Seven thousand photos
In 2022, I took a thousand photos of things that don’t matter, and not enough of the things that do. I wrote a thousand little thoughts in the Notes app or in emails to myself that I’ll ignore until I die. I wrote a hundredish poems of wildly varying quality on a typewriter and put the papers in a one-way drawer from which nothing ever emerges.
You see, I’m trying to create a record of my life, and it doesn’t exist except in a million different pieces. It’s hard to explain. So let me show you. Here’s one of the poems I wrote this year that will never live anywhere:
This diapered, pig-tailed toddler
is getting married soon.
She couldn’t remember when to lift her leg
on the tiny dance stage, bewildered by giants.
I’m still surrounded, by buildings and stories,
by memories that have shaped me,
whether or not they’re mine.
Eh, right? I don’t know. I wrote it with a covid brain after watching old home movies. There are about five hours of recorded home movies that chronicle the childhood of my brothers and me. Most are devoted to various hockey and soccer games, exactly one of which is of me, picking dandelions and floating around a soccer field, lazily running towards where a clump of children trail after a ball. Take away the games, and divide the time between myself and my brothers, and there’s probably about one hour of videotape showcasing little me from a time period I don’t remember.
I’d guess I’ve taken more than an hour of footage on my cell phone camera this year of random bullshit. If you add up all the photos I’ve taken and put them in some sort of slideshow, it overwhelms my childhood. Dance recitals don’t hold a candle to cats in strange positions or a San Francisco sushi train. I have a twelve-minute video of my niece throwing her stuffed animals a birthday party. How many photos do I have of the same weird wall? Too many. I’ve taken 7,000 photos and videos since getting my phone in September 2017. More than a thousand each year. When will I ever look through them all? Never. Will that stop me from photographing the awkward hashtag on a Coca Cola billboard, created by someone who clearly doesn’t understand hashtags? No.
I won’t stop, because these things solidify reality. The act of taking a shitty phone photo grounds me in a time and place, even if I won’t ever return to it; it makes it more likely it’ll stick in my mental fabric.
My first memory is taking a bath, aged maybe two or three, when I wanted to see what would happen if I stopped swallowing my spit. What happened was this: vomit. So I ruined the bath but discovered a new power, which I utilized some time later, when I was tired of being in the car on a road trip, and never again after that.
My second memory was years later, in first grade maybe, when I walked around my house in a circle, telling myself: I’ll remember this forever. Was it really first grade? I don’t know. But I remember the feeling, how, even then, I recognized how quickly memories disappear, which terrified me.
My third memory is sitting on a flowery living room La-Z-Boy, feeling like I was levitating, an eerie feeling I enjoyed. What age, what context? I will never get that back.
2022 is coming to a close and what will I remember? Probably not the awkward hashtag. Probably it will be this: my attitude towards the sun. It’s always the feelings that stick around, like how it feels when you drive home from the airport in your hometown, or the feeling of getting on a long bus ride at night, getting out of the city to watch the power lines swim. For me, this year, I walked on bridges. I walked on bridges by day and by night. When it’s night, you can try to find the light, from street lamps and headlights that shadow you into pieces. In the beginning of the year, I tried to find the joy in night. But lately, I’m tired of it. I’m tired of pretending that darkness doesn’t put a pit in my chest. So I tried something new. I shifted my evening walk to the afternoon. This is a big deal for me, a shakeup in the routine. I put aside my work for an hour. And spoiler alert, it’s great! It’s wonderful to see the sun set in a gray sky, to remember it exists. Then I return home and finish working, later than normal, but it’s worth it.
If future-me browses my photos from 2022, I hope she stumbles on something that reminds her of this feeling, and in doing so, recreates it. It might be forgettable, except for the fact that I’m telling myself right now: I’ll remember this forever.
Thanks for reading Noticements this year! Thank you for sticking with the strangeness of this newsletter, which still doesn’t really know what it is. Photos of cats come at the end, so if you’re here for that, just scroll right down.
This is the last post of 2022, so I thought I’d include a short list of the books I most loved reading this year, in case you’re looking for a good new book (and if you’ve read one and want to talk about it, let me know!).
Orange World and Other Stories by Karen Russell: She does such a lovely job creating worlds whose weirdness feels absolutely real. The eponymous story in this collection blew me away. It’s about a mother who makes a deal with the devil to protect her newborn son, only to realize every other woman in the lactation class has done the exact same thing. When you read a Karen Russell story you discover what words can do.
WORK by Bud Smith: Bud Smith published a new novel this year called Teenager, which I very much enjoyed (and interviewed him about here), but I went back to read his memoir and couldn’t put it down. It’s hilarious while showing you how to approach life with humor and love. It’s like, oh, it really is nice to be alive.
Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney: I know Sally Rooney gets a lot of weird criticism, but whatever, I enjoyed the hell out of this. She takes a fascinating approach to the world’s ‘big issues’ while centering her story on extremely compelling characters.
Notes from a Wood-Paneled Basement by Alan ten-Hoeve: This is a poetry collection for people who fear poetry. It’s funny, approachable, and heartbreaking all at once. I read this shortly after my cat died and when I finished it I sobbed big, cathartic tears.
Underworld by Don Delillo: A masterpiece of American literature. Every sentence is exquisite. This is one of those books that can’t really be summarized because it’s “about” the whole thing it’s about.
Finally, cats (and one photo of India to excuse my recent absence):