Sunday, October 16, 2011

How To Build a Memory

Once a year I brave the deep, dark bowels of my computer’s hard drive to select and print off a thousand or so of my favourite digital photos from the year. This is only a subset of the whole. Usually I put them into the cheapest photo insert type albums I can find. All in the name of securing a back up to the memories that we have collected over the years in pictures in an affordable manner.

Until now I have averted anything to do with the scrapbooking movement that seems to be consuming women’s spare time the country over. My addictive, obsessive-compulsive personality was at risk of complete bankruptcy and the loss of any spare time if I ventured there.

Now that I’ve seen these broad, bound books with beautiful coloured paper that a friend puts her pictures into, I can no longer hold back. My senses have nearly imploded – and purchases have been made. I am going to put my photos into a scrapbook for the first time in my life (and I can’t wait to do it).

For the record, I plan to use scissors, glue, paper and plastic covers. There will be no shiny stickers or wooden letters. I can’t go there. I have to put boundaries or the bottom will never be found.

Memories. I recently read the Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin who explored ways to increase the quality of her life over the course of a year. The self-direction that most stood out to me in this book was ‘Be a Treasure House of Happy Memories’. I agree that we all have the ability to savour our lives in whatever shape, colour, size, sound or space that works best.

Coloured paper, here I come.

Have you got photo albums or scrapbooks that mark the important moments of your life? Do you find yourself periodically (or at the very least every time you move) surfing through these memories, re-living the events, the abundance, the losses, and all of the feelings that went with them? Do you find it curious how you can feel apathetic for situations that once elated or destroyed you? Do you ever wonder how you have completely forgotten a certain era, time, haircut, car, friendship, or place that you visited?

What has crossed my mind is how much having these albums may have affected what I remember. Gretchen Ruben acknowledges this as well. Is it possible that we form (or re-form) our memories based on what we decided at the time to tuck away in our physical treasure house? Are our histories primarily shaped by these storage facilities?

I also wonder if writing about one’s life in this personal diary type blog thing affects how information is remembered. In the way that we ask if life imitates art or the other way around, do we blog about our lives or do we live what we want to blog? More specifically, I find myself becoming a watcher of my life, wondering from time to time if any of it is worthy of a ‘post’.

I don’t think we’re meant to live our lives from the outside looking in. Nor telling ourselves the story before it is played out. This type of navel gazing completely prevents the ability to live in the present, enjoy the moment (the only time it is possible to actually enjoy any moment). I think we can deprive ourselves of the full experience when we duck behind a camera lens to document these moments.

I do it all the time. I’m the one who takes pictures of everything, everywhere I go. I see a whale, I reach for my camera. I get to a look-out, I filter the view through a lens. My child does something I want to remember forever, I run around looking for my camera hoping the moment doesn’t pass while I’m gone.

Pictures are fantastic. Pictures on coloured paper even better. But let’s not fool ourselves out of our own skin. All things are best experienced from our center looking out. Not the other way around. Looking at a picture of your life, yourself, your memory has the ability to distort reality. It can serve to validate, magnify, rearrange or even disappear should the picture get lost.

Our blogs should provide us with an opportunity to share our lives, iron out the wrinkles, shed light on the stuff worth knowing. Not become one more task in the day to secure a tangible existence.

If a tree falls in the forest, does anybody hear? If a photograph is not taken, is the event still remembered? If words are not written, can the thoughts still culminate into something real?

The colour of our lives is for us to create. We know how we feel. We know what we see. Artistic urges are going on everywhere with people trying to recreate these into something tangible, palatable, recognizable. Paper, pen, paintbrush, sound.

I wish I knew that my life would be a full life to look back upon no matter how many photo books I kept on my shelves. I want my children to know that they mattered with or without my documentation. I hope my grandparents know that the image they left on my heart is far greater than the worn paper I preserve in metal boxes in my attic. I long to not cringe every time I see a photo of myself - like I am suddenly realizing I exist for the first time.

To document or not to document. That was never the question. We exist because we are here. Not because we are captured in a sea of information so large that a great many of us feel overwhelmed or over-stimulated much of the time. In these times of instantaneous access to anything we desire, and a constant onslaught of information we never asked for, I believe it is important to hone in on what truly matters.

The treasure house of happy memories? Oh yes, focus on the happy ones and make them linger most. But we must remember that the best part of the memory has been there all along engraved on our human hearts, stored deeply in our human senses. Being obsessive or compulsive has a bad habit of taking us away from the center of that. Some cultures believe that taking a photograph can steal part of your soul. I see now this may not be a physical act, but simply one about whether we focus our attention on people or objects (including pictures of people).

So, I will get out my coloured paper and my scissors but I have to make a promise to myself. That I will BE there when the memories go down. Both when the photos are being taken. And the scrapbooks are being made. And never forget that the true memories are those that we keep inside of us.


  1. I think we see our lives through a particular lens, which is why there are always disagreements in a family about "what really happened" when it comes to major events (especially involving people who have passed on and can't speak for themselves). I could look at a picture and see only happiness, whereas my brother may have remembered something totally different. Pictures are interesting that way, and yet I still believe they represent a part of our past that is so important to remember. Have fun scrapbooking!!

  2. I realized today that a blog is very much a scrapbook of ones thoughts into words (and sometimes photos if the uploader is working!)

  3. Reminds me of the Wendell Berry poem about a man on vacation, filming a trip down a river, so he could go home and watch it over again. The problem, Berry points out, is that he was never actually there in the first place -- he spent the whole time thinking about how he would look back on it from the future. Be. Here. Now.

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  5. The Happiness Project is unique, but I struggled to stay interested to finish it. It honestly stressed me out thinking of all the things I could be doing but don't do. Too much at once. Maybe in the summer.
    All of my scrapbooking things are in a dusty Rubbermad container. One day.....

  6. I'm listening to the Happiness Project right now, I enjoy getting into my vehicle every morning.

    About 7 or 8 years ago I decided to 'get into' srapbooking when the Creative Memories home party crazy was big. I have had several hundred dollars of stuff sitting in boxes unused until a dear friend showed me the importance of preserving memories for my daughter. I've sorted my pics, bought cute paper and have intentions of being serious....

  7. FWIW, a lot of people are doing scrapbooking digitally. Try Googling "scrap booking and photoshop elements".



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