Home > Blogging, Books, Family, Love, Parenting, Reflections > Lens life / half life

Lens life / half life

I’ve noticed people–myself included–living noteworthy moments through camera lenses.

I noticed this only distantly until a trampoline birthday party a couple of weeks ago. I spent a few minutes there trying to capture my toddler’s glee before pocketing my phone to be with him.

j clapping

I saw a few other parents recording their kids’ merriment.

A few minutes later, I noticed they were still recording.

As me and mine slipped off our bounce socks at the end of our party, each parents’ recording continued.

I mulled that over for days. I wasn’t judging the recording parents, ’cause that’s neither interesting nor useful. Maybe each has seriously ill or distant loved ones who cherish opportunities to experience through these recordings events otherwise beyond their reach. I don’t know, and it’s none of my business.

It made me wonder, though, what it is I’m trying to capture when I live through the lens.

The best I can figure, I want to capture a feeling. I want to remember what it was like to be there.

Thinking it that way made me wonder if I need dozens of photos per event, and especially if those photos are valuable enough in retrospect to outweigh the joyous value of being fully present in any given moment.

I decided that one or two pictures really are worth it for me, most the time. Beyond that, I am losing the actual, vibrant present for the mere possibility I might someday want to revisit an event from every angle and every moment I first half-lived it.

This, in turn, made me think about my blog. What “pictures” am I trying to snap with my words here? To what is it I hope to someday return?

Is all the time I spend documenting here worth the time lost for other endeavors?

I don’t know.

Sometimes, probably.

But if I boiled my every day down to its essence, its “photo,” how would I do that? There are so many precious moments in every day. Do I need–or want–to remember every single one with my mind? Or is my heart’s sweeping memory of laughter, love, and being loved enough most of the time?

I decided heart-memory is enough. Its strength is in its favoring impression and totality over individual, distinct moments.

So if I were to choose one mind-remembered moment for each day, which would it be?

Today, I would keep a snapshot of an unexpected hallway exchange with a colleague. After telling me he’s been reading my blog, he said with a smile and gesture toward his heart, “It keeps me alive.” (“Your warmth and the way you make me laugh have the same effect on me,” I told him before we walked our separate ways.)

Yesterday, I would keep the moments that my toddler pushed his older brother around our house on the tricycle that was once Li’l D’s. “Beep, beep,” they chimed together each time they squeezed through a narrow opening.

j pushing d

For Sunday, I would keep Littler J’s elation as he raced across grass on an oceanside bluff. “Eeeee!” he shrieked with arms spread wide open, as if to embrace the whole world in his tiny arms. He giggled as he fell face-first into the grass. His dad and I smiled at each other, savoring an opportunity to cherish toddler zeal without having to monitor two children’s shenanigans.

One weekend evening a few days ago, I would take my husband playing with my hair as I sobbed on the couch while I finished reading the incomparable The Last Leaves Falling. I found so, so very much beauty and love in one author’s envisioning of a brief life lived well and fully at its conclusion, and particularly at one mother-son exchange.

In this exercise, I find choosing moments to “photograph” doesn’t diminish any other sweet moment I experience.

By deliberately choosing what to capture instead of trying to capture everything, I see and remember more. I understand more clearly that even those photographed moments will someday fade, and most of all,

that each moment is precious for what it is, when it is.


  1. March 1, 2016 at 5:14 pm

    Oh I think this every time ” I might someday want to revisit an event event from every angle and every moment I first half-lived it.” A perfect description.

    • March 1, 2016 at 5:29 pm

      I’d felt something like it a few times before, but I didn’t have a way to articulate it until this party! I’m glad for that. I’m also glad for your comment nudging me toward correcting a typo. Thank you!

      • March 1, 2016 at 8:16 pm

        bah ha ha, I didn’t even notice, too busy thinking the thoughts.

  2. March 1, 2016 at 5:44 pm

    There is much, much wisdom in this.

    • March 1, 2016 at 6:09 pm

      Thank you. There’s surely a lot of calm in it.

      I don’t think the meandering thoughts behind this would’ve coalesced into something closer to understanding had I not ditched caffeine last week. Things move slower for me without caffeine, and that’s. so. good.

  3. March 1, 2016 at 5:46 pm

    I love this post. It is often what think of now that I don’t do Facebook…or anything other than my blog, and photo here and there. I’m more ‘here’…and the times I cherish are more ‘here’ because it’s not shared with the world. It’s mine. 💜

    • March 1, 2016 at 5:53 pm

      Oooh, I like that. Well said.

