Birthdays and old photographs.
How they arouse our emotions!
So many words have been written about time, and our attitude to it.
Memory is a crazy woman that hoards colored rags and throws away food said Austin O’Malley.
How much is concentrated in this deceptively simple remark: far more than a comment on human fallibility, these words carry a spiritual connotation too.
But I believe an acknowledgement and acceptance of our past is vital to our ability to live in the present and look positively towards the future: and this gives us our sense of belonging.
This weekend I celebrated my birthday (St Patrick’s Day) with two parties, one for my family on Saturday and one for my friends on Sunday – I couldn’t get them all into the house at the same time!
I put a timeline of photos up for guests to see and it was great inspiration for conversation and questions!
One guest said to me (apologies if he reads this blog but I thoroughly empathise with him) , “Oh I never look back at old photos; they make me feel so depressed.”
The truth is I was dreading the task – going back through the photo albums. But I felt impelled to do it, as I believe people do appreciate these displays. I had to psyche myself up to do it, and nearly backed out.
But it was a surprisingly positive thing to do. I looked at photos of a past holiday and felt a wave of happiness. Instead of a sense of loss and nostalgia, I took inside myself all the joy of that time.
Of course, I chose photos of positive occasions, so I admit it was a strongly biassed timeline! School prizegivings, weddings, new babies, anniversary celebrations, holidays. And I realised that I’ve travelled to Australia five times.
I didn’t include photos of Me Making the Worst Mistake of My Life, or a photo of Me Writing the Letter I Wish I’d Never Sent, Which I Regret To This Day, or Me With the Man I Wish I’d Never Met (or got involved with). Oh no. There were no pictures like that on the timeline.
And when it comes to remembrance of things past, I’m only too well aware there are those who have damaging, soul-destroying memories of horror, tragedy and grief – as I see when I read the accounts sent to us by the homelessness charity Centrepoint.
But when it comes to owning good memories, without regret or nostalgia, I feel that way about Australia, where I lived for four and a half years from 1986 to 1990. I eventually came back to England, feeling drawn to my own country again.
Although I miss the subtropical rainforests, mountain lookouts, and mangrove boardwalks, the bellbirds, bougainvillea, and jacaranda trees of Queensland, I don’t feel a sense of loss. Instead I feel they are treasures I always carry with me.
These treasures are vital in creative writing: both the easily-recognized treasures in happy memories and the hidden treasures in our negative experiences too. For a fiction writer, no experience in this life is lost, good or bad.
How do you feel about old photographs? Do you look at them or avoid them? Are old prints lost in forgotten albums? Or have you stored them in electronic files, instantly accessible?
Or are you too busy living in the present? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Please share in the comments!