Last Saturday, April was livid. Her outdated iPhone had failed her one too many times. The chief complaint was that it would not notify her when a call was coming. And what is an iPhone without the "phone?" (Actually, Apple already has the answer; it's just an iPod Touch.) After a conciliatory conversation about the evils of planned obsolescence, I convinced April to take her losses to Tmobile. We have lived together for six years, and we would finally have a shared phone plan. At Tmobile, we were able to get an iPhone 5S without paying a dime upfront. Even with the increased installment plan to account for the pricey phone, we are still paying less than our separate phone bills from the previous years. An all-around win. The only crisis came when we discovered April might lose the photos from her previous phone. Tmobile was having trouble with "the cloud." Hundreds of photos, potentially lost. Fortunately, Dropbox did what iCloud could not, and the photos were saved.
Following this theme of "preservation," on Sunday, April took me to Michaels to buy some boxes to store my old photos from high school and college. I was organizing everything in my new study/reading room/chess room, and I decided it was time to retire the Airwalk shoe box where I had crammed these photos. Scrapbook? Not happening. I just needed a nice box to keep the dust off my archives.
Time to play the game, "Back in My Day."
Back in my day, people used cameras that required "film." You might be able to buy a roll of 27 exposures -- that means, 27 photos, 27 clicks. You then had to go back to the photo processing center to get these photos "developed." Basically, you were paying to see the photo you had taken. It could take a few days or an hour if you were impatient. Often the photos would be terrible (an accidental shot of your foot or the wall, an awkward facial expression, bad backlighting, and so on). Not only that, you had to keep your camera with you, at all times, in order to take a picture.
I am envious, extremely envious (I need a stronger adverb than "extremely," tremendously, acutely, decidedly, damn?); I am damn envious of the kids today. They carry their slim phones with them at all times. And when needed, these phones become cameras. They can take hundreds, thousands of photos. Look at them immediately. If they don't like the photo, they can delete it and try again. They can take as many photos as they want until they get the most pleasing representation of that moment. And this costs practically nothing (data plans and $600 phone notwithstanding). They can save these photos on the social networking site of their choice or print them, either way, and then move on.
How will their polished memories of the high school/college experience differ from my fractured record?
Their photos will be like a flipbook, animating day-to-day experiences. While my shoe box of photos is like the precious torn fragments of a parchment that once told a complete story.
Yesterday evening, I went through my photos -- sorting and, yes, throwing some out. (Do I really need a photo of some girl's shoe? Why did I take a picture of her shoe? Whose shoe is that?) I lovingly moved them from the battered Airwalk box into two crisp black photo boxes.
I have a few observations I'd like to share.
- I'm terrible at taking photos. I should have warned people to pose, or at least, stand still. I have blurry photos and odd side shots. I should have used a flash. There are numerous silhouettes in the dark. I have no clue who these people are. I have photos of people that are off-center, marginalized, cut in half.
- I should have taken more photos of people, less photos of locations. I don't know why I have some many photos of buildings and empty streets. I don't care about those buildings now. It's the people I miss.
- I should have taken, and kept, more photos. I didn't have much money in high school and college. I mostly depended on the kindness of my parents. In high school, I worked in my dad's warehouse a few hours here and there. In college, I worked a minimum wage position at the Wesleyan Campus Ministry, 20 hours a week. I was always saving money for a new guitar or amp. I should have bought more film.
- I should have learned how to smile, a nice normal smile. I was always giving this crazed, open-mouth exclamation: HEY! Sure, it looked enthusiastic. But now, I see it as overbearing and upstaging, like I was trying too hard to have the most fun. Instead of being part of the scene, I was dominating with gusto. Maybe that's just part of being a teenager?
- I had more friends than I remember having. I see photos of people who have slipped my mind, and I remember just how much I cared for them. How can teenagers fit so much caring into such a short period of time? Nowadays, all my "caring" energy is guardedly reserved for my daughter, my wife, the rest of my family, and a handful of friends.
- I should have taken fewer photos of Robyn, more photos of Susan.
- What was going on with my hair? It was terrible, even by '90s standards. Why didn't anyone tell me? In college, especially, I had Bettie Page bangs. Bettie Page bangs. It looked ridiculous. I'm going bald now. The few hairs that are left are usually flying free like a bad Tom Waits impersonation. And my hair is LESS embarrassing now than back then. I should have gotten a better haircut. I can't wait until I'm completely bald, and I can fully surrender.
- I wish I had taken more photos at "non-events," just hanging out with friends and such.
- Every photo where I'm posing with my guitar looks idiotic. And it's obvious that I asked my mom to take the photo. I was never a rock star.
- Some friends completely avoided my camera.
- The word "nostalgia" implies a degree of pain over the past. I always think of the song "Bob Dylan's Dream." ("I wish in vain that we could sit simply in that room again. Ten thousand dollars at the drop of a hat, I’d give it all gladly if our lives could be like that.") I had a privileged and blessed adolescence. But I can't help it, there's a little bit of sadness thrown in.
I gave up around midnight. I put my two boxes on the top shelf of the closet in the chess room, knowing that I may not revisit these photos again for a few more years. But I would come back. I always do.
The house was dark. Everyone else was asleep. I checked on my daughter, sleeping soundly in her new room. She's nine years old, nearing ten. My high school and college years barely spanned eight years. And those years crawled so slowly, deliberately. The ten years with my daughter have sped by with no regard for my attempts to tap the brakes.
I navigated the new house in the dark to get to my bedroom on the other side. I didn't stub my toe once. I got into bed with April.
I can't imagine loving anyone or anything more than I love Kennedy and April. It puts everything else in perspective.
Asleep, April had a firm lock on the blankets and sheets. My karmic punishment for staying up late. I fell asleep in minutes, if not seconds. But for a moment, I thought about how navigating my house in the dark felt like an apt metaphor for what it's like to be a teenager. And how I should probably blog about it in the morning.
[tweet "How will their polished memories differ from my fractured record?"]