On this day…


I am curious to hear about how people my age looked at old photographs of themselves before Facebook.

I’m talking about “On This Day,” one of Facebook’s many featurettes designed to keep you close, a conspiracy to convince you that even if you have nothing to say to the world today, at the very least you might be inspired to share that on this day eight years ago you were in Florida, that you took a tiny, grainy picture with the rude camera affixed to your Blackberry, that you were at least happy then. And maybe if you share it once more, someone else will make you feel happy all over again.

Several weeks ago the applet served up a picture of Kelly and me, one that was taken with an actual camera — you can tell because it was dark and the photographer used the flash, only we were quite close to the camera, and our faces shined in the light.

It was a picture from before we had children.

It is odd to see yourself so differently. Lines of fatigue had yet to curl up around our eyes and mouths; our smiles somehow looked quicker. I cannot remember where we were or what we were doing, and that was perfectly wonderful.

But back to my original question — people who were about my age in the pre-Facebook years: did you seek out such sentimental reminders on your own? Do you still?

I’ve wondered if it isn’t healthy to be so frequently reminded of your past, if it isn’t a bit like walking backwards through life, keeping your eyes on the marked past instead of the future — or even the present.

Somehow in my head, the pre-Facebook years were like a Bruce Springsteen song, where your old flame stops by some Fridays after you’ve put the kids to bed, and you talk about your ex, and you tear up about how good you were in high school.

But — high school — that’s a good point. It’s not as if any of those pictures show up in my newsfeed. And it’s not like I’m ever in the mood to go find those pictures, where ever they might now be.

(Probably a shoe box. Aren’t everybody’s high school pictures in a shoe box? With carefully folded love letters? And maybe a dried out rose from prom and a cigarette lighter and a Pearl Jam album? Did you know that Eddie Vedder turns 52 this year? What?!)

And perhaps that’s why Facebook likes to keep its hands on our shoulders, turning us gently to look back. Better to ache with sentimentality — how young, how happy we looked — than to spend too much time acknowledging just what today is. Or what tomorrow means.

When we do indulge our futuristic impulses, they grow fatalistic with haste. If Trump is elected, the world will surely end in the neon ashes of atomic death. If Hillary is elected, we’ll abort a generation of babies and dream of free college for the billion Muslim immigrants who replace them. If Gary Johnson somehow gets elected, the White House will collapse in a heady cloud of laughter while we all toke up and try to find Syria on the map.

It was Tampa. 2008. The Rays were ACLS champs, and I snapped a picture of the lineup for the next game from my rental. It was a convertible, a Toyota. Florida in October is perhaps the best time to drive a convertible. I drove the causeway from Tampa to St. Petersburg and found dinner at a gulf-side restaurant and watched the famous sunset and tapped away on my Blackberry’s little plastic keys.

And on this day in 2007, I became “friends” on Facebook with Brittany, whom I have known since probably 1992, and who now lives on a farm in western North Carolina with her husband and three kids and a hearty collection of pigs and a pair of donkeys and a young orchard that in a few more years will give them apples.

And on this day — today — I woke up at 6:30 and saw Kelly and Julia and Annie off about ten minutes later. Thomas woke up with me, too, something he doesn’t always do, and in his morning tiredness, he suddenly grew tender watching his mother and sisters pull away in the minivan. I was rolling the garbage bins back from the street, and I saw him there, his face contorted as he seemed unsure about whether or not he’d decide to cry. He looked off into the empty street, the van out of sight, and I set the bins down and picked him up and hugged him tight, and I thought then about how much I desperately wanted to raise a boy who cared about things like this.

We came back inside, and I took a shower and fixed breakfast, eggs sunny-side up for T-man, something different, and he laughed as he poked the yolks and mixed in little pieces of sausage. I dropped him off and went to work and listened to a Planet Money podcast about the guy who invented the self-checkout machine (interesting, I swear), and got into the office with a coffee and a few minutes before my last advisee meeting to talk about spring coursework.

I worked through my inbox, clearing out tasks from the week; I biked over to the Union to meet a fellow I last saw in London. I had pizza with Christina and caught up with Dan, who was back from New York, and I went and played the Bösendorfer two houses down before it’s packed up for Delfeayo. I made airline and hotel reservations and came home, talking on the phone half an hour to a journalism student in Oregon who somehow found my blog and wanted to interview me about politics in North Carolina. The kids and Kelly and I sat at the breakfast table and ate barbecue. The after dinner entertainment was James and the Giant Peach. They went to bed; Kel went out to run an errand. Outside, a cold front is blowing in — lower 40s by the morning — and the leaves have just turned and they rustle now when a breeze picks up. I did the writerly thing and poured a bourbon and turned on jazz and wondered what I’d gotten done today and what that meant.

And here we are.