Accidentally Curated

My journal is falling apart. Partly from natural causes (it’s hardcover, and those seem to get hit harder by life), but partly from unnatural causes (Evangeline discovered she can slip her little finger under the spine and I think she’s addicted to the glorious feeling of destruction). I found this particular journal at the bookshop downtown. It’s much larger than I usually use, but I loved that it didn’t have lines. I’d gotten it in my head I could be more creative without lines, that somehow I would begin to channel my artist friends and write in circles, sideways, and doodle in beautiful colors. This of course never happened. All the blank space just invited me to write in various sizes and lean my lines at slants and cause general visual mayhem. It does not look artistic.

My very first journal opens with an entry about learning to ride my bike. I am five years old. I remember the day vividly: my father holding on to the back of the bike, giving instructions, my extreme frustration. Hardly any of this is in the entry, except for a sentence about my dad helping me learn. The other thing that isn’t there?

The fact that my little brother, a mere three-year-old, zoomed past me as I struggled to keep my balance.

He learned how to ride a bike the same day I did. I remember watching him zip along the sidewalk at daring angles, even while I could barely muster the courage to go down the slight hill. My fear of risk showed early, but it didn’t show up in my journal.

I’ve been thinking about the curated life a lot lately. Stay-at-home did many things to me — many things for me — and one of those things is that it made me more attached to my phone, to the internet, and to the world. I started most weekday mornings with NPR while I made my coffee and Evangeline’s breakfast, I moved to Facebook and Instagram when I wasn’t teaching or in a zoom meeting, and I listened to podcasts about the ills of our nation, our world.

Social media grew into something I had never experienced before. Suddenly, what we posted was barometer of our politics and our hearts. What we did not post was a measure of the same. I would hover over a post, wondering if I should like it.

What does it say about me if I like this?

Who will feel supported?

Who will feel ignored?

I got up in my head, thought far too much about how I appeared, and realized there was no way to present my full life — my full self — on a screen. My likes or comments could be misconstrued, and in turn, flatten me into a self that lacked natural human nuance. I started to question the carefully constructed profiles, not as one new to the fact that they exist, but as someone wondering if they are merely a symptom of something greater.

I am always curating my life, whether it’s online, in person, or in my own head.

What I choose to talk about, how I say it, what I highlight, all these things add up to a particular story with a particular slant.

It doesn’t stop when I close the computer or when I put down the cell phone. It doesn’t stop when I finish a telling a story that is factually true but has a twist. And it doesn’t stop when I’m all alone, thinking over my day, or maybe, my life. When I watch short videos I’ve recorded on my phone — moments captured because I knew they would be sweet — I realize how different iPhone recordings are from the camcorder home movies of my childhood: long, tedious vhs tapes with rambling conversations, absent-minded half-hours with the camcorder on the floor while child-feet wander in and out of view. Those home movies are so much closer to life than the ones I’ve been capturing in 15 or 20 seconds. They are not all of an adorable little girl filled with joy. Having my phone at the ready is amazing, and I am so grateful. Yet, it allows me to create multiple “perfect” moments without context. Likewise, my journals are carefully shaped even if it is subconscious, and my own mind seems to be shaped, too. How I tell the story of myself to myself is a strange thing to behold.

So what, you might ask? What does this matter? I am not sure. I know through counseling and the courses I took that the narrative we tell ourselves is important: it crafts our sense of self and what we tell either empowers or degrades us. I also know that what I present of myself online is incomplete, so I can only assume that what others present is incomplete, as well.

None of this is revolutionary, but as I anticipate a winter with less human interaction and more lit-up snippets to swipe past, it feels even more important to remember. People are flesh and blood, with stories and dreams and pain. Journals may brush over them, posts may be beautifully constructed, and even the voice in our heads may have a certain way of hiding the truth, but that doesn’t change the fact that nuance, gray area, and paradox seem to be at the heart of human experience.

Home Movies

My sister is home for Christmas. She only lives about twenty-five minutes away, but there’s something so wonderful about having her right in the same house. Suddenly it’s all six of us again with a great-grandma thrown in, and now that we’re grown-up, vacations and time together seem a lot more important.

Last night, after Grandma went to bed, we sat in the living room and watched home movies. We re-plugged in the VCR (yes, unbelievable, really, that we still have one) and watched tape after tape. It was the strangest sensation, looking at those little faces I used to know so well, and then seeing those same faces grown and changed in the chair across from me. Not only the faces, though. The voices changed, too.

I never recognize my voice, singing or speaking or laughing or anything. I’m not sure why that is. I think in my head, my voice is lower, more grown-up, and it isn’t until someone points out that, yes, indeed, that is your voice,┬áthat I realize that high-pitched person speaking is me. On the opposite note, for some reason my sister’s voice used to be low, husky, and we tease her mercilessly about her little-girl voice. It’s not like that at all now. How in the world do these things happen?

[There is possibly no baby or toddler cuter than my littlest brother. I mean, the rest of us were decently cute, but my goodness, this kid was absolutely adorable.]

We watched the Christmas when I was six and my brother opened socks and was silently bummed out. We watched the day Mom and Dad surprised us with a new Viszla puppy and we all blinked awake to its cuteness running all over the room.

My favorite, though, was the video of us at camp. The sun, shining bright and hot on our blonde heads. Fishing off the dock, hoping to catch a bigger pickerel even than last year. Running down the gravel driveway at breakneck speed, our little plastic bikes giving Mom a near heart attack. Luddy, our dog, the tough hunter, scared of the water. Dad taking us out in the canoe and the kids, feeling grown up and big, waving from maybe a quarter mile away. Swimming all day long, doing jump after terrible jump off the dock.

Back when all we needed was the bunch of us and a long day.

We went there every summer for one week in August and it’s easy to forget who we were.

In a lot of ways, we’ve changed – taller, bigger, more experience, more hurt – but we’re not that much different, really. It was constantly loud in those home videos, and it is consistently so to this day. We screeched, we pushed, we danced, we hollered. My parents were amazingly patient, I realize now, watching their nearly-perfect hands-off parenting, because what is accomplished by helicoptering? It amazes me that from two people grew a whole family. How crazy it must feel to look at your best friend and then over at the four children you are blessed enough (or crazy enough) to have.

My hair’s a little darker, I’m (only a little bit) taller, and at least now I KNOW I have a problem with being bossy. Admitting it is the first step.

[A little part of me would go back there in a heartbeat.]

[This photo is from the ocean, our more recent family spot.]