Toad in the Hole

December 12, 2006

More Crab Season

Another of those weird irritations that show up all year 'round but get worse around Axial Tiltmas: this "making memories" stuff. Of course it's mostly commercial, and of course it has little to do with anything one actually remembers after childhood -- and it does seem to be aimed at the child-accessories market.

It looks a lot like the sex-toy stores/BDSM circle. I was quizzical, years ago, about how cozy places like Good Vibrations (handily a block from my workplace) has rather a large proportion of leather and handcuffs and restraints and whips and the like. Were they really so BDSM-tilted? Oh -- no, it's that BSDM seems to require or at least use more gear than most other kinks, so, duh, a store that sells gear would sell that gear. Cuz it's gear, and there's more of it. Then I started thinking about how BDSM seemed to be all over the place all of a relative sudden, and got to wondering how much of the trendy "cutting-edge" (sorry) aspect of it was market-driven, like any other fashion. I suspect there's some reciprocal energy going on here, and I don't mean as in the phrase "power exchange." Though I notice that's a commercial place too -- a weekly-or-so event at some major club in San Francisco.

So there's the gingerbread-house kit, for "making memories." And there's the videocam and the scrapbooks (no scraps involved; this is all prefab and perfect and arranged just so and has given rise to the nasty neologism "scrapbooking"), for "cherishing memories." And there's whatever Disney thing is in the ads, for "memories they'll cherish for a lifetime." I could go on for pages.

Seems as if no one can just make a damned birthday cake anymore; gotta make "memories."

I'm also reminded of a scene in one of Kim Robinson's southern-California science-fiction trilogy, where a couple "has to" quit in the middle of having sex because the videocam stops working. If they're not looking at a picture of themselves having sex, they can't have sex: one step over the line from the ceiling mirror.

I'm tempted to blame TV (OK, or the patriarchy -- might be closer, at that) for the apparent fad for living one's life at one remove, or onstage, or as a live sockpuppet maybe. That's probably part of it, having acting in the thespian sense going on in the background of so many lives all the time, part of the household like the furnace and the furniture and the furry pets. The habit of some folks, thinking of soap operas as real, getting mad at the characters, arguing about them as if they're one's eccentric relatives -- that's not novel. (Might be novela, but.) But I suspect it's not that new exactly, just more commonplace and intimate. People worshipping, even rioting over celebrities is pretty old, older than the stage, even. What are royalty but actors -- and models, meaning mannequins? The crowns are the important parts of the crowned heads, after all.

If people are actually buying the stuff in the ads, buying the mindset as well as the gear, it seems like a way of secondhanding their own lives, of putting a plexiglas shield between themselves and what they're actually doing while (only apparently paradoxically) inflating it all to onstage goings-on. One step beyond the stage-managed wedding where the dress is wearing you --and then the videocams and photogs are getting the "best" seats and generally getting in the way of the people who are actually there. The videocams are wearing the event, and getting a picture of it (including in those "memories") is more important than whatever you're experiencing at the time. One's stuffed and mounted self, glass-eyed and staring from the wall, in the pose of an Audubon bird, well, it's easier to sell than something that already belongs to the customer: one's experiences.

It wasn't quite so bad in the Fifties, in the lower middle class. We had Brownie cameras, and Dad used to line us up every damned Easter -- we were squinting into the sun as he fiddled and focused -- and take our photos in our Easter outfits, after Mass but before dinner. Memories? What I remember is him getting into the spirit of the badminton game at the neighborhood cook-out, and when the shuttlecock got swatted out of reach, grabbing a hotdog some kid had dropped on the lawn and serving that over the net. It lasted a few minutes in play and then got sliced up by the raquet strings. Or planting radishes with the little kids. Or stooping, whooping, to catch a grounder and coming up with a Japanese beetle stuck to his tongue. Or explaining to us that a bit of lobster shell that had missed the garbage can was a dinosaur toenail.

I suspect that's what all kids remember anyway; I'm that optimistic. But who's falling for that "making memories" stuff? People who've been convinced their lives aren't quite lives?

Maybe nobody?

