Proof of Life / Life Lesson

Last night I took my external hard drive from its safe spot in the bottom of the wardrobe, plugged it into the computer and switched it on, with the intention of finding a photograph of me and R to use on our wedding website. Minutes later, on being asked to do something, I jumped up, and, forgetting the wire was in in my way, walked into it and sent the hard drive crashing to the ground. My heart stopped. And, sure enough, when I tried to turn it back on the computer failed to recognise it. It also made a beeping noise (which, as I later read, is never a good sign). A brief call to a data recovery specialist confirmed that paying for professional help was not an option (500-800 Euros? You have got to be kidding me). In the end we whacked it in the freezer for good measure, on the advice of one website that admitted it was a dubious and last ditch method but might possibly work (yeah right), but it is with a heavy heart I am forced to accept that it – along with about five years’ worth of photos – has gone. And most galling of all is that I’ve been here before, having done the same thing a few years ago (and failed to get the data back after parting with 50 quid).

I feel ridiculous admitting it but I’m devastated. Last night I was inconsolable, and couldn’t stop crying. Rightly or wrongly, I value photos enormously. They are a means of remembering all that’s happened in my life, of connecting with my past and demonstrating how I’ve made my mark on the world. Perhaps it’s that last point that’s the most psychologically interesting. People sometimes tease me about how prolific I am on Facebook, and I have often questioned my need to share the details of my life on social media. However, I don’t believe I am a narcissist. My motivation in sharing pictures in particular is not about boasting, or at least my conscious mind disputes that notion. I suppose I do feel a strong need to make my existence in this world tangible, and posting pictures is akin to sticking a sign in the ground saying ‘I woz ‘ere’.

Photographs are, essentially, proof of lives that have been lived. Loath as I am to admit it, on further analysis there is almost certainly a link to my fear of death – of dying, and of people I love dying. I guess I feel somehow that by capturing images I’m keeping myself present, real, alive. And similarly, by capturing pictures of my loved ones I am keeping them alive, and if, God forbid, anything bad should happen, to me or any of them, at least those memories will exist and can be treasured. Is that morbid? Perhaps. But it’s also true.

But what’s done is done. I must move past the sadness, anger and frustration that I’m currently feeling. I’m glad I’m so prolific on Facebook now because I do at least have low resolution copies of the lost files; the memories are not gone forever. But even if they were, what’s most important is the fact I have my health and I have my loved ones – here, in the present, not in the past, which now no longer exists, except in my heart, my mind – and a few low resolution images on Facebook.

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Nostalgia Rules

Tonight, over dinner with my best friend, we took a stroll down memory lane and revisited our memories of the family holiday we spent in Corsica when we were 15 (dare I even speak aloud that was not too shy of 20 years ago now?!) On a recent visit to her family home she found a wallet of photos from the holiday, and we spent a good couple of hours poring over them and recalling all the funny moments we had shared and the people we had come across during our time on the island.

Whilst the nostalgia trip was in itself a wonderful and long overdue experience, what interested me most was that we were able to remember things that had long since been consigned to the depths of our memories – so much so we thought they had been lost forever, when, in actual fact, they had spent all these years gathering dust in boxes at the far recesses of our minds.

The prompted recollection of names (like Ingrim, the lifeguard who rescued us three times from sea when our newfound windsurfing skills failed to render us proficient enough to turn around) and occasions (like the time we found a litter of kittens in our luggage on a previous childhood holiday to Italy, or the time we blagged our way into a Corsican nightclub foam party) has triggered so many other, related memories in my mind (did I really wear underwear from Knickerbox as outerwear?!), which has sprung open like Pandora’s Box.

It’s comforting to know nothing in life is lost, but rather pushed aside by other, newer and more relevant memories. And that all it takes to recall what’s been forgotten – and remember what it was like to be in those long forgotten moments – is some visual prompts and an animated conversation with a good friend.

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The warped perceptions of time

In a moment of distraction from the task at hand (aka job searching) I watched this video from my expedition in Borneo at the start of 2011, all the while scarcely able to believe that it was two years ago, and all the while wishing (with every fibre of my being) I was back there.

In times of uncertainty and stress it’s only natural to look back at past experiences and wish we could re-live what we remember as being a joyful and uncomplicated existence. Back then, we tell ourselves, we are able to be fully present in the moment. We had no concerns about what lay ahead of us. Why can’t life be like that now?

But it’s all too easy to look back with rose-tinted glasses at times your brain perceives as ‘happier’ than the time you are currently experiencing. If you take a moment to fully re-live the past experience in question – rather than just skimming your memory for the highlights – you will often take a more ‘warts and all’ approach, acknowledging that there were difficulties then in just the same way as there are difficulties now.

The positive take out from this is that you overcame those previous difficulties and now reflect on them as minor – almost completely insignificant – blips in your life path. Surely this would, therefore, suggest that the difficulties you are facing now will be viewed by your future self in much the same way?

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I love this picture from Borneo, taken during my ten days in the Taliwas region with a group of venturers. We had to get two of these barrels up an enormous hill on physical strength (or lack thereof!) alone. A challenge to say the least! It was such a beautiful place and we lived in a camp beside the river, cooking over fires and sitting out at night under the stars. It was a really magical experience and one I’ll never forget.