, rip them to shreds. After successfully purging said ramblings from my bookshelves, I often found myself wondering if I'd done the right thing. Had I slighted future children and grandchildren the opportunity to read my feelings in a book? Had I destroyed a part of my own history that might be intriguing to someone 100 years from now? 

In October 2013, things in my life turned horribly upside down. What should have ended long before had been dragged like Hector to Achilles' chariot and torn to shreds with little to no dignity remaining. Crying to myself and others didn't seem to be working, so I made it over to Barnes and Noble and purchased a 5x7 journal. On the front, it said the following: 

Wednesday 27th
Live simply, expect little, give much.
Fill your life with love, 
scatter sunshine.
Forget self.
Think of others and do as you would be
done by.

I rediscovered the cathartic act of venting through writing, of hashing out on paper what I couldn't make sense of in my head, of having conversations with pens that I'd never have in person. The remainder of 2013 and majority of 2014 graced the pages of that simple book, and what moments I'd take to look back on what I'd written weren't interesting so much as they were a good reminder of where I started and how far I'd come. The transformation I made from Oct. 2013 to Dec. 31, 2014 saw me living more for myself and knowing what I want out of life. The problem with that book is that it's had its moment; it is simply a representation of feelings that I care never to rehash. 

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January of this year introduced me to something that deserves its own book with clean, crisp pages, devoid of past musings and ill thoughts. The only way to move forward is to avoid recapitulation of life instances that will mean nothing to my future generations. The memories that float around my head are all the memory I need of those moments; I want to live in the present and rid myself of any feelings plaguing the book that has occupied the basket under my nightstand for the last 15 months. So, today I bought a new journal. It contains no words, no advice to "live simply" or "forget self." The cover is adorned with beautiful flowers, a representation that speaks to my new feelings and refreshed self. 

In my opinion, the feelings I recorded and hashed out from Oct. 2013 to Jan. 18th of this year would have been just as well expressed on tissue and flushed down the toilet. They meant something in the moment, but they have no bearing on my current self, and only I need to remember most of those things any how. 

Next time you play with your children in the snow, go on a walk with your love, or open presents for a holiday, try to live in the moment without busting your back to capture it electronically. What you remember is often memory enough, and one picture is worth a thousand words, contrary to many of us falsely thinking that a thousand pictures express the joys of one moment. 

Susan Sontag once claimed that "[p]hotography implies that we know about the world if we accept it as the camera records it" ("On Photography" 1977). John Mayer's "3x5" is a song all about putting down the camera and enjoying moments with your own two eyes: "Today I finally overcame/Trying to fit the world inside a picture frame/...No more 3x5s..." (Room for Squares). 

I don't know any songs or essays about writing in journals, but I gather that living life often means experiencing without capturing on film or in writing an acontextual view of what we'd like to imagine we felt in a moment instead of what we actually remember feeling and experiencing. The other journal will be in the trash before I go to bed tonight. The new one will get its first entry immediately following. 

Are you living life or missing out on the experience trying to capture it so that you don't miss out on the experience? Wrap your brain around that one! ;)

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