Snapshot of Life

Posted: August 11, 2010 in Perspective

Last weekend I decided to go through a bunch of old photos. By old I mean printed on actual paper lol.  I’m not a photographer, I just like to take pictures.  I take a million and then some turn out good (gotta love digital.)  I had a few boxes to go through… they were taunting to me to clean them out because I knew there were shadows hiding in there tainting up the purity. I’m just too sentimental and have a tendency to hang onto every(frelling)thing — I have a hard time getting rid of pix because I guess symbolically I feel like I’m throwing away a piece of my past.  But there’s this thing called a ‘past-ectomy’ (think appendectomy), surgically and purposefully extricate the extraneous bullshit hanging around, not really needed, but boy can it cause some trouble when it decides to flame-up, it can kill you by dragging you down with poison.  The past can do that if you don’t exorcise some of those ghosts.  In the laws of the universe, there must be space for NEW things to come in,… so you have to clear out the clutter in order to create a void,… create a receptivity to invite the NEXT thing.

As I was going through the pictures, I was flooded with so many recollections of what was going on when that snapshot was taken,… who I was during that moment in time.  I made PILES.  Piles of hairstyles, piles of ex’s, piles of “former lives” by state and phase.  The memories were overlapping, conflicting — some I remembered being happy, some I couldn’t remember if I was happy or not, some I wondered why I was not happy… I looked so smiley and bright in the pictures.  When they were in the piles I couldn’t help but think “wow, I’ve done a lot of various shit(!)” — my bucket list just gained a bunch of check-marks from stuff I’d forgotten got done.  There is a big portion of my childhood I don’t seem to remember, not sure why…  maybe I blocked it out, maybe there was nothing significant going on, maybe kids just don’t remember things from that way back? There seemed to be many of them by my parents that made us look like a normal family… Easter,… Halloween costumes,… school, picnics.  At any rate, there were some photos I could look at and know EXACTLY what happened before, during, and after.  What I was thinking, what I said, what prompted the picture in the first place. It was a little overwhelming, slightly baffling, somewhat a marvel,… but I knew in my heart, that I had to revisit these residual echoes, touch them, and choose either to release them or reaffirm them.  It felt so productive to gently smile at the “that was then, now is now, it was good while it lasted” pix, then toss into the ‘goodbye’ pile.  It still felt productive to frown with angst, bite back tears at the “how did I survive that destruction and annihilation” ones, then ceremoniously place into the ‘goodbye’ pile.  Others, it felt FUCKING productive to flip-off, dance a fuck-you JIG, then rip up in tiny pieces and slap into the ‘goodbye’ pile.  It felt like closure.  It was my choice now.  I wasn’t keeping the pictures because I couldn’t bear to cauterize wounds — I was consciously CHOOSING to cut off the dead-branch so the tree could grow unencumbered. I was letting it go, going with the flow.

As a writer words are important to me, as a pseudo-photographer the capture of the moment is fodder for my creativity.  I love how I can look at a flower, or newspaper article, or photo and instantly conjure up a story or fairytale or poem to encapsulate that moment further.  We are all conduits of some sort, processing the information of life that comes our way. Some people are visual, some are oral, some are aural.  My family didn’t grow up with a lot of words.  We didn’t say ‘I love you’ or ‘you are pretty’. My dad was especially distant or non-participatory,… the time he grew up in I suppose.  This caused me a lot of dilemma because I thought I needed the validation, feedback, of being told what they saw so I’d know who I was.  At my father’s funeral, I found myself in the chaotic situation of the first-born to have to speak at his eulogy.  I didn’t want to, I didn’t have anything to say because if you don’t have something nice to say… you know.  My brothers said they weren’t going to speak, one of them said all they could think about was that Harry Chapin song “Cats in the Cradle” — “When you comin’ home dad? I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then son, You know we’ll have a good time then…” It was that Seven Habits for Highly Effective People situation on crack. Picture your own funeral, what would people say about you, would it be what you would want to hear…  But I HAD to.  I had to think of something.  I wrote a few notes,… I looked around at all the pictures in the house… I absorbed the atmosphere in the house with the 25 drunk relatives who’d just witnessed my dad dying and were doing their best to deal with the fucked-up surreal I’m-stuck-in-a-holodeck situation.  The next morning, I don’t know how I did it — but standing up in front of everyone and focusing only on what was in front of me, I got the insight that our family didn’t say words TO each other, but they kept the history alive by telling and re-telling stories ABOUT each other.  (Keep in mind here, my dad was the first of 15 children, yes that was fifteen — back in the olden-days with out-houses, so there are some friggin’ STORIES man.)   An uncle wouldn’t say “my brother was smart and inventive” — he’d say “there was this one time… my brother took the hood of an old chevy and we used it as a SLED. We piled the kids ON and rode down that big hill in back of the farm…your aunt stoved up her legs when we ran into a fence. I guess those were our brakes.” He wouldn’t say “your dad took good care of me when we were little” — he’d say “one time, your dad taught me to play a game… he took me into this big field with ping-pong paddles, told me where to stand, and then he was going to stomp on the ground, and when the bees flew out of the hole, I was supposed to HIT ‘EM with the paddle” (I mean, these guys were POOR, so I guess they came up with their own toys & entertainment.)

When I said this to my big family,… I said that THAT, was the way they said they loved each other,… by holding the memory sacred enough to retell it — they started looking around at each other, tears in their eyes.  They had never thought of it that way.  Maybe they thought of it the same way I formerly had, “our family doesn’t SAY ‘I love you’ therefore maybe they don’t.”  Now we all had a different viewpoint, a different twist.  I took what was and put a spin on it to bring a new perspective.  I did it for myself.  I had to create a memory before it happened.  I wanted to look back on that harsh moment and feel proud as a person and feel I had done my utmost to honor my position as a daughter and therefore honor my father. Even if the words from him were never there, I had to believe that the LOVE was.  That maybe it didn’t look like something I would recognize because it wasn’t in the “form” I wanted it to be (words, or affection.)   I told my mom once, “Daddy says I love you to me” — she said, “are you shitting me?” (yea, she actually said that) — I said, “when I say ‘I love you’, he says ‘okay’.  And that ‘okay’ means ‘I love you’.”

See, it’s like a photograph.  You can look at it, at a certain time in your life and it can mean one thing.  Look at it years from now and it might mean something entirely different.  Sometimes we don’t know how to be IN a situation and appreciate it,… see it for what it IS — but after the dough rises and bakes for awhile, you have a whole other product that seemed unpalatable before.  As I was doing the photo-pastectomy, there were a lot of pictures I could look at fondly when I had avoided putting myself to the test because I THOUGHT it was going to hurt.  It was nice to feel some distance and glance over my shoulder at what was behind me and not have to bring it into my now, not have it pull me in and drag me down. I could look at them and just know that they played a part in recording the circumstances that made me, me.

There were a lot of photos of me as a baby with my dad.  I was the first child and the first grandchild so I was the lucky one (cuz with each subsequent kid, you KNOW the pictures and videos get less & less haha it’s just the way it happens.)  I look so cute in my dad’s arms,… he’s cuddling me so close and smiling and has love and adoration in his eyes.  I choose to believe that some of those pictures say things he could not,… so it is true, never doubt it… a picture can be worth a thousand words.

  1. Rick says:

    Speaking of the whole “less pics of younger kids” thing… my dad’s movie camera broke before I was born, so there are NO home movies with me in ’em, only ones of my older sisters! There are maybe a few still photos though. 🙂

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