Write your photo memories down
I was looking for a date. Not that kind of date. I was looking for a calendar date of the last time I sat on the porch with a childhood friend. He was murdered while I was in college, and he crossed my mind.
I wondered about my last time hanging out with him. I found the entry and laughed aloud at all of our banter while sitting on my front porch. We’d been doing this since we were six years old as neighbors, then friends, then frienemies and then friends again.
I only have two photographs of him even after 14 years of us knowing each other. You would think I would’ve snapped more photographs, especially considering the countless times we also sat in adjoining bedroom windows and talked about a bunch of nothing.
When he passed away while I was at an out-of-state school, his grandfather knocked on my parents’ door to return the one photograph he had of me. He’d asked for it before I left Chicago.
I looked at the photograph of myself, read what was on the back and shoved it into a letterbox. And then I opened my journal and looked for that date, the date when I gave him the photograph.
For me, the journal entry detailing how he asked me for the picture meant far more to me — although the only photograph I have of him has been framed in my living room through two apartments and two condos. Where I move, he moves with me.
So when I saw CJ Johnson’s question on Twitter, “ Would you rather lose all your money and valuables or all the pictures you have ever taken?” I had to think about that one long and hard.
To a casual observer who visits me, you would think I’d pick photographs. I have exactly 31 full-sized photo albums, and that’s not even counting the number of photographs I’ve yet to order from Shutterfly.
But I have hundreds of letters in four letterboxes under my bed and at least 30 journals. I barely look at the photographs on my walls, primarily because the written memories are stronger. However, that hasn’t stopped me from filling my walls and cabinets with framed photographs.
My answer was “money and valuables” though, primarily because my journals are more “valuable” to me than photographs.
And without mortgage money, I wouldn’t have the space to store those China cabinets and shelves and walls. I have one writable CD full of important pictures from family trips. Four computers and one external drive later, and I still cannot open that CD. I’ve scanned some of the photos that were (luckily) printed out before then. But whenever I want to really know how I felt in those photographs, I open my journal to the date of the event (or relationship) and re-read it.
This is the one thing that I think more writers should do. Tangible items can always be lost, destroyed or misplaced. It’s why we need backups.
If I lose the photograph, I have the journal entry. If I lose the journal entry, I will have the photograph. And if I lose both, writing the memories down beforehand gives me clearer memories of what did happen. But how many of us do both? Are you moved by an image more than you are your own words?
Revisit your journals when you’re in a melancholy mood
There are other reasons I revisit journals. I can recall at least two exes that I considered rekindling a relationship with. I purposely change phone numbers (as childish as that is) to separate myself from people.
I’ve been doing it since I was 20 years old. I’ve never kept the same phone number for more than a year, either because of that or to get away from toxic people and annoying sales calls. (The former excuse became counterproductive the more serious the relationship was, especially when one ex showed up to my parents’ home and rallied my mother as his defender. Then another just kept following me on newly created Twitter accounts.)
But there are moments when you really think you want to be with a person again. And then you open your journals and re-read entries about them. No matter how lustful and happy and sexy you two look together in photographs, it’s all those words on the page that let you know whether this is a relationship worth revisiting. Your journal entries will stop you from making the same mistake twice and show you where you (or he) may be at fault. They’re valuable in a different way than a photograph could ever be.
If your answer to CJ Johnson’s question would’ve been “all the pictures you’ve ever taken” and you’re a writer, consider taking all of your best photographs into a room. Write down all the memories you can think of from those photographs. This way, should the photograph ever come up missing, damaged, faded or erased, you’ll still have the words to visualize the person and memory long after. And you’ll know when to reach out and when to just leave the whole memory in an album.
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