Pictures. If you're like me, you've gone mostly digital by now, memories recorded in cell-phone and on the hard-drive of a computer. We don't have the shoebox of photographs, the stack of albums stuffed to near-explosion with yellowing pictures of times long past. Okay, I'm stretching the truth here just a little. I still have a shoebox. But the photographs are old. I still have a couple albums, the stick of the pages long since undone, glossy plastic covers coming loose. But these pictures pre-date the shoebox.
Still, I remember sorting through pictures with my mother. I must have been somewhere in my tween or teen years. The memory is rough around the edges, blurred as if a negative laid atop another nearly identical scene and that atop another. I think she and I must have had many such sessions, most unworthy of separate recall, recollected in group and bound by the thematic blend of home/safe/happy.
I was sitting on the couch, flipping through pictures in a shoebox. It was one of several laid out for review, each filled with old memories: the prior summer's vacation, the old apartment where we used to live, various renditions of my brother and myself at an unchanging four years' difference. I was looking at a picture, one of a seeming thousand just like it: a sunset at the beach, a patch of scrub in the desert, a blurred flash of a lizard scuttling its way across an asphalt road.
"Why?" I asked my mother. "Why do people take pictures without other people in them? They're never that interesting."
My mother had various answers to the question. At times, my mother would ID the photograph as being significant of a new camera or my father's unending fascination with the fuchsia. But, more often, she would shake her head and say she didn't know. People, after all, make everything more interesting.
Years later, another memory. My mother is busy in the kitchen, bustling red-faced and flustered, fending off offers of help that are more trouble than temptation. It must be Christmas, or a gathering much like it given the number of people jammed into a house far too small. I am trying to take pictures with my mother's camera. The room is too dark and the quarters cramped, but I pick my way through snapping blurred pictures of people mid-bite, mid-word, mid-life.
Sometimes, I will ask them to smile. It is a mixed response. I get a few smiles ranging from toothsome to toothless as lips clamp shut over some presumed dental embarrassment. From others, there is only reproach: a glare, a frown, an honest-to-goodness scolding.
There are people I never photograph. They turn their head, lift their hand or emptied plate to block the slightest attempt. I have far too many pictures of hand-covered faces.
Why are there pictures without people? Because scenery doesn't shift, requires no cajoling, offers no rebuke.
I always think of this when I think about non-fiction writing, about this blog. I do not share stories of real people very often. I try to limit my words to the scenery. Occasionally, my mother will slip in at the edges, my nieces. My father has had a cameo or two. There are others. It is hard to excise people completely.
There are those who would say I shouldn't try. Pictures are more interesting with people. But then I remember the up-held hand, the shield of a dirtied plate, people twisting and turning to avoid capture on film. Isn't this so much more invasive?
What would I think were any one of them to write about me?
The answer has me sketching trees, a scampering squirrel, that long-ago blur of a lizard.
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