Daily Archives: Saturday, January 23, 2010

Books, Computers, Cameras: Tools & Tickets

I’ve been pensive this morning. Thinking about stuff. Literally. Material things and what is important, which brings me to issues of experience, travel, photography, and most of all, memory.

It all started with a good read. I saw a short and insightful post over on a great travel blog called Uncornered Market. The piece, “Are you a Stuff Junkie or an Experience Junkie” (yes, yes… go ahead… click, read, you know you want to… it’s short and we can talk about it when you get back) sets the tangible and intangible at odds and hits the personal priority question square on its pointy head.

The wanderlusts among us know their answer (Fly away!).
So do the homebodies (Nest!).

Although I have certainly thought about this issue (and plenty: shall I stay or shall I go? shall I buy or shall I fly?), I had never put it in such a Levi-Straussian binary-oppositional sort of way. And that post set me off on a bit of existential pondering that brings me to this:

I’m in it for the experience.

There’s just too much good stuff going on out there somewhere to stay put, physically or mentally. I am inquieta (one of those great Spanish words that has no real translation into English). I want to know more, see more, do more, drink it in… and then share it. That’s me. That’s who I am and who I have always been.

The fact that I am a voluntary expat (and blog about it) is pretty good evidence of that. And though I’ve been here in Chile a long time, and yes, have accumulated a lot of STUFF in the process, what I just realized is that most of it—the stuff I value most—is experience-related stuff. Not clothes, not fancy furnishings, not much of anything sold in the local department store…

So what are the things I value most? Books, computers, and cameras. They are all tools and tickets to the experiences–past, present, and future–that truly mean so much.

Books, Computers & Cameras

Books. I have a lifelong love of books and magazines. I grew up in the country and they were my lifeline and ticket to anywhere and everywhere.

Computers. No, I am not a geek. Was once, in a former life long ago, but not now. Today my computers are the tools that let me reach out beyond the physical limits of my world. Again, anywhere and everywhere.

Cameras. Ah… now here is where the plot thickens… Photography is another lifelong love, and aside from fulfilling an artistic itch, I have just come to realize this morning, after reading the Uncornered Market post, that part—I think a BIG part—of my love for photography is that it helps me make the experience tangible.To catch and hold that which is fleeting. To make the momentary last forever. It is the “stuff” my inner junkie craves. It allows me to record for all time that which will never be repeated. It makes memory a bit more concrete.

Not everyone gets this. Put the camera down, they say, look around.
I do look around, and I want to keep it forever.

From Experience to Memory

And this is where it all becomes very personal. Today, as I watch my elderly mother’s memory fade away and the details of her life’s story shift, twitch, blink, and disappear, some never to return, I get scared. And when other details miraculously reappear with amazing clarity when we open her photo albums, I know the importance of photography.

Someone—my father usually—thought that a particular moment was worth remembering forever. He, unaware in his young self, was extending her a lifeline that would stretch 60 years into the future, to a time when he would not be there to help her remember. He was fixing a bit of their lives—and her memory—in time. He was handing her a ticket back to her own life.

And today, as I watch her cling to the pieces of her life and wonder what lies ahead for me, I know, with even more conviction, how important my camera is to me.