Posted at December 12, 2006 07:09 AM

Comments

Thanks Ron. Very nice, and much appreciated especially at this time of year.

Professional photographers: they don't 'see' life you know? only its representation through a viewfinder. I used to find working photography fun, then I began working photography all the time, needing to take the camera everywhere, everything was reduced to that rectangle, a potential memory (or sale, or A1). I don't remember now how it happened, but fortunately for me, I quickly realized I wasn't enjoying the vistas anymore, hadn't actually been there. I don't even own a camera anymore.

Posted by: Pony at December 12, 2006 03:43 PM


Pony: Absolutely right...stop looking through the viewfinder ALL the time and actually experience something. Oh to view a sunset without worrying about F-stop.

Ron: Some of us are trying to FORGET "the" memories; they won't die. I don't have a single childhood photo of myself that shows me smiling. All the good times are in my head because that's where they have always been, and nowhere else...well...except maybe for that DBSM weekend back in '81...must destroy photos.

Posted by: Carl Buell (OGeorge) at December 12, 2006 11:50 PM


Yeah, Carl -- and Pony, it's funny how people can manage to look through the viewfinder at their lives even when they don't have a camera.

Oh yeah, those memories we try to forget. One of my sisters says she doesn't really remember anything before um was it late highschool? I've got a bag of those, too, and I do believe I had a "happier" childhood than my younger siblings (that would be all of them). The Happy Family pretty much disintegrated over the years and things got worse and at younger ages progressively for the others.

Things were hairy enough by the time I was in college that I felt seriously doomed thinking (incorrrectly, thank Cthulu) that all that remained for me after I graduated was to go back and spend the rest of my life there -- not necessarily in that house, but in that town.

Ugh. That's another post, for some future gloomy week.

Posted by: Ron at December 13, 2006 05:26 AM


i like candid photos, including those ones that somebody remembers to snap during some get-together, which only surface years later when someone remembers to print them.

i keep an easter photo from when i was 11, and my sisters were 8, 6, and 3. it was the last time we all wore matching dresses.

here's to the memories we keep, the good, bad, ugly, lovely, and magical. nobody will ever edit those compulsive videotapes, but i think it's possible to do some sorting and labeling of the stuff in our minds, over time. at least to the point where the ugly is a cautionary tale, not a nightmare -- with us, but stripped of power.

Posted by: kathy a at December 13, 2006 05:48 AM


Yeah, Ron. Spot on. Look at the phenomenon that is scrapbooking. It's this, taken to the Nth degree. Recording life as a hobby that actually takes up a significant portion of a life. Eeee.

Some people use their blogs as digital scrapbooks, too, which can be fun, but which I find scary when taken to the point where they start to see everything that happens in their lives as "blog fodder." That's just weird, IMO. A blog that helps you synthesize your experience through the process of creating it? Sure, that's like a diary, or a scrapbook. It can be very healthy and therapeutic, and can be valuable to others. A blog that becomes your motivation for going outside and doing things, though? That seems a little creepy. I can see how it can happen, though.

Angry Black Bitch (another favorite blogger -- http://angryblackbitch.blogspot.com) wrote recently about going to a party and interacting with people face-to-face as opposed to online and how it seems like nobody *talks* to each other anymore, in real time, in slow real time that takes time and that is all you do, one thing at a time. For a lot of people, between TV and the internet, I can see how real life can fall into cracks and how it might be increasingly difficult to remember where it all came from and what it's all for besides photographing and writing about.

As a person who sometimes gets paid to take pictures, I must argue with the notion that all professional photographers forget how to look. It doesn't have to be that way, and not all of us do it. But you do have to structure your life with the conscious intention of being in it, not outside looking in. But this is true of everyone in this modern age. We are spoiled by technology. All this "memory"-making technology, from digital camcorders to pre-made, pre-cut cookie dough you can see advertised on TV underneath a bad poem spoken in a smarmy voice about fleeting time and then go find in plastic tubes in the dairy section of your local supermarket, combines to make it surpassingly easy to merely pretend to live.

