An odd thing happened yesterday.

I had opened an Instagram account a few years ago, almost on a whim. I posted images at random, and quite sporadically. A few months ago, I revamped my account, using it to showcase my hobbies and my artwork. The old posts were still there though, remnants of a forgotten time. One of the images was from my mom’s birthday. The last birthday we got to celebrate with her. In it, my mom’s biting into a piece of cake while making a funny face, and my dad’s standing next to her with his arm wrapped around her, smiling. It was fun, goofy picture that I loved at the time.

Yesterday, someone checked out my page and liked a bunch of my pictures, which was great. I noticed I also had a new comment notification, which was pretty exciting too. Until I saw what it was. The person had liked the picture of my mom’s birthday and left the message: ‘Best wishes to her’.

I can’t really describe how that made me feel. Over the past two years, I’ve mostly come to terms with my mom’s passing. It’s something that I can never really forget, but not something I think about much. My family and I can discuss my mom or events related to her without getting emotional about it and go on with our lives without that fact hanging over us. But seeing this cheery message from a stranger, wishing my mom the best, flooded me with a sense of sadness I haven’t felt in some time. It was an unintentionally harsh reminder that my mother exists only as a memory now.

This person is not to blame, of course. He was just being friendly, extending some kind words in response to a happy moment. How could he know that the moment captured in that image was so fleeting? And I feel a bit stupid getting so worked up over a harmless comment. But it goes to show just what an impact only a few simple words can make. It’s why I wanted to be a writer.

Guess I need to go work on something happy now.


A Life In Pictures

What would I consider to be my most prized possession? That’s an interesting question. I’ve certainly got a fair number of possessions, mostly objects whose value doesn’t extend beyond the surface.

I’m an avid reader, so I’ve got a bunch of books. They entertain, they educate, they transport me to far away places and, in their own way, they make me feel right at home. There aren’t enough bookshelves in the house to fill all of them, and there are quite a few bookshelves. Bookstores and libraries have been my whole childhood, and there’s really nothing more comforting to me than curling up with a good book and losing myself in a great story. My favorite author, who  discovered during college, is Neil Gaiman, and any book of his is a must-have…but most prized possession? No, not quite.

As a nerd and a collector, I’ve also got a whole host of comic books, video games and assorted memorabilia. I do take great pride in my collection and tracking down the items I need to make it more complete. I could tell stories about hounding specialty stores and frequently checking if they’ve got the latest items in stock until I finally land my prize. Or about tense times spent on eBay trying to outbid some random person on a piece of fluff that’s only going to fill a vacant spot on my shelf (and in my heart! – cue violins). But even I’m not that fanatical about my hobbies. Would I be upset if I lost it all tomorrow? Yes, extremely so. My collection is basically my treasure trove. But, ironically, it’s not what I treasure most.

So what then? What do I prize above all? My most precious possession isn’t really an object in itself, but a collection of objects: my photo albums. Now, I’m not exactly what I would call a photographer, though I can, at the least, point a camera at something and click a picture. Photography was something of a hobby when I was a teenager, and it slowly faded away, mainly because I was a bit lazy about carrying a camera around everywhere.The age of smartphones has eliminated that problem, though I still don’t take nearly as many pictures as I once used to.

If I’m not such a good photographer, and not even a very frequent one, why in the world would photo albums mean so much to me? More than items related to my actual hobbies? Well, it’s because my past lives in those photos. I’ve talked in earlier posts about the power of memory, and how certain people, places and events in my life will always be with me in my mind. But it feels good to have a more tangible reminder, a snapshot of time spent with that person or at that place.

When I do take pictures, I like to keep them as natural as possible. The posing, ‘everybody smile!’ kind of pictures are generally kept to a minimum; I prefer capturing people in the moment, to have a more authentic memory of what was going on at the time. I mean, I don’t want to remember that time me and my friends went camping and stood smiling in front of a tree. I want to remember the trip as it happened. Granted, that doesn’t always result in the best looking picture (more a fault of my photographic ineptness than anything else), but I think it makes for a more memorable image.

