At the risk of extreme overdramatization: for the last year or so, I have been living in a personal computer purgatory. Nothing terribly threatening or challenging, just an iPhoto library that was full to bursting and a constant, destested pop-up window warning my start up disk was full. Thus, months – seasons, almost half a year's worth – of photos languish on my camera. The sad result of this rather dull conundrum is that I have been pathetically lax at snapping photos and capturing family memories.
Recently, I sat down and did finally something about it. Turns out, you can just move your iPhoto library to an external hard drive, then create a separate library on your computer for new uploads or current projects. As often, the mental block was the most cumbersome challenger in this not-quite-a-problem. (The most privileged of all annoying problems.)
Are you still reading? I know: it’s a boring story of a minor problem and a simple solution only compounded by procrastination and a lack of motivation. In moving the photos to a safe, although inconvenient spot, I was terrified that I would accidentally delete them. If I lost the photos of my children when they were small, would I lose the memories, too? Moreover, an external hard drive with over 20,000 photos seems a pathetic legacy to pass on to my future adult children. Even a shoebox of faded photos or a carousel of blurry slides would be preferable.
I was inspired by an NPR series on photography and memory to find a better resolution. I almost never print photos and we have very few images displayed in our home. (It’s just not my style. I opt for art, always.) This means that my children don’t have tangible experiences of their own likeness. Even though I snap an overwhelming volume of photos, only see them scrolling through my iPhone photos. How well will they remember their youth if there is no tool in their lives right now to aid in their recollection and formation of memories?
Last Spring my book club read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. It wasn’t really a hit and not all of her challenges, theories and solutions interested me, but I did takeaway a few nuggets of decent advice. A favorite was the noble mantel of responsibility that falls on the shoulders of many mothers: to be a storehouse of happy memories. In my house, it’s process of elimination: if I don’t rescue our treasured photographs from the dungeons of my external hard drive, who will?
Last Monday evening, I scrolled through photos from 2009. It’s like time traveling to a previous version of my family. Toddling through the images was happy baby just learning to walk. He loved to eat dirt and would lurch through our (as yet not landscaped) yard with a mouth full of juniper berries and tiny rocks. There was I, adjusting to my new role as a stay at home mom (looking more slender than I remember feeling, but that’s a topic for another day). There was a three year old boy with energy to spare and a small amount of animosity toward his baby brother. On his third birthday he hopped on a two wheel bike for the very first time and pedaled around the cul de sac without training wheels.
As I scrolled, I tried my damnedest not to think too much – just identifying my favorite images and cropping, adjusting, and editing sparingly. These photographs will be uploaded to a blurb book very, very soon. Maybe I’ll add a bit of narration – where we were, who we were with, but I won’t go into great editorial detail. Maybe I’ll copy and paste the text from old blog posts here and there. If I finish 2009 really soon, and then move forward with a new year completed about every six weeks, I’ll be caught up through 2013 by the end of this year. That means next year, I’ll just work on one year’s worth of memories. Eventually, we’ll have a bookshelf visually cataloging each year in our family. My grandpa was really good at that: creating albums of his photos with the year written in gold pen down each spine. I have many warm memories of turning the pages of my family history, distilled through the eye of his lens. I want to create that experience for my loved ones.
The challenge in dealing with these projects is not so much in the doing, but in my personal mental blocks. Memory lane can be a treacherous road as I journey back to the time when my six year old boy was “Two Tooth Long Bun.” Living the memories again is sweet, yet so acute, that it terrifies me into inactivity. For now, I find it best to work alongside a friend, or to listen to an audio book, or stream a movie in the background to distract me. Any method with which I can increase my objectivity – and not end up crying over my computer – is a boon. (Once, visiting my childhood home, my mother tasked me with sorting through my old possessions. I ended up wearing an old prom dress and the tiara a BFF gave me on my 17th birthday, sitting on my twin bed, looking at photos of old boyfriends, thinking, he was actually a pretty nice guy. In my emotionally vulnerable state, I started crying when I found photos of my departed grandmas. I never actually packed up or discarded anything, but happy hour did start a bit earlier than usual that day.)
As I begin to catalogue the images for posterity, simultaneously becoming more organized (and therefore more satisfied, calmer) not so freaked out and frazzled), I’m working on a few other memory making projects.
After Mother’s Day, I found a pretty three ring binder and purchased a stack of plastic document protectors. The binder is now a safe place to keep the sweet, loving, sometimes off-the-wall cards my boys create with love, creativity, and devotion. This year, my oldest gave me a treasure trove of artwork, poems, and thoughtful notes. The youngest created a pretty card of coffee filter flowers with a straightforward inscription inside: I love my mom because she hugs me and buys me what I want.Too funny! I’m glad I now have a safe place to keep these handmade treasures. As cards from past years are unearthed (surely they are squirreled away in drawers, piles, and folders) I’ll continue to update.
My final project is both time consuming and emotionally taxing. I promised I would sort through the boxes of baby clothes previously crowding the garage, now a teetering tower in my tiny studio. I’m sorting into three piles: one to give away or donate, another to save for ever (hopefully just one storage bin), and a third to cut into squares and sewn into quilts for the boys to have in our camper. (Someone might suggest that we have sufficient quilts in our home.)
Each little onesie, cozy pajamas, stained t-shirt, torn overalls, or adorably tiny hat is a font of memories. Reflected back at me in the weft and weave of each garment are the faces of my sons – so young. Holding the silly ducky outfit I remember how he felt in my arms, rocking before bedtime, breathing softly, reaching for my face, willing to share his pacifier with me. In each square is the loving of my child and the loss of them at that moment in time. Nostalgia is a formidable adversary to my productivity. Knowing that at the end of this emotional work there will be tangible histories of our collective stories to share with my family and warm patchworks of love and memories to cuddle underneath, well, that knowledge gives me the motivation to move forward. But first I might have to cuddle that ducky outfit, just one more time.