The mess that went missing

Posted by jdg | Thursday, December 06, 2012

As hard drive disasters go, it could have been a lot worse. After my internal drive failed and I restored everything from the external backup I realized I must have somehow told the backup program to exclude all of the pictures I have taken since my daughter was born in 2005. Folders full of PDF instructions for boil-hardening leather were there with albums of mp3s I've never listened to, but none of the thousands of pictures I've taken over the years were where they were supposed to be. They had been erased during the restoration process. The dread and panic that followed were weighed down by the knowledge that I didn't have anyone but myself to blame.

From various other hard disks and elderly laptops I did manage to cobble back together almost everything except (1) July through December of last year; and (2) every photo I'd edited and saved from before we moved from San Francisco to Detroit. I couldn't find those anywhere, other than low-res versions on flickr. I did, however, eventually locate the original RAW files from 2005-6 and I have spent the last three weeks going through them and painstakingly culling the best for a more permanent place in a folder that will be backed up on multiple hard disks and online. If you're not backing up your best pictures in multiple locations I highly recommend doing so. We're not storing these memories on stone tablets, folks, but finicky spinning magnetic disks soldered together by Indonesian widows for three nickels an hour. It might be a good idea to print them occasionally, too.

Despite all the time and trouble, looking through all those old pictures has been kind of magical. I have always taken a lot of pictures (and there's a lot to be said for just living rather than always documenting) but I do love the ways pictures stir up old memories. This was like a second chance to choose which memories were worth keeping. In the RAW files I saw the raw life we'd left behind, and with a healthy dose of nostalgia for that baby who's nearly eight-years-old now, I realized how much of our lives I'd forgotten.

I started doing this blog, at my wife's urging, back in June 2005. While sifting through these old photos, I noticed how the way I chose pictures changed around that time. The pictures I pulled from the dozens I took every day were often chosen with the blog in mind. There is an ugly truth about this medium, and that is so many of us cherry pick our daily lives for what to share online to the point where what you see looks nothing like our day-to-day reality. Most people understand online lives are edited and often staged, but it does occasionally lead to the perception that things are somehow "better" than they actually are. Or at least cleaner. It wasn't the posed and cropped blog-destined shots I thought I'd lost that have fascinated me over the last few weeks; it was the mess of our apartment in the background of photos I don't even remember taking. Though I had relegated those shots to the dim and cobwebby confines of a 500GB hard drive kept in the back of the closet, here in 2012 they felt priceless. I smiled at our many questionable choices of home decor. There was a box of that cereal we used to eat on the kitchen counter! There were my ill-fitting thrift store khakis stacked unevenly in the closet above the PC where I started writing this blog! More than anything else, I smiled at the mess. God, we were slobs. We still are. You should see the room behind me while I type this: an unmade bed, piles of books and clothes and bags of yarn on a dirty carpet. This is truly how we live. We make the mess by living.

And there in those lost photos I saw my forgotten self: clean-shaven, fat-faced and happy as hell in that shitty apartment, amid all that unbelievably unnecessary baby stuff, smiling and holding the tiny thing that would knock his world off its axis, knock him right out of those business-casual khakis and that 27th-floor office and the day-to-day life that kept him from her.  That life seems so long ago, so full of pretending to care about what made him money and the contorted values and obligations that came with it. His eyes weren't quite so baggy then, but the lines already formed when he smiled. Today I can see a joyfully crumbling world reflected in those eyes. 

* * * * *

As this season's deteriorating weather drives us inside, I find myself holding the camera less and less. I am still editing, even though I have decided to post far fewer pictures of the kids on this website than I once might have. Inside the house, the backgrounds are distracting, the lighting complicated. While I once complained about how the high-quality camera in my cell phone was keeping me from using my nice camera, flipping through the pictures on my phone I am pleased to see the mess of our lives more fully represented. In seven years I hope I find them and they'll help me remember how good these days were. Because none of it feels destined for the blog anymore.

* * * * *

If things have been quiet here lately it's because I've been focusing my energy on other projects and making a lot of gifts for Christmas, and having a lot of fun doing both. My daughter is in her room singing "Pancho and Lefty" and my son is in his room making a mess. All is good here.