As a teenager, I remember carrying around a little black Minolta camera (that would be ginormous by modern smartphone standards). It was the family camera, for the most part, but I sort of took it over after a while. I loved using it to take pictures of anything and everything, especially during family outings or any kind of celebration. Sometimes, I’d take a few photos on some occasion, then snap a bunch of random shots because I couldn’t want ti finish the film roll and get the pictures developed.

Now that was an exciting process in itself, and a slightly nerve-wracking one. There was no ‘gallery’, no way to immediately see if the picture was blurry or out of focus so I could take it again. All I could do was hand the finished roll to the photo studio and hope the results turned out great. It was exhilarating to go through the stack of developed photos and see the ‘perfect shot’ (by my standards anyway) and pretty devastating to find a picture that was underexposed or out of focus or suffering from the dreaded ‘red-eye’. But even the worst picture could tell a story. It just sucked at telling it.

With the advent of technology, we upgraded ourselves to a digital camera. Today, that old thing would be a museum piece, but for my teenage self, it was a technological marvel. The camera was a square brick with a giant LCD screen on the back, and used floppy disks instead of film. Floppy disks! We kept a steady supply of 3.5 inch diskettes to store photographs, and it was so exciting to be able to just transfer pictures to the computer instead of waiting for pictures to be developed. But still, the old Minolta hadn’t lost its charm and was my default camera.

When I went off to college, I took it with me, leaving the digital camera for general family use. It was what I used to document my experiences there. My first time seeing snow (something I’d basically dreamed of since childhood), the beauty of the college campus, and random hijinks with my new friends. All of it was captured on film and developed at the end of each semester.

Eventually, I got a digital camera for myself, something a lot more portable than the Minolta or the old brick and didn’t require any diskettes! It was my near constant companion, and I was a happy shutterbug. One of my first major ‘shoots’ with the camera was my best friends’ wedding (well, they were fairly new friends at the time, but oh how far we’ve come). Nowadays, it’s all about the smartphone and playing around with various camera apps. Though none of that would be worth anything at all if I hadn’t stored it away in my albums.

That was perhaps my favorite part of the whole thing. Organizing the pictures I’d taken into one place and telling a story with pictures, creating a flipbook of sorts that moved from one event to another. There were drawerfuls of albums all over the house, some from trips to the zoo, some from Christmas, some from high school graduation. I’d even created some albums specifically for myself before going to college, taking pictures that depicted highlights of my life and storing them in one place, for me to look at whenever I felt homesick.

Of course, things changed for me back in college. As I grew ever more detached from my family, those photos began to lose their luster. Eventually, I stopped looking at those albums altogether, or even paying attention to them. When I was moving to a new apartment one year, I left them behind. They meant nothing to me then. Only now do I realize how foolish I was. So many precious moments and memories, tossed away like yesterday’s garbage. With my mother gone, I could have kept part of her memory alive through some of those photos, but now they’re gone as well.

It was a mistake a I learned from, if a bit late. The stacks of picture books were soon replaced with computer hard drives. All the pictures from my digital camera would be meticulously organized to keep a proper timeline. But even then, things didn’t quite go as planned. One fine day, I bought myself a new computer, and decided that all my pictures should be stored there instead of one the old one. But I screwed up somewhere when transferring the files, and a good chunk of my pictures were lost. It feels almost like I lost a year of my life with those pictures. Granted, the most notable events of that time are still in my mind, but many of the smaller, random moments, moments that would have been forgotten if not captured in an image, are there no longer.

I’m much more careful with my pictures now, keeping track of every image in every album so that nothing gets lost in the void again. Sadly, the pictures of my mother are few, but they are enough to keep her here and to strengthen the memories that live within my family.

In recent years, my photography habit has begun to re-surface. Now it’s all about the smartphones of course, and playing around with various camera apps to get the most vibrant pictures. I’ve even developed a bit of an Instagram addiction (seriously, I may need help here). And at the end of the day, I store it all on my computer, carefully organized by date, telling my story one image at a time.

I know that one day, my memory will fail me. There will come a time when I am too old to remember small things, to remember a weekend trip taken with the family or to remember the color of an old friend’s eyes. These images will serve to bring light to the dimming recesses of my mind, to remind me of good times had and relationships forged. They will, I hope, remind me of a life lived well.

Without them, I would be an amnesiac. My history, a book of blank pages.