Jewel: Mom, sometimes when you talk, it’s hard for me to hear myself think.
You know, I have that same problem when I talk. And it gets worse when I write. Or take pictures. Or record video.
I remember learning how someone observed that when we observe something, we change that thing just by observing it. I suppose that might mean that, because they observed that phenomena, they changed it, and it might no longer be true…
But let’s just proceed as if it were still true…so where was I? Right. See, it happened right there–as I was writing, I couldn’t hear myself thinking over the sound of the words glowing on the screen.
Man, how is this blog post ever going to get started? OK, I’m going to Kerouac it…see you on the other side of the stream of my consciousness…better jump in with me, since you can never enter the same one twice.
As you know, we recently lost and then (maybe) found all of our videos–the kids’ first steps, words, meals, everything that we had committed to the magnetic memory of our computer’s hard drives. In that moment of free fall, where the bottom of my mind fell away from me, down into my gut, where it cut a hole in my belly and slid out, draining me–in that moment, when it seemed that I’d never see those moments again, I felt like I could never know them again either.
I realized that as I’d been banking these videos, I’d been counting them up like coins. I’d been thinking to myself that even if I couldn’t or didn’t remember what those first words were, or what they sounded like, or how far each kid walked in those first steps, I could always go back to the digital bank and count on my magnetic memories. And, because I had such faith in that, sometimes I had paid more attention to getting a good picture or footage than to what I was seeing.
I’ve known about this for some time. When I used to
have time to–lord, where did the time ever go since we had kids and got real jobs and bought a house with a yard and a garden? go hiking, I knew that if I took my camera, I would only see the woods and world around me in frames. I couldn’t separate the vast vistas of the Continental Divide or the creosote covered desert plains from the format of the film frame. Yes, film. I am that old. But, even later, the digital frame would divide me from the world I walked in, so I would often leave my camera at home, so that I could better see and be where I was.
When I wanted to take some picture, then I would take my camera for a walk to do just that, and not worry about seeing the forest, having come to focus on the trees.
But, when it came to the kids, I was in a new world and I couldn’t separate the forest and the trees. I couldn’t separate the pictures and the videos I would capture from what I could see. Just as when I first ventured into the wild, I thought, “I’ve got to get this. I’ve got to catch this moment, this look, this light. It’s never going to happen again.”
And it never did happen again.
Depending on which lens I look at that sentence from, it either focuses my resolve to capture more photos, more video–how about a GoPro in the corner of the room, capturing all of our moves all day long?–or it goes black and reflects my eye back into itself and I see that seeing is nothing compared to knowing. Seeing is just one way to apprehend a scene, and when sight is combined with the sounds, the touch of a child who can come close without losing focus, the smell…
Yes, even the smell, even when they were in diapers.
Because it was a brave new world, full of firsts and onlys and because I was greedy–I didn’t want to lose a moment to my faulty memory–I kept trying to take more and more. I took more photos, more video and, yes, I wrote more blog posts. I wrote about bon mots from the mouths of babes, great accomplishments like eating solid food and the heartbreak of leaving those scenes every morning to go to work. But, in writing about them, I cast them in (digital) cement. As they hardened, became concrete, they lost detail. Their fine points became rough. Their singularities became bonded into aggregates as I brought moments together to tell a story.
I was never dishonest. If I couldn’t remember the exact words said, I wouldn’t write them down. But in picking minutes and moments out of days, I was editing the kids’ lives–and mine–to fit the frame of the page. And doing that meant clipping out all the in between parts–you know, the parts that hold those moments together in the form of a life. I was focusing on the muscles and bones, but ignoring the tendons and ligaments that hold them together, that allow them to flex, work, get up and walk around.
As I sat on our living room carpet, drained of my mind, I saw more clearly than ever that what I needed wasn’t more videos and photos, what I needed was more focus. Rather than cutting up the bodies of our lives into bits and bytes, and frames and scenes I need to embrace them wholly, hold them in my hands, hug them to my heart. Rather than thinking about how great this moment would look, or who would read it or comment on it or like it, I needed to live it.
I needed to stop recording and start remembering. As Jewel said, I needed to stop talking, so I could hear myself think.
Jewel and I were watching a rabbit nibble on grass and hop across our back yard when Jewel said, “Rabbits like to eat carrots.”
“Yes, they do,” I replied. And then, because I can’t stop myself from saying what I’m sure she already knows, “But we never feed wild rabbits.” And then I paused, as I was trying to figure out how to explain the difference between wild and domesticated rabbits.
But, of course, Jewel already knew the answer, “No. We only feed calm rabbits.”