Friday, December 11, 2015

A Tenderness of Intent

Safely stored in our basement is a box of photo books my mom made when we, my two brothers and I, were growing up.  There are captions above, below, beside each black-and-white.  There is an occasional burst of color in some of the earlier books - Christmas, a beach trip, camping - bright and happy like a Sunday comic page.  They are dated well, thoughtfully executed and an excellent chronicle of my childhood - thanks, Mom.

And, I hardly ever look at them.

You should apologize to her now, you're thinking.

I'm not going to.

You see, I cherish those books, I really do.  Their dry crinkly pages, yellowed and stained with that mark that only a glue brush can make, the acetate clear pages also brittle and chipped, have been around for as long as I can remember.  Some of the pictures have lost their moorings - you remember, the little black frame corner pieces meticulously placed to grab the picture - and they float behind the clear page. 

I don't look at them very frequently because I want them to remain the way they are - not in that box downstairs - but in my mind.  It is very comforting to know not that there is a box of photobooks of memories and past awaiting, no, but that their was a past to remember, a childhood, dreams, memories to make, and, and... someone loved enough to chronicle it.

Marci and I, mostly Marci, well, Marci, really, has made and makes picture books for the boys.  There are baby books with notes and bits about them written and remembered.  There are preschool graduation pictures, old friends, team photos, you know what's in them, and the boys like to get them out - as I did - and remember forgotten things and good times and kittens and old cats.  They like to get them out a couple or few times a year.  For now at least.

I am afraid I didn't articulate that very well at all...

I am trying to get to a point, but it seems to keep getting farther away.  I am trying to say that I think - and it sounds trite now - that photobooks and scrapbooks and folders of old school projects and old chests full of letter-jackets and theater posters, envelopes of love letters, a box of undated photos of forgotten faces and times, a little box that once held, well, things that needed to be held, but only holds the crispy petals of a yellow rose, all these things, and, oh, so many more, are sacred places.

They are not sacred things, no, the sacred place I speak of is in me.

It is in my heart.

It is in my mind.

The sacred place is my soul, built and buttressed with each memory kept, each item held, each love listed, each smile captured.

I cherish those old books Mom made, the boys cherish the ones they have, perhaps you have a box of memories as well.  We keep them safe.  We open them now and again.  We know, and this is important, that there is a tenderness of intent inherit in them, and, that tenderness is what makes them good, important... sacred.

This is a transitional paragraph.  It serves to link the opening above to the main topic which follows.  It is not a very good transitional paragraph.

I have a new phone.  It is shiny and smart and takes pretty good images.  I took one the other day of the boys getting ready for their first real band event - a compelling review of thirty second songs utilizing all five of the notes they know.  In all honesty, I just took it because I happened upon my phone in my pocket and thought, what the hell.

I liked one of the pictures, well, a part of one, so I cropped it and added some filters - too many I am sure - and I posted it to a private Facebook page I belong to with little explanation, trying to be cool, I'd guess.

I should be embarrassed to say that I was showing off.  I wanted my friends there to see how grown up and interesting and hip the boys are becoming.  I wanted folks to see the image I'd taken, what I'd done with it.  There is not much sacred about showing off.  And, that's why I am not embarrassed by it all.  It got me to thinking.

I have long been uncomfortable with posting a lot of pictures of the boys on Facebook, oh sure I have now and then, but it never felt quite right.  I'd like to say it's because of privacy issues and the like, but, it's not that.  I'd like to say it is because I hate the thought of an image of childhood innocence, and so many like it, trying to flower in the stench of so much hate and violence and unkindness that seems to the invade event the gentlest of Facebook threads, pages and posts, but, honestly, I don't believe that.  I see beauty and caring and depth and integrity every day on it, mixed in the ugly, so that's not it.  (Boys, if you don't remember what Facebook was, I wrote a little primer here.)

No, what it is is that it's too damn easy.  I couldn't believe that old Luddite Bill, could figure it all out from my new phone.  Tip, tap, swipety, swipe... done.  Do you know the word "flip?"  It is short for flippant, I think, which is defined as "frivolously disrespectful, shallow, or lacking in seriousness; characterized by levity."

Yeah, I think we are all a bit flip about posting images on Facebook.  There is no gluestick, there are no scissors, or little frame corners.  There is no long consideration of what maybe to say about it, no looking long and deep into the slice of life you just excised.  Just, post it and move on.

