Memories & Reflections Planning

Why I take pictures of everything: Remembering two incredibly strange years

This time, two years ago, our city was in shambles after the March 2 tornado raged through neighborhoods, decimating homes and schools and churches. We lived just a few houses down from a street that was hit badly, but we thankfully only had to deal with some downed branches and were one of the 40,000 Nashvillians who were (literally) powerless. We stayed at my parents’ house those days, Justin working in the dining room, me applying for jobs at the kitchen counter. Skyler and I played outside a lot since the weather was nice, warm for that time of year. My dad and I took Skyler to the zoo. We drove around, assessing damage in the surrounding area. We waited for our power to come back on, so we could get back to normal. 

But then, a couple weeks later, “normal” was less of a possibility as we ended up self-quarantining in anticipation of lockdowns. We celebrated Skyler’s 1st birthday virtually. Grocery store shelves were ransacked, empty. Daycare shut down. The streets of downtown were eerily devoid of any signs of life. We heard fewer and fewer airplanes cross over our house. Life was surreal; at times, it felt like we were in a post-apocalyptic movie.

Little did we know, that was only the beginning of the two weirdest years of our lives. 

As my apps push ‘memories’, reminding me what we were doing “this time two years ago”, I realize how much I have already forgotten. How many oddities that struck us as so very foreign in the beginning of the pandemic now just seem commonplace. Standing far away from people in public; masking up to go indoors; socializing through Zoom. It’s almost hard to remember when those things weren’t the norm.

I may not always have my shit together, but one of the things I am mostly consistent about is documenting the mundane details of every day life. I’ve done this since my childhood, when I created scrapbooks of not only photos but magazine articles, ads, and lists of popular actors and songs, etc. I was fascinated by the idea of showing my future offspring what my life was like at their age, but knew that I would forget. Memory is unreliable. 

I always craved more knowledge of my parents’ youths, of what the world was like when they were going through the things we all do: how did their time period affect common experiences such as learning to write, or going through puberty, or prom, or applying for jobs? So I’ve always collected remnants of my life and the era, including magazines, postcards, scrapbooks, photo albums, journals, school planners, videos, this blog, my Instagram account (which I get printed through Chatbooks), emails I send to Skyler.

All of that to say: I started making a photobook in my Shutterfly account the week we went into quarantine. That moment in time felt monumental; we were about to live through some historical shit, I could feel it, and I wanted to document it as we lived it. I saved memes, screenshots of social media posts and text exchanges, and email drafts where I journaled about my emotions, updating the photobook every couple weeks. Memory is too fleeting and we were dealing with so much, too much to digest and properly store in longterm memory. I knew I would forget the details. So I tried to save as much of it as I could while we were living it. I wanted to remember.

Amidst all of the uncertainty, misinformation, and simultaneous crises that have occurred in the last two years, this small activity of documenting things brought some peace and a tiny bit of normalcy to my daily routine. It was something I already did, but now I was doing so much more intentionally. Some people craft or bake or exercise; I make photobooks

I continued this through the rest of 2020, and to a lesser degree all of 2021. And now, as we reflect on how much has happened in the last two years, I am so grateful that I documented what life was like for our family during that time. Boring and repetitive and scary and just plain weird. Our photos are full of the same faces over and over again, and more computer screens than should ever be present in a family photo. And I am really glad that one day, Skyler and Skyler’s kids will be able to flip through this book to see what life was like for this small group of people at this particular moment in time. 

Now, just two years after all of this began, the week of the tornados and the beginning of the pandemic feels as if that all happened in another life. And at the same time, it all still feels like a fresh wound. Challenging circumstances can make time feel longer, as if more time has passed since a certain event; perhaps because we change, emerging on the other side of that event a different person than we were at its onset. When you have challenging event after challenging event, with no reprieve or time for recovery, the situation goes from something you just push through, like stubbing your toe, to something you must learn to endure, like a bad knee or a plantar fasciitis flare up. It still hurts, but not bad enough to keep you from living; you learn to walk in a way to not aggravate it and eventually you get used to that ever present dull ache. 

I think we’re collectively, at a societal level, damn tired of this dull ache and the stabbing pains that randomly occur. Will we ever return to a familiar ‘normal’? I’m not sure there’s any ‘going back’ to how things used to be, but I do believe that we will emerge on the other side of these “unprecedented” and “uncertain” times stronger, more appreciative of the joys we experience, more resilient to the woes.

I just keep thinking about how Skyler will look back on all of this. Will he understand? Will he empathize? Will he remember?

I’m still reflecting on everything that’s happened. Still processing the world’s collective trauma, and all of the strange indignities and injustices doled out along the way. And the situation is still pretty damn unpredictable. Even as it seems we may be coming out on the other side of this pandemic, there’s parachuting spiders and wild fires and insane flooding; climate change throws us wild weather patterns, the threat of world war looms, and many cultural questions remain up in the air. So much is outside of our individual control, it’s easy to feel powerless and untethered. But we must continue to endure, to dig deep for our inner fortitude, using whatever coping mechanisms we have available to us.

So for now, I’ll continue to cope by doing the one thing that always makes me feel moored when I’m otherwise flailing about: documenting our daily lives for posterity. What about you?

How are you doing these days? How do you cope with that constant, dull existential pain? What activity brings you peace and creates a sense of ‘normal’? If you are local to Nashville, what do you remember about this week in 2020? How was your neighborhood and/or home affected? 

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