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.

15 responses to “Books, Computers, Cameras: Tools & Tickets

  1. So sorry to hear about your mom.

    And I couldn’t agree more with your thoughts on pictures. I do occasionally have to force myself to put the camera down but for the most part I’m always thinking, “I want to remember this. I want to have documentary that we were here and did this together!”

  2. As a photographer, I knew you’d get this!
    Memory is such a fragile thing… and a picture can bring it all flooding back.
    It also helps everyone else learn, know, and tell the stories of others!

  3. Of course photography is important.
    Its photos in our passports.

    Bertrand Russell said

    “I would exchange EVERY painting of Christ, for one snapshot of him”

    I studied photography in NY in the early nineties. One of my teachers there said.
    “Always have a camera with you, you never know when the aliens may land”

    Many years later on 9-11 I was in Union Square without a camera! Bad student.

    For me I get a buzz out of getting a magazine or a book of my photographs being published, however its the old snapshots of my youth with my family and friends that I go back to time and time again. These are far far more important.

    Good post Margaret.

  4. What a beautiful and well presented argument. I too commented on the post you read and you picked up the theme I was also thinking about perfectly. I am exactly the same; books, my laptop and cameras are crucial to my existence, understanding and memory of the world I love and live in. I would add to this that a well tended journal is an amazing tool, I remember thinking once that a day forgotten is a day lost, just a few lines about the events of the day serve as a hugely important memory aid, add to this letters, emails, photos and even text messages and I can recall days many months or years later. Thanks for writing the above, I found your discussion of your Mother a poignant reminder of why we record these details of our lives. Thank you.

  5. Great read Margaret! My father went through much of what your mother experienced. I appreciate your blog, I don’t seem to have time to leave comments but I follow it fairly consistently. Thanks for the good links and moving thoughts.

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  7. I knew that your writing was witty. But I didn’t know it could be moving. Great post.

  8. Lovely post. I’m sorry to hear about your mom.

    I think if it’s possible to be a stuff and experience junkie then that is me. It really depends on the thing or on the precise moment I guess.

  9. Beautiful post! Very thought-provoking too–I was thinking about it all afternoon and wrote some thoughts in a post–(though not nearly as eloquent as yours). I love the photo of your parents.

  10. Margaret, I am really honored that this thoughtful piece came from my original post.

    I had never thought of photography before as a way to make an experience tangible, but I realize that much of my photography stems from the that reason. There are times when I think I’m just going to enjoy the moment and not photograph it. But when I do photograph the moment – and it doesn’t have to be a spectacularly artistic photo, but something that captures that moment and feeling – I’m usually happier in the future because I have that image to look back on and remind me of that experience.

    An example of this was just last week when we met my mother’s family in Buenos Aires for the first time. It was a lovely asado (barbecue) and I fought the urge to bring out the camera so that I could just enjoy the moment. However, I did finally bring the camera out and I’m very thankful now that I did. Not only do I have those photos to remember that afternoon for myself, but I can now show them to my mother and grandmother.

  11. I’ve been following your blog for the last 6 months or so. Not really sure how I stumbled upon it… I just wanted to see what my old next door neighbor was up to. Wow, you keep me coming back for more. Today, I had to comment…your piece was so moving. I so remember the photo albums, books, records and scrapbooks your family kept. We would spend hours pouring through them. I wish my parents would have done the same. Unfortunately, I have followed in their foot steps, and very seldom take photos or write anything down. I guess it’s never too late to make a change. You’ve really made me stop and think. Thanks for the memories, Peg!

  12. Just back from a quick trip to the beach to escape the Santiago heat and am pleased to find such wonderful comments waiting for me!

    @Matt-I think that when photography is documenting something (as in not simply graphics for advertising) it is making a contribution of some kind, whether personal or societal. Your work, especially your portrait work–the area you enjoy most–is testimony to what and who and where we are today.

    @Alex- Thank you… and good point about the journal… another way to extend roots into our own lives, but in a very private way. Perhaps a blog is something of a cross between a photo and a journal because it is a bit of ourselves made permanent and public.

    @John! Good to see you back again! I’ve missed your comments- glad to hear you’re still around!

    @Benja, Sara, Annje- thank you!

    @Audrey-Thanks for your comments! And I am glad you resisted that voice that urged you to forget the camera. Your family will enjoy those photos forever! I bet your readers would like to see some of those too (I bet you got some great food shots!)

    @Chris!! How wonderful to hear from you after all these years! I’m glad you remember all those books and photos! Do you remember that wall of photos my Mom had with pictures of her and her family when she was a kid? It’s still there and I still love it!
    One of my “someday projects” (and there are lots) is to go through all those old photos, make a good selection, and make sure that everything is documented as best we can for the generations to come.
    I bet I’ll come across plenty from when WE were all kids!

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  15. Beautiful. I don’t care much to own a lot of things but books, computers and cameras are all important things to me, too.

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