Sometime in my 20s, I stopped allowing other people to take pictures of me at all. I would tell people it was against my religion. When pressed with a scornful, "And what religion is that?" I would tell them "Sara-ism," and I would explain that it was bad for me to have to worry about how I was being recorded, and also that it was spiritually important to me to leave behind as little in the way of personal documentation as possible because it's my belief that we're supposed to be temporary. "But I want to have *memories* of us together," one of my best friends would whine. "So? Remember. If you can't remember without a photo, maybe it's not so important."

I only let people take photos of me now for my blog, and it was a hard decision for me. But that's about demonstrating things (like being fully alive and doing real stuff) and also about contributing consciously to fat woman and "disabled" woman visibility. I don't look like the shiny mommies in the cookie dough ads, but I'm here, too, with lots of other women who don't look like those shiny mommies, and we need to be seen as normal, not freaks, for the health of everyone. It's not about making memories. It's about creating and maintaining an inclusive consciousness, one goofy picture at a time. It's a strange undertaking, though, and I am having to struggle not to let it take over my whole life, too.

It's so easy to tell stories.

Posted by: Sara at December 13, 2006 05:44 PM


Yes Sara I knew before I got to the end it was a woman speaking. I am speaking of my thoughts on the topic gained while working as an ambulance chaser for a daily. Surrounded by testosterone overload. Other types of photography are less what I described. If you're a news photog, it's that way or the highway.

There are times I think I'd like a camera: this dawn, hoar frost across the river. But there'll be some dude with $15,000 worth of gear who'll take the shot, and if I really want it, I can probably download it.

Regarding memories. I do think it's good to document them somehow, whatever you choose. I used to think this: there are two things no-one can take from you, your education and your memories. I've lived to find that is wrong. Both can be taken from you, by certain health conditions, or the treatments and medications for it, even before being aged does its thing. What I do still remember, no photograph could equal.

Posted by: Pony at December 13, 2006 05:54 PM


there is some more i want to say, because back in the day i was a yearbook editor, and my yearbook was all about unposed [or at least informa] photos, and just capturing some of the stuff that happened during the year. there are ways that i'm pretty obviously in the "capture it forever" camp, but we DID edit quite a lot!

organizing things was a real project. we knew even at the time that we were missing a lot, that we were putting things into categories that might not capture what was important for people. you have to make decisions someplace, and we did the best we could. it wasn't so much making memories as collecting a selection of them.

Posted by: kathy a at December 14, 2006 12:32 AM


Kathy, that's one of the big hurdles of editing -- what do I have to leave out? I'm in the "Capture it" camp myself, in a random way, but I do remind myself that the experience is what matters.

Oh OK, here's a true story. In 1985, we went back to Cave Creek Canyon in southeastern Arizona. We'd been there in 1980 and vowed to return. It was a great trip, got our life elegant trogons, yadda yadda. But one day, when we'd had great photos to take, we got back to camp and found out the camera had malfunctioned and the whole roll of film was wasted.

We were sitting there being all disconsolate -- well, Joe was sitting on a rock and I was lying in a hammock next to him, and thinking grim thoughts. And I heard this weird buzz at my ear.

The hummingbirds in SE Arizona are big -- lots bigger than the Anna's here or the ruby-throats back East. Their wing sounds are a few octaves lower. They hum basso, not alto. That's one of those things that crack the plexi wall you didn't know you had around you and lets your world expand by a diameter or two.

The buzz was a male blue-throated hummingbird. That throat is a blue that paintings and photographs can't convey because it's structural color, of a depth that no rendering on flat can reproduce. The back, similarly green.

He inspected my left ear, then flew to the other end of the hammock, inspected its red cords, and sat down on the toe of my right sandal to contemplate the whole scene. He looked us up and down, looked at the hammock and its red strings, looked at everything again, seemed to roll his eyes (though not showing whites or anything), and, after we'd held our breath more or less involuntarily and stared for a full minute, flew off again.

And we looked at each other and laughed, and vowed never to worry about lost photos again.

I won't swear we've kept that vow, but we've certainly had a better sense of proportion about it since then.

