On the Ephemeral

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Yesterday I was listening to an NPR interview with a former filmmaker who is currently writing a novel via Twitter. He’s been publishing a crime story in 140 word instalments since the 29th of April. I’m not sure I can reasonably comment on the artistic integrity of his work, but something he said in the interview stayed with me.

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The interviewer says to him: ‘My question is – why? Why are you doing that? It seems like such an oxymoron because Twitter is all about this short little burst that’s ephemeral and, you know, a novel is really like for those times when you actually have time to commit and you want something rich.’

And the response includes this piece: ‘The idea of Twitter and tweets, I’ve never viewed it as something that I would ever use for topical issues, or as you say, sort of ephemeral. I would hope that the things that are on there are true today and are true 10 years from now or 15 years from now. I don’t want to use it as, you know, what I ate or what I went to go see that night.

You know, I’d like it to be somewhat more permanent than that.’

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I’m not a dedicated Twitter-er, Tweeter, Twitter user, whatever, but I disagree with his insistence on lasting truth. To me, the everyday, the ephemeral, the transitory, the details, are what really matter, but I don’t know why those things can’t be permanent too. I’ve felt this way long before I understood why, carrying a camera around with me long before it was either cool or ubiquitous, pre-camera phones.

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The photos I took in high school of an evening spent trying to cook with my best friend, or backstage at a school play, or out to lunch with my dad, perhaps mean more to me than the photos of my high school graduation. The big events, the days when anyone with a camera would make sure to bring it along, usually stand out in the memory, even without a record. The little things though.. I’m not sure I would remember the evening Lauren and I made fettuccine alfredo, played the piano, and watched Lord of the Rings for the 271st time if I hadn’t obsessively snapped photos as we went along.

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Perhaps now that everyone with even a basic smartphone has undertaken to chronicle their lives via Instagram, maybe this makes the ephemeral, the everyday, less interesting as we are bombarded with people sharing photos of their dinner. But what’s wrong with someone taking a photo of their dinner, really? Why not take a snapshot of a pretty plate on a day out with friends? Chances are good that those photos will become memories.

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Some can argue that the ease of recording so much information all the time is making our memories worsen or discourages people from really appreciating life moment by moment, and this may be true, but I think of it in another way. For me, capturing small pieces of the everyday helps remind me how lucky I am. It helps me remember to notice the beauty around me. And best of all, it allows me to share it.

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I’m currently at the beginning of writing my Masters’ dissertation, and I am trying not to go a bit crazy. I love my topic and I love working on it, but there have been days in the last two weeks I’ve been back in Edinburgh that I haven’t done anything except read and eat. I’ve now implemented a rule that I have to at least get up and go for a walk every day.

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Even if I only get outside for half an hour, I notice the details, and I capture them. I know I’m not going to forget endless hours spent at my desk over the next few months, but I don’t want to forget the small diversions either, or how lucky I am to be here.

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8 thoughts on “On the Ephemeral

  1. Lee says:

    What an insightful, heartwarming piece. Thank you for sharing it; you are a generous woman!
    I found the following passage especially poignant:
    ” For me, capturing small pieces of the everyday helps remind me how lucky I am. It helps me remember to notice the beauty around me. And best of all, it allows me to share it.”

  2. Bravo! You are definitely upping the ante. . . . Look out, Ree. . . Here she comes. Goes to show a picture plus a few words is worth more. . . .Also, I noticed that city looking pretty good (Who’d have guessed?). Love the yellow flowers (and all the other seemingly unconstructed–but we know better- elements); what are they? The coffee really made me want some! Great pictures; good text!

  3. Margaret says:

    ahhhhhhh …. the Dilemma of to take or not take photos! when you capture a memory and when taking pictures captures ONLY that piece of a larger and multifaceted memory. Or makes you dependent on photos to BE your memory (of a visit, for example)… and yet, and yet, I come down on the side of to take photos. And thus to be able “to share”, as you say, what catches my eye, my surroundings, my experiences… more easily. As a non-Twitterer, non Facebooker, non-blogger, I still am very selective with whom I want to share these pieces of my life … but that is a different subject…

    • I listened to a very timely TED talk today (I have the familial podcast addiction too) about memory, and how people construct memories around pictures, convincing themselves they remember whatever version of events represented in a photograph. It’s strange and perhaps not ideal, but (and yet!) I still think preferable to having no memory at all!

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