Oh, there's more too.  Not only are we paying very little attention as we quickly send an image into digital bits on Facebook, we are, in my opinion, disrespecting it, forgetting it, discarding it in the detritus and discourse and decay, where, simply put, it does not belong.

Maybe I am being hard my myself, on you, on us.  I don't mean to say that that every time we post an image on Facebook an angel loses his wings.  For the most part there is no ill-intent, no harm meant, no foul.  But, maybe there is more to that image than just the temporary attention it gets and as quickly fades.  I feel kinda sorry for those images because I don't think they live in a sacred place.  I know many will argue that they make prints and fill scrapbooks with the pictures they've loaded on Facebook and Instagram and whatever other digital host first got them, I hope so.

I want to look at the inverse, though.  Let's imagine you had to buy film and load it and decide on a scene and make sure you had the right light or flash or a "magicube" and enough exposures to get just the right image.  Imagine you yourself developed a proof-sheet and looked at each image through a magnifying loupe, considering which one to print.  Or, imagine an envelope full of prints - twelve, twenty-four, thirty-six - fresh from the drugstore.  You flip through them, one in particular sings, you frame it or put it in your wallet or keep it at the ready in a drawer or glovebox.  You show it to your friends at work or at school.  They hold it, you point to it, maybe brush a piece of lint away.  Your mates at the local bar all pass the pictures of the big game or the homecoming float or the wedding in Wisconsin.  Imagine, now, how invested you'd become in that old photo, how cherished it would be.  Maybe it is this kind of consideration that we should give each image, each moment, before we send it out.

I said I was embarrassed earlier by putting the image out as I did... it's still there, I should tell you.  But here it is again.  Here it is for Nick and Zack.


What's that?  Yeah, I've given that some thought, and, yes, I do consider this blog a sacred place.  There has been from the beginning a tenderness of intent here.  There has been consideration.  There has been silliness.  There have been tears.  These words and images are sacred because I've meant them to be.  And, someday, when you boys are old and come across this archived in an old external hard drive in a firebox in an old ranch house in Loveland, you'll know that the love was in the doing.

I hope no one takes offense at this.  I am mostly indicting myself here, I am the first to embrace the folly and irony of this being a blog post, I get that.  I think Facebook is swell, I like the notion of social media, I think it does connect people.

Listen, I just got to thinkin', is all.  Peace to you all.


  1. You're terrible at offending people. That was lovely. I have to check myself sometimes. It's not about memories or how we create them,store them or remember them. For me it's about that time we spend going click tap swipe, that niggle on the brain that shouts "YOU SHOULD TAKE A PHOTO OF THIS IT IS SOOOOO AWESOME!"

    It is hard to resist, hard to let it go and hard to just live in the moment with that voice banging on in my head. I think I do alright, but I don't always manage it in my haste to tell the world how wonderful my kids are.

  2. Thank you it was a labor of love for me as it was for my Mother who provided me with the same sort of book. Thanks for posting the one picture of the boyz first concert. I do hope they did well. It is wonderful as you grow old to be able to go back and see these milestones in your life.
    You do a good job of documenting what is going on in the lives of your family.

  3. Your words often have the power to move my soul--and they did again, today!!

  4. I know the sort of box you are talking about and I consider it precious as well.

  5. "A bit flip" indeed. As I see it, each of your thousand words is a picture, and your composition is as remarkable here as always.

  6. I totally get what you're saying. There's something about the way technology lubricates and simplifies tasks that takes so much of the care and deliberation out of similar tasks from the past. And I think you really drive at the heart of that here. As a side note, I've only taken a couple photos on my new smart phone, and have yet to figure out how to upload them to FB or anywhere else. And whenever I need to send a text, I still bring the phone over to my wife . . .

    What I've noticed, in a similar way, is the way my daughter watches shows, whether on Netflix or on youtube (we don't get any traditional television service). In general, I've really liked the convenience and simplicity of streaming shows online, unmoored (to use your word) from the strictures of rigid time slots and airing dates. But when I see the way my daughter will watch half of a show on Netflix, and then close it and load up another to stream, to skip the "boring parts," I feel some sadness that she doesn't just sit through a show in its entirety, waiting with anticipation through the day for her favorite show to come on, the way I did. There was something about scarcity, in my childhood television watching, that made special times for family gathering of watching a show together. Today, everything is available at any moment, at your fingertips, and it just makes the anticipation of a thing, and the actual moment of a thing, less special, less memorable, less significant. And really, sometimes we NEED those "boring" parts. Those moments that offer an opportunity for introspection, for meditation, a little quiet break inbetween the excitement.