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.

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Darkest Corners

I was looking through my previous blog drafts and came across this piece, which I had published last year. It’s pretty depressing, maybe overly so, which is why I later took it down. However, after my last post about being on the road to happiness, this serves as an interesting contrast, touching on the same subject and showing how my life and my perspective on it have changed in the past few months.

On a more technical note, I’d like to think my writing’s improved as well. Some of the below post is hard to read for the wrong reasons.

I promise this will be the last post where I depress the hell out of my readers.

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This is a strange follow-up to the fairly upbeat ’30 Days of Fitness’ posts, but there are certain thoughts that tend to eat away at me from time to time, with increasing regularity nowadays. They needed a place to be unloaded and this seemed like the best dumping ground. It feels somewhat therapeutic to be writing all this down, but it’s only a temporary reprieve. Like weeds, they’ll take root again, infesting the darkest corners of my mind.

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Isolation

 

I look out the window at the sprawling city before me. They say it glitters like jewels in the sun; all I see is a dull, lifeless gray. The streets are overflowing with people running to and fro, from office to office, meeting to meeting. The city is supposedly a melting pot of different cultures, but they all look the same to me: faceless and indistinct.

It has been a little over 4 years since I returned to the city. At one time, it used to be home; I basked in its familiarity. Today, I find myself as a tourist in a foreign metropolis, walking past uninviting towers of glass and concrete. This is not the same place that I grew up in and, at the same time, I’m not the same person that grew up here.

It is a city that’s designed for a certain type of person. To use the popular cliche, it is the city that never sleeps. Everyone spends every hour of every day working to earn even more money, hoping to climb up the corporate ladder and sit comfortably on top of it. The boundaries between professional and personal lives are ever shifting, the concept of free time laughable. This city is designed for a certain type of person. That person isn’t me. I don’t think it ever was.

Now I find myself lost in the midst of a desert, desperately seeking an oasis of humanity. Making friends was never easy for me, and I find friendship to be an especially rare commodity here. In the sort of ironic twist that life loves to toss around, the friends who are dearest to me live half a world away, and with each passing year, I fear the distance between us is becoming intraversable.

More and more often, I find myself thinking back to happier times, times spent with friends in a place where I actually seemed to matter, where I felt like I belonged. And then, through a combination of bad luck and bad decisions, I found myself booted out from there and thrown back into this cesspool. At least I had my family around as some sort of consolation. But even that wasn’t meant to last.

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Grief
 

My mother died of cancer last year. It came out of nowhere, and as we were still trying to process the situation, it was over. My prior experience with death involved my grandfather, who died when I was too young to really grasp the concept, and my grandmother, who I had been so far removed from at that point that news of her passing brought no major outpouring of emotion with it. So this was, in essence, the first time I’d lost someone I truly cared about, and in such a horrible and unexpected way.

The days after my mother’s death were like a haze. My father, brother and I went about our lives, trying to find some semblance of normalcy. I had fully expected that a death in the family would render me catatonic, so I managed to surprise myself by continuing on with life. But there was a nagging feeling that things were wrong, a feeling that I pushed into the depths of my mind.

Now, over a year later, everything still feels weird. I had though that on my mother’s anniversary, all wounds would be healed, all memories of her death would be wiped clean, almost as if by magic.And yet, the pain still lingers. Many nights I will close my eyes and see myself again at her hospital bed, watching the life slowly drain out of her. In my dreams, my mother still lives, but so does her cancer. It’s as if the healthy, happy person I knew never even existed.

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Anxiety

After a fairly lengthy period of unemployment, I finally managed to get a job earlier this year. It was, I hoped, a new beginning. A way to finally get my life back on track. And so it was, for a time. A new routine led me to adopt a new, healthier lifestyle and got me thinking about my financial security. However, that security has been compromised somewhat by a few financial troubles plaguing my family, and I find myself wondering if I can actually save for some sort of retirement.

My job is the kind of relaxed affair that’s hard to find in a fast-paced city like this, and I’m certainly grateful to have any kind of employment at all, but I do find myself on the quest for something more challenging. But then another thought occurs to me: what if this is all I have? What if no other place will hire an engineer who hasn’t done any real engineering in years, a short-lived salesman who doesn’t like selling, and a writer who’s barely got any experience in the field? Five or ten years from now, will I still find myself stuck behind this desk? Or will I be on a constant hunt for gainful employment?

I follow the same routine every day: wake up, go to work, have lunch, continue work, come home, unwind, go to bed and repeat. Without any friends around, things get predictable fast. My brother is busy with his own life, and as much as I love my dad, surely he can’t be my only companion? I want to settle into a routine that makes me happy, a routine that I share with a certain someone, but the search for that someone seems to grow more difficult with time. And if I am losing my mind, as I so often believe I am, then I have to ask myself what sensible girl would want to spend her life with someone so mentally and emotionally broken.

Uncertainty has always found a way to re-route my fortunes, through financial struggles, unemployment and even death. It’s hard to look at the future and see any brightness. The future is full of uncertainty, and I’ve already had enough of that. So I go one day at a time, trying to make it through uneventful and bland work days, absorbing myself in my hobbies, escaping the mundanity of my existence in the colorful worlds created by books and video games, sticking to my schedules, and going to bed each night with the hope that tomorrow I’ll wake up in a happier and more fulfilled life.