Enjoy the moment, not the photo

The importance of living my life rather than documenting my memories of it

April Wang, Copy Editor

When El Estoque took a trip to the JEA/NSPA National Journalism Convention in Los Angeles this year, I was ecstatic. Four days with little adult supervision, what a freaking miracle! Down with vegetables! Forget sleeping before midnight! No one cares about making logical and responsible choices! (Just kidding JSatt, I promise we were good.)

That trip, chaotic and tight on time as we were, remains the highlight of my year so far. The day I left, I laughed and promised to call my parents every night, stay safe, and take many, many photos of our time there.

And yet my camera roll of those four days remains barren, aside from the occasional grainy food picture and selfie. On the day we returned, I could feel my heart dropping as I scrolled through the 20 or so photos, remnants that could barely match up to the exhilaration of the trip. I spent the night desperately filtering through my mind, trying to commit every little action to memory because I was sure the second I fell asleep, I would forget.

Not having those photos horrified me, and even knowing I could remember some things, I couldn’t help but feel as if all of my memories had become blurred. Graphic by April Wang

Let’s clarify something here: I have a horrible memory. Someone can ask me a question, and I’ll immediately forget what they asked. I don’t remember what I ate for lunch today, nor do I remember what homework I did yesterday. You could probably tell me that a bomb had destroyed the Starbucks down the street and I’d still obliviously try to go order coffee the next week. 

Because my memory has always sucked, I’ve always relied on photos as a deposit, to save my memories in a place where they won’t get tossed away. Especially with social media and technology, we spend our days surrounded by photos. We see other people’s happiest moments recorded on the internet, from dates to weddings to hangouts to giving birth, that shout, “HEY, LOOK AT OUR WONDERFUL LIFE AND FRIENDS AND EVERYTHING!”

And no, I’m not jealous — God knows I don’t want to be one of those influencers who post every part of their life. But my Instagram feed is to me what a Pinterest board is to a party planner, suggesting idea after idea of what is important for me to be recording. I look at them and think, this is the type of moment I need to have on hand, this little nuance of a smile or feeling of tangled hands are invaluable to me

So to feel as if the most important pieces of my memory could go missing, gaps in places that should have been filled with weird faces we made, stupid fighting over graffitied portraits, panicked running to get dinner — it scared me.

My family has seven giant picture albums, each one probably 700 pages thick, that I pull out from time to time. Every time, I’m reminded of how much I’ve left behind and how much of my life I’d lose to time if not for these glossy prints carefully placed into plastic sleeves. 

Maybe it’s not just a fear of forgetting — it’s a fear of the future. I’m always afraid that the minute I’m no longer able to remember, I’ll lose the delicate equilibrium of high school life. As the days and weeks and months tick down to my graduation, to the upturning of the comfortable life I know, I become more and more anxious about preserving what I have. Pictures serve as my anchor, giving me that reminder that yes, you have friends, no, nothing has gone to total s—t yet, yes, your life is good, no, you are not ruining everything, and yes, this joy will last forever.

But it doesn’t last forever, right?

My memories of the L.A. trip are tinged purple with fear, as happy as they were. I spent every moment frantically pulling out my phone, trying to keep it on hand, ready to capture everything. And even then, I would just miss those moments, fleeting as they are. Every day felt like a rush against time, and as I’m looking back on the few photos of L.A. I do have, all I can think about is how much I wasn’t able to do.

So maybe it’s time for me to pull up the anchor. I’m learning to let my memories stay in the past, to let them smear away into blurs. Rather than constantly trying to preserve memories at the cost of my own enjoyment, it’s more worth it to just savor them as they happen. Because as I’m burning through the joy of the actual moment, those emotions will sear themselves into my consciousness. Years in the future, I won’t remember a thing about my trip to L.A. I might not even remember it ever happened in the first place. And yet I’ll carry that unique joy and thrill forever, brief moments of deja vu that remind me that I’ve lived those missing moments to their fullest emotional capacity. Every moment is a once-in-a-lifetime moment, and to let them stay once-in-a-lifetime — isn’t that more than enough to be happy?