    • March 1, 2016 at 6:10 pm

      Exactly! ♥ I’ve had a few times the last few days where I thought, “I should post that!” and then thought, “Why? What would that add to this moment?” There’s such a sense of weightlessness in thinking this way, though I’ll surely need to practice it a lot to ensure it sticks!

      • March 1, 2016 at 6:17 pm

        Don’t judge but it took me about a month for this insatiable craving to look at my page, and a deep desire to know all there was to know about my ‘friends’…I have come to an understanding with myself that all those people no longer hear from didn’t give to poo’s in a urinal about me or my life…photos, snarky comments, special moments. The few I keep in touch with matter more than I ever realized. My life has its intimacy back. The times are more meaningful and well lived. I no longer pause a moment to share it, and I think that’s beautiful. I don’t want to pose for a life I want people to see, I just want to live it for what it is.

        • March 1, 2016 at 6:21 pm

          “I don’t want to pose for a life I want people to see, I just want to live it for what it is.” Yes! So beautifully put.

          No judgment here. That’s something I’ve been thinking about the last few weeks, too. “If I’m not on Facebook sharing it all, if I’m barely on IG and Twitter, am I really here?” Like you, I concluded the people with whom my life continues interweaving without these things enrich it immeasurably. There are so many riches without those things, and I find it so much easier to see my riches a safe distance from them (the places, not necessarily the people).

          • March 1, 2016 at 6:26 pm

            Right?!? And it’s so easy to get caught up in. Being liked is great! But being liked 59 times for a selfie (which alas, not me hehe) can be intoxicating. I remember when I made a shirt post about my child, nothing great, but with a picture of her. It was liked by humans I had never heard of, even though I thought I was doing my best to shelter her. That did it for me. I love my family unit, and I was doing it an injustice by parading it like a show pony. Some can manage it very well and not have the urge to check it all I day…I couldn’t. But really…it that supposing given my joy of counting? 😜

  4. March 1, 2016 at 5:52 pm

    I lived through a lens with my first three children. The last four are lucky if we purchase school pictures once a year while they’re in grade school. I’m exaggerating, of course, but your post resonates strongly with me. I don’t recall the impetus for it, but I remember very vividly one day thinking to myself, “What the heck? I’m missing everything going on around me, save what’s happening through this narrow lens.” At this point in my life, I leave most of the picture snapping to my older children. They’ve practically grown up with cameras in their hands via phones, so they’re better at capturing moments anyway. Best wishes to and yours. XOXOX

    • March 1, 2016 at 6:18 pm

      I’m the oldest of four, and I remember looking through my mom’s honkin’ photo box before it was destroyed. There were so many photos of me, especially as a baby! There were many fewer of my siblings, so that I vowed I’d take as many pictures of my second as I did of my first. HA!

      I had no idea how much more it’d take to raise two than one! Before I was pregnant with Littler, a friend told me that raising one was a hobby, while two was a full time job in and of itself. I thought she was exaggerating, but of course, she wasn’t. So pictures became more infrequent, despite what I asserted three years ago. I felt guilty about that until a few days after that party, when I realized … fewer photos is more than just fine. It’s grand.

      Thank you for your thoughtful words! xoxo

  5. March 1, 2016 at 6:32 pm

    Would you mind terribly if I used this post as a link on my page? Not for sure when but its got my mind writing oodles of things.

  6. March 1, 2016 at 6:39 pm

    So true. I’m guilty of not enjoying what’s going on to its fullest because I’m taking pictures. I just mentioned this to my husband when I was on the beach taking sunset photos.

    • March 1, 2016 at 6:55 pm

      From your pictures, it seems like you have such a love of photography that the act of photographing is itself the/an act of love! That feels a little different, in general, but if you’re concerned by the balance … then that’s something it’s good to listen to! ♥

      • March 1, 2016 at 7:05 pm

        Oh I’m so glad you see that. I do feel such love and excitement and connectedness with the environment I’m in. I try to appreciate and notice the beauty in things. But yes…I do need a bit more balance. Sometimes my husband feels left out. Life is always a balancing act. Thank you for your comment. 🙂

  7. March 1, 2016 at 11:13 pm

    This was such a great perspective. I try to snap some photos that my kids can look back on but want to be remembered as the parent who did things with them.

    • March 3, 2016 at 5:13 pm

      Ditto that! I definitely want them to have some photos, but not tens of thousands so my kids are like, “Wait, was this why she wasn’t with us at the time?!”

