The anxiety of capturing the moment

Kiddie Pool - 1970s

“Whenever Proust mentions photographs, he does so disparagingly: as a synonym for a shallow, too exclusively visual, merely voluntary relation to the past, whose yield is insignificant compared with the deep discoveries to be made by responding to cues give by all the senses—the technique he called ‘involuntary memory’.”

Susan Sontag, On Photography

The expectation now is that everything will be photographed and recorded and then posted online for everyone to see and never forgotten.

There’s an anxiety of losing the moment, like its loss will be a disaster.

I’m lucky to have been born well before digital photography, when cameras were brought out just for special occasions.

I have very few moments from childhood that I remember in all of their literal detail. They’ve been all molded together like a sedimentary rock, compressed by time, and are now a monolithic feeling.

The problem as I see it is the literal snapshot that keeps us from having to imagine and produce a story to tell others.

We can show them a snapshot instead. Here’s how it was. Here’s what we did. End of story.

Snapshots keep us from forgetting, which is the dismembering of the moment.

In snapshots, sharp details remain intact and never leave us in their current form. There is no myth anymore, just evidence.

Forgetting is critical though. It’s how we move forward and reinvent and recreate and become someone different.

My favorite photographs are the ones I didn’t know existed from moments I’d forgotten. They’re as surprising as Lazarus coming back from the dead.

Seeing all of the details help retrieve the memories and feelings from my organic harddrive, kept alive by electrolites like magic.

Re-membering is bringing the pieces back together. And there is such a pleasurable rush in it.

But to bring them back together, they have to fall apart to begin with.

Maybe the answer is that we take our pictures and lock them up immediately and store them in a time capsule that can’t be opened for a few years.

That will give us enough time to forget, and enough distance to let our imagination build a story that it files away and uses subconsciously, and the photographs will be a retrieval mechanism, a Dewey decimal system.

Currently Reading:

Elizabeth Bishop One Art

Susan Sontag On Photography

Marcel Proust Swann’s Way

A couple stories about Sheryl Sandberg

I started working at Google in 2003, when it was still a smallish company. I think there were about 2,400 employees when I joined.

I worked out of a Denver sales office, removed from the Googleplex, writing AdWords ads for advertisers in the mountain states. 25-35-35 is etched in my brain like the winning lotto number from Lost.

I’ve seen Sheryl Sandberg just a handful of times: once in a meeting, and I’ve sat through many of her speechs at sales conferences.

Immediately you could tell she was special. There were a lot of special people at Google, but she stood out, even among them all.

The first few weeks of my time at Google were spent at the old Googleplex in Mountain View for training. I was in the first of a pilot training program for new employees in sales; remote new hires spent a month on campus in the hopes that we would be inculcated in the Google values before going to work full time in Denver, LA, New York & Chicago — away from all of the perks and personality of the mothership.

My first week there my new hire class — a group of 25-30 bright, ambitious young people from all over the world — was scheduled for a special meeting with Sheryl Sandberg.

We met with Sheryl in a large, open conference room with rows of seats meant for presentations.

Sheryl asked us to each take a chair and form a circle, and we sat facing each other, awkwardly at first. She tucked both of her legs underneath her and sat cross-legged in the chair.

I don’t remember what Sheryl said to us in exact words. This was 10 years ago. But I remember how she make all of us feel, which was special and important.

She said that every job at Google, no matter what level, mattered because it was helping to change the world.

Which ended up being true. Google has changed how the world finds information, and I think we take that for granted now.

This sounds hokey, but what she said was important to me because at Google I was surrounded by people who were much smarter and more accomplished than I was, and I felt outclassed and overrated.

But she was saying that didn’t matter. I was here for a reason. Every time I was scared and insecure in my job, I tried to conjure those things that Sheryl told us.

After training ended, I saw her only at sales conferences, where she gave inspirational pep talks to the sales force, striding up and down hotel ballroom aisles with a microphone, power dress-suit, and baby bump.

The women in the room would invariably turn to each other and say, “I love Sheryl Sandberg” because she spoke with such sincere conviction and poise that was totally feminine and modern.

The last time I saw Sheryl was in 2008, when I was trying to figure out what was next after Google. Sheryl had just joined Facebook as COO.

I was in downtown Palo Alto at a coffee shop for breakfast, and just as I was leaving, Sheryl walked up to the front door in a long peasant skirt, sandals, and wet hair, patting her head as she looked at her reflection in the glass. Just like a regular girl would. She walked over to a guy waiting at a table for a meeting with her.

She didn’t recognize me of course, and I kept on walking even though I wanted to tell her congratulations: Facebook had made a great choice and would be very successful. But I didn’t. I figured she already knew.