Posted by: Ron at December 15, 2006 05:25 AM


Oh yeah. What I'm grouching about is not so much capturing memories as "making" them -- posing for them.

Posted by: Ron at December 15, 2006 05:26 AM


Kathy, that's one of the big hurdles of editing -- what do I have to leave out? I'm in the "Capture it" camp myself, in a random way, but I do remind myself that the experience is what matters.

Oh OK, here's a true story. In 1985, we went back to Cave Creek Canyon in southeastern Arizona. We'd been there in 1980 and vowed to return. It was a great trip, got our life elegant trogons, yadda yadda. But one day, when we'd had great photos to take, we got back to camp and found out the camera had malfunctioned and the whole roll of film was wasted.

We were sitting there being all disconsolate -- well, Joe was sitting on a rock and I was lying in a hammock next to him, and thinking grim thoughts. And I heard this weird buzz at my ear.

The hummingbirds in SE Arizona are big -- lots bigger than the Anna's here or the ruby-throats back East. Their wing sounds are a few octaves lower. They hum basso, not alto. That's one of those things that crack the plexi wall you didn't know you had around you and lets your world expand by a diameter or two.

The buzz was a male blue-throated hummingbird. That throat is a blue that paintings and photographs can't convey because it's structural color, of a depth that no rendering on flat can reproduce. The back, similarly green.

He inspected my left ear, then flew to the other end of the hammock, inspected its red cords, and sat down on the toe of my right sandal to contemplate the whole scene. He looked us up and down, looked at the hammock and its red strings, looked at everything again, seemed to roll his eyes (though not showing whites or anything), and, after we'd held our breath more or less involuntarily and stared for a full minute, flew off again.

And we looked at each other and laughed, and vowed never to worry about lost photos again.

I won't swear we've kept that vow, but we've certainly had a better sense of proportion about it since then.

Posted by: Ron at December 15, 2006 05:44 AM


I think I was inspired to find your blog. I had an emotional crisis because I lost my wedding album, not one of the professional ones, but candid photos from cameras placed on tables at our wedding. They caught more of the meaning of the wedding than a professional, but like you said the memories are in me. I can still tell my children about my wonderful day even with out the album.

Posted by: daizy at December 15, 2006 06:44 AM


I think I was inspired to find your blog. I had an emotional crisis because I lost my wedding album, not one of the professional ones, but candid photos from cameras placed on tables at our wedding. They caught more of the meaning of the wedding than a professional, but like you said the memories are in me. I can still tell my children about my wonderful day even with out the album.

Posted by: daizy at December 15, 2006 06:44 AM


I love the hummingbird story.

By the time I got to Santa Cruz in 1987, my camera was broken, and it stayed broken for ten years or so. That means I lived eight years in one of the most beautiful populated places in the country and never took a single picture. (Well, I took a few; that's how I found out my camera was broken.) I also didn't paint much that entire time, but I wrote and wrote and wrote. Then, right before I left California for good, almost everything I owned, things I'd saved since childhood and things that had been left me by other people, was destroyed by my soon to be ex-husband.

No, I don't remember everything that happened to me in those eight years, or all the years before for which I've lost almost all mementos. What I do remember, though, whether it was beautiful or ugly (though mostly I only remember the beautiful), I remember in vivid detail, with my whole body.

In my family, if you live to be old, you end up with Alzheimer's or some other form of dementia. My sister says it won't happen to us, that it only happened to everyone who came before us who managed to pass 70 because they all drank like fishes back then. We'll see. Either way, between what has already happened to me and what I expect to happen to me if I make it much further, I am accustomed to the idea of letting go of souvenirs and records (both kinds), whether I ever had them in my hand or not. It's not better. It's just how things have worked out. And now it matters to me that I live, not that I remember that I lived, or that anyone else should remember that I lived.

Besides, if we do live to be old and everybody has kept such immaculate track of everything, what will we argue about in rocking chairs on the retirement home porch?

Posted by: Sara at December 15, 2006 08:01 PM


I blame capitalism. (and the patriarchy, of course, but, in this case, mostly capitalism.) And television--or all mass media, really; I blame them, too. I'm too tired to make a coherent argument here, but I think the obsession with celebrities is tied directly into this (as, of course, are "reality" shows). Bread and circuses, baby.

