Fluffy, out to lunch with me and his rock candy at the Yankee Candle Factory; October, 2007.
My dad took slides. Slides of us in bad hair and Halloween costumes, of buildings, bricks, ceilings and trusses. After he and my mom split up in my senior year of high school, he gave the slides to me. But he kept taking them, of his new wife, the rest of us, and more buildings.
He’s an architect so, for him, structures and things are full of information, inspiration or perhaps warnings of what not to do. He taught for years and years and I know his slides spilled across the wall during many a classroom lecture.
He’s letting go of those slides too now, from his trips in this country, in China, Cuba, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Columbia, Guatemala, and other countries I’m forgetting. He’s sorting through his meticulously labeled trays and boxes (he often returning from trips with close to a thousand exposures) pulling out the ones with people in it, putting them aside to keep, making piles of the rest to donate to the nearby university library.
I grew up with weekly or monthly viewings of our family slides, watching the images spread across the white wall, listening to the click of the tray advance, the whir of the fan as it cooled the motor, the unexpected poses that appeared upside down or those that refused to fall down the gap to be shot through with the hot beam of light. The patch of wall would gaze back at us then, bright and quivering while Dad clicked and clicked with greater and greater urgency, unwilling to concede mechanical defeat.
I love those slides. I try to take care of them, all the images I have of my family before it fractured. The 8 mm film was transferred to video, the slides have traveled from a box to plastic sleeves and back to new and better storage that makes casual viewing a breeze.
Dave has a stack of slides too, from his childhood and his own life up until he made the switch to digital around the time that Fluffy was born.
Now, we have many thousand of digital pictures of Fluffy. He may well be, as my sister, says, the most photographed child on the planet. We have stacks of video as well. I even have audio recordings starting from about a year. It IS something to go back and listen to his high and earnest voice but I have the feeling that not even Fluffy is going to want to wade through all this data.
The thing is, we don’t see the pictures. I tried to cull through the batches and print out a handful each time, put them in albums so we could see them. But that didn’t work. I didn’t stick with it plus, how often do we sit down and look through a stack of photos together, Fluffy and I? For whatever reason, it doesn’t hold his interest for very long. I tried putting books together as a project, an RDI activity, but no; tried making smaller simplier books for Fluffy to look at himself, pictures of him doing this or that, or being with this person or that person, to give him a view of his life, himself, to help encoded positive episodic memory, or autobiographical memory over time. No.
Then I attended John E. Robison’s reading of his beautiful book, Look Me In The Eye, a few weeks ago. I was struck by his response to a question by someone in his audience. John had been telling us about the time during which his father was dying, a time when John asked for help in finding some positive memories of their relationship. A flood of memories came back. The person in the audience asked, how can John be sure the memories, these and others that resurfaced during the writing of his book, were really his own or ones that he took on from these and other conversations. And he answered with an astounding fact: he had recently uncovered a box of slides from his childhood years, slides that had been packed away during the talks with his dad and during the writing of the book. These slides captured many of the memories that John had unearthed. He said he thought these memories were recalled so clearly, in part, because they had been reinforced by having seen them during slide shows when events were discussed and given attention.
How wonderful to have discovered those slides.
I realize that many of my memories of childhood come from our own family slide shows, the pictures themselves and also the memory of those family nights, rich with their own sensations and evocations.
Dave and I had been puzzling for a while on how to be with the pictures of our life, how to have them around with Fluffy’s sense of continuity and self. Dave’s screen saver runs a continuous slide show from the thousands of pictures on his iPhoto library; he sees us all day while he draws and putters and writes in his office. But we don’t. Yet, I didn’t think the formality of sitting down for a viewing in some regimented way would work. The very reason Dave’s screen saver appeals to him is because he can look up and catch moments as he goes through his day.
Now, thanks in part to John, we’ve found a way that’s working:
This digital frame.
We mounted it on the wall by the dining room table where we all sit at least three times a day. The frame displays a slide show of images that we change about once a week. Fluffy’s been watching it, casually, with interest, every day. He’s relaxed. He’s getting a steady influx, a steady review of what he’s been doing in his own life, week by week.
I like to think these images will splash across Fluffy’s eyes and travel down the optic nerve, settle into his very skin and bones so when the truck arrives to unload the pallets of digital recollections taken by his overindulging hovering parents, they can rise up and meet the ones he sees again, joining past and present, making connections, strengthening his inner ground.