I’m taking up a Weekly Writing Challenge in this post, but me being who I am, I’m breaking all the rules.
Picture me around age twenty or twenty-two.
Good. Got it.
I was growing up. It got harder every day to muster the excitement I used to feel for holidays, vacations, or any other special moment. I began to understand why my mom always slowed us down and made us pose for pictures leaning together in front of a landmark, or holding up unwrapped gifts. The occasion didn’t mean as much to her anymore unless she paused to capture it.
Top this off with the fact that I was dealing with dissociation, which meant my observational skills were out the window. It really puts a damper on my enthusiasm when I know I’ll be too spaced out to even notice what’s going on around me, let alone appreciate it.
Photography seems to bog people down, including the author who provided this prompt. By the time you fumble with your camera, focus it, and click, you’re out of the zone. You’re no longer enjoying what’s in front of you. For me, though? Taking pictures helped me learn to live in the moment, starting with a little corner of the internet called A Day In My Life.
The idea was simple. You photographed everything you did in a day, from waking to climbing back into bed. A lot of participants took shots of clocks along the way, so you got a sense of their schedule. Average days were fine to post, but more often, people chose to document interesting events, or unique corners of the world. I lived in Orlando at the time, so I decided to do as any good Floridian would and bring a camera along on my Disney World trip.
I stuck to the guidelines faithfully, beginning with a carefully posed shot of myself before opening my eyes. I hadn’t turned on anything but a nightlight, so the image turned out dim, fuzzy, and above all accurate.
I photographed the cats, the time on the digital clock, and before-and-after shots of getting dressed (that’s the after pic up at the top). I photographed my trail mix and latte breakfast, which I consumed while walking along the photographed sidewalk to the photographed bus. By the time I got within sight of the place, I had over 25 pictures under my belt and plenty of practice at figuring out what viewers might find interesting or relevant to see.
This is the part that fits the prompt. This is the part where I stop needing the pictures to tell you what I did that day.
I took such a scientific approach to the project at first. After all, I was going to Epcot. It was only natural, but I couldn’t keep it up. Once I started to focus on choosing pictures that could convey the feeling of really being there — the whoosh of the monorail pulling into the station, the limey scent of the water that splattered from the fountain, the cool spring breeze ruffling the hair of everyone in line — I started to feel like I was an excited little kid seeing the world through fresh eyes. I wanted to see everything. Nothing was farther from my mind than daydreaming. I was living the dream.
I went on rides I hadn’t been on in over a decade and saw shows I’d never seen — experiences I’d passed up before because they weren’t fast enough or funny enough. I spent twenty minutes staring at a koi pond. I even took pictures of sights that wouldn’t be too hard to find at home, like my lunch of noodles and tofu, or a cutely perched pelican.
Have you ever heard the theory that time seems to speed up as you age because your brain takes shortcuts when it’s processing sights you’ve already seen? The days stretch on when we’re kids because everything is new to us. Not just the flashy neon lights or the way thrill rides jolt our bodies into motion, but the gritty curved texture of the seat of the ride we’re on, and the shape of each individual leaf in the greenhouse. We look at the big iconic Epcot ball, and instead of thinking “oh, it’s the golf ball thing”, our gaze bounces off each point and plane until we realize it’s bigger than our eyes can scale.
I kept taking pictures right up through the end of the day. I ended up with 330 of them, blurry shots and retakes included, but I never did straighten them out and submit them like I’d originally intended. I didn’t feel like I needed to anymore.
I’d be oversimplifying it if I said that from then on I knew how to live in the moment. I didn’t; it’s still a work in progress. What I can say, though, is that when I’m feeling blank or distant, whether I’m in an exotic locale or right here at home, I know how to handle it. The ritual of focusing on photography, of trying to document life through my eyes, forces me to really process what I’m seeing. Usually, it’s worth more attention than I’d thought to give it.
The last time I went to Disney, I took a couple snapshots on the way up to the entrance, then got bored. I don’t need a camera to remember the thrill I get from grinning at a stranger and seeing them smile back, eyes full of anticipation. I can feel the blast of cold air that makes your hair stream back when you step from the heat past the fans mounted at the entrance of an indoor ride. The damp, mossy, chlorinated smell of the water rides and their tall, dark, echoing caverns is so distinct that people bottle and wear it. If I concentrate hard enough, I can feel how your stomach lurches on its way down a drop, like your insides want to stay back at the top of that hill, though your feet are braced hard against the ride’s tough rubbery bottom.
I can see the thousands upon thousands of coins — some twinkling and new, others coated in a heavy dark patina — that line the bottom of the ‘It’s a Small World’ ride, glittering like stars as your little cart bumps and splashes along into rainbow halls of dancing, singing puppets. There’s a pond in Epcot where each coin I toss always nets me a wish that comes true. It’s the current background of my fiction blog, but I don’t need that picture either. I can feel the weight of the coin in my hand, the speedy flick of my thumbnail as I spin it into the air, and finally the plunk where I let out my breath and lean over the rail to see if it landed atop the smooth rocks, or between them. I’m saving a new dime for my next trip; ten tiny wishes for the price of one.
These days, I try to stop and register what my senses are taking in where others would take a picture. There’s nothing wrong with pictures, and I’m grateful for the ones that I have, but my memories are what I carry with me. They are me. They lend color to what I write and speak. They catch my mind in the act of trying to take the easy way out. They remind me how to live.