I’ve been thinking about presence lately, consciousness, the deep desire to more fully inhabit the hours of my own life. This has engendered some interesting questions in the comments and on other peoples’ blogs. Clearly there’s a nerve here, a seam of emotion and anxiety that is common to many people. Some of the dialog has really framed my thinking.
For example: Kristen asked, provocatively, “Is it possible that being mindful of the need to be present is in fact a manner of being present?” And I’ve been thinking about that. And then Aidan shared her similarly thoughtful question, “I can’t figure out whether we bloggers – by trying to memorialize the tiny details – are bowing to the present moment too often missed OR whether by documenting every existential twist and turn, we are missing it even more.”
I am turning both of these questions over in my head, letting them fall slowly from side to side, examining their edges. I don’t have answers yet, but it does bring to mind one aspect of my history and personality that I think wrestles with this debate. I am the photographer. I have always been the one who takes the pictures.
From all the way back at Princeton, I took the pictures. Every weekend I’d take my old-school boxy camera out to Prospect Street, and the next morning I’d take a roll of 24 or 36 pictures to CVS. Everybody would be annoyed at me, “Oh, God, not more pictures, Lindsey!” and then within days I’d be fielding requests for my negatives or reprints (oh, technology of the olden days!).
I am that person now, still. Of course there are no negatives anymore, but I still take the pictures. An event is not really real until I’ve uploaded the pictures onto my favorite photo site. There are a couple of ways this role, this identity as Recorder of Events, has rippled through my life.
The first is pretty obvious: there aren’t very many pictures of me. This is, I think, by subconscious design. By taking the pictures I don’t have to be in them.
The second is more complex. I suspect my relentless pursuit of a record of my life is further manifestation of my desperate effort to be present. If I record it, it’s real, right? Becca wrote about her memories of her childhood, and her confusion between actual memories and memories of pictures she has seen over and over again in old albums. This is something I’ve talked about before too – am I remembering that excursion in Paris to buy a Christmas tree, or the picture of Hilary and I standing there, smiling with our scarves and hats on, snow-dusted pine trees behind us? I don’t know.
So, in a weird way, if I create the pictures I feel I am assuring the memories. I am sure this is somehow driving me. Photographs were a big part of my childhood: my father has always (and still does) created careful photo albums, captions written in fountain pen under ever picture. I do this too (though I confess I’ve slid downhill to ballpoint). I get mocked a lot for still printing out 4×6 prints of my favorite pictures and putting them into old-fashioned albums.
Of course, though, being the photographer also removes me from my life. I am always off to the side a little, framing pictures and organizing groups of people into smiling, arms-around-each-other portraits. I am not quite ever actually AT the party, but rather floating above it, observing. I have this feeling in my life a lot. And on the rare occasions that I didn’t have film (old days) or my battery was not charged (new days) I have definitely, though I’m loath to admit it, felt relieved by the absence of obligation to take pictures.
So, somehow, in my obsession with recording every detail, in my unwitting assumption of the role of official photographer, I have actually made myself less present. In some ways. I don’t know that it’s entirely that clear-cut. But definitely it functions that way some of the time. Maybe the answer is for me to put down the camera more of the time. To let go of my need to assure a permanent record and just trust that my memory will be sturdy enough.