I often feel like an anachronism, though: I really prefer sitting around with a friend or friends, perhaps with a fermented beverage and/or food. I like cooking. I like making and sharing. I think it's time well spent. And, not surprisingly, my friends are similar in this regard. The constant over-stimulation to which so many people subject themselves seems wrong in so many ways.

Posted by: narya at December 15, 2006 11:22 PM


And what is this crap with mother/women being the custodian of the memories? The photo album, the childhood mementoes, the highschool mug. A recently deceased aunt of very modest means, china bought piece by piece for her daughters to have someday, just went to the thrift store; or hanging onto widdo teef, or wisps of hair, for what?

Hmpf.

There is something good about taking photos. Because someone did, I get to go places I would never see otherwise, and for that I'm grateful someone is buying camera gear. I had no idea Utah was so beautiful. My eyes know bush, and mountain, lake and rock. Grey black green and sunset. But those colours in Zion park. I've never seen anything like that. Never will but for the photos someone else took.

Posted by: Pony at December 16, 2006 04:22 AM


About 13 years ago I had occasion to go to the west coast. a friend and I drove out there (in an unairconditioned car, in august) and back, and we hit somewhere around a dozen national parks along the way. a number of people "warned" us that Utah and Nevada would be Boring, but I, who grew up in rural New Jersey, found it unbelievably amazing. The color palette is SO different: I just stared.

My favorite national park, I think, was Death Valley. Ain't got nothin' like that in New Jersey.

On the other hand, we know from pizza, so we got that goin' for us.

Posted by: narya at December 16, 2006 04:42 AM


Hm, lotta duplicates lately, including mine; sorry. I have to nudge Joe off his computer to delete them (I can only "junk" comments from this one, and that tends to shunt the commenter's subsequent stuff into the spambucket), and he's been working on it a lot. Part of that is the joint SF Chronicle column. He's a lot more industrious than I am.

Anyway.

Yes -- Utah, also Arizona and New Mexico. It's amazing to see a place where the ground is even more colorful than the sky or the vegetation. And the palette really is different. I remember when we did the cross-country trip in 1980; when we crossed the Rockies in Canada, from bluejay to Steller's jay range. There was an irrigated cornfield on the mountain slope that looked incredible tacky and garish next to the native forest and scrub, those deep blued greens.

Pony, someone on the mother-in-law stories site, a while ago, mentioned cleaning out some deceased relative's house. The relative -- aunt? great-aunt? -- had a dresser drawer full of other deceased relatives' dentures. OK, it's weird, but I had to wonder if it was a species of performance art referencing that Baby's First Tooth/Lock of Hair/Bronzed Baby Shoes thing.

I just had a theological question pop up in my head: Would dentures be a first-class relic, or a second-class relic?

Posted by: Ron at December 16, 2006 05:19 AM


I think, maybe, these dentures will have been saved by someone who has lived through the depression. You never know when you might need them again, or maybe Daryl, Anna's cousin. {The one been eating gruel these last two years.}

My grandmother left a lifetime of possessions in one small trunk. There her daughters found (among other necessities of a long ago time, the sight of which shot them back and away from their town life) small balls of string and bigger balls of twine, some brown paper salvaged, carefully folded (it would have been used to line baking pans), scraps of fabric cut from old dresses and mens' pantslegs (themselves cut from some leftover garment, all sewn by her hand), other small inconsequentials, to them, and finally, the back of her fur coat. Not a lady's fur coat but the kind of fur coat a woman wore in the northern bush, when she went to get water from the ice hole. That fur piece became the lining to one of my chidren's Inuit-style parkas, worn for the first time on a day 67 degrees below zero. Her great-grandmother's fur allowing her the luxury to examine in great detail, step step pause, step pause pause, the brilliant clear mirror ice of Great Bear Lake under her kamiks.

So I don't know Ron. Perhaps, first *and* second?

Posted by: Pony at December 18, 2006 12:50 AM