  8. March 2, 2016 at 4:12 am

    I think it is the need to ‘see’ and relive through that seeing, that is why some of us capture with our lens and so fear putting it away. I think it is we fear forgetting. I have thousands of pictures, from my grandfather, my father and my own lens. They cover my walls, they sit in boxes waiting for me to transform them.

    On the other side though, it is my way of staying inside my bubble. It is my way of staying a little safe from all the hoopla going on around me. This is especially true when I am at large family events, when there are too many people and too there is too much chaos. I disappear behind my camera and feel safer.

    In all the years, there are only rare pictures of me, I am always the one behind the camera. I love that you are in the moment. I love that you are choosing heart memory. ❤

    • March 3, 2016 at 5:19 pm

      I wonder how I would have felt about all this had my mom not destroyed our photos. I went through a period of mourning (coupled with gladness for each photo I’d forgotten to return after scanning) after realizing they were lost, but soon adjusted to the world of few physical reminders of what had been before.

      Sometimes I get a little sad that I have taken all the photos I ever will of my mom, and that the pre-sickness ones are barely in the double digits. But I am glad for the ones I do have, and glad for all the memories between and around them that remind me photographs capture only a fraction of what the heart can.

      Also, I love this added glimpse into your physical reality. It feels like … a hug, almost, to imagine you among your photos.

  9. March 2, 2016 at 4:58 am

    I know this feeling so well. Freya has even started saying: “No more pictures, mummy.” If that’s not a lesson in putting down the camera/phone/iPad and living the moment I don’t know what is. Great post.

    • March 3, 2016 at 5:20 pm

      Thank you! D has said the same to me a few times, making me glad for the reminder. Of course, now he generally wants no pictures ever, so … :p

  10. March 2, 2016 at 6:00 am

    Ah! Just loved this post! It really spoke to me. Recently, my kids were participants in a musicaI performance and I was determined to record them. I managed to get my son’s part, experiencing it through the lens, but when my daughter, who is moderately deaf, stepped up for her song – to sing and play her ukele, I was completely overcome and sobbed the whole way through it without recording it! I didn’t even think to! I felt awful about that… But as I’ve had time to reflect, I wouldn’t do anything different (except maybe asking someone else to record it!). It was so worth being fully present to experience! I’m so glad I have the recording of my son, though. I watch it over and over again, amazed at what he did. It’s a constant judgement call, how to experience life. I stepped away from blogging for a bit precisely because I felt like I was missing mine. Glad to be back now, and reading your blog again. Thanks!

    • March 5, 2016 at 7:08 pm

      I thought I replied to this before stepping away from my computer last time, but I was mistaken! Your comment got me a little choked up–for you, for the moment–and I relate so much to your statement that it’s a constant judgment call. Sometimes the call makes itself, but other times, there’s a whole lot of consideration involved. I don’t think any which way is right or wrong all/nearly all the time, but I do believe it’s good for it to be a question instead of automatic … and I am so, so glad to see you back!!

  11. March 2, 2016 at 6:03 am

    I have way too many photos saved, but find that I hesitate to delete them. It’s a crazy situation to be in, yet I stay there voluntarily. There’s just something about photography that compels me toward excess. Go figure.

    • March 5, 2016 at 7:10 pm

      I, too, have thousands of photos! (If my Japan and many of my pre-Japan photos hadn’t disappeared with my computers in a burglary about a decade ago, that number would be much higher.) I almost never look at them. There are maybe two or three times a year where something happens that makes me go, “That reminds me of this picture I took!” Otherwise, I spent a huge amount of time experiencing only a tiny image of many events instead of fully experiencing the sights, the sound, the touch, the tastes, the feelings … on the off chance I’d need to call on some of those photos someday.

  12. March 2, 2016 at 6:55 am

    I read a blog post the other day that linked to an article that mentioned that living through the lens was causing us not to have memories, our brains weren’t holding onto the memory and emotion because it knew we took a photo and as such, it could free up room for other things (like shoe obsessions) since we had the “photograph”. It was interesting, and I took some time to evaluate, I love taking pictures, and I especially love the random ones, but usually, I’m part of the experience, not just behind the camera documenting it, and that’s how I want to be!

    • March 5, 2016 at 7:13 pm

      Your first sentence feels so right to me. I’ve walked away from a couple of events and gone, “Wait, but what actually happened?!” I want to have those memories! More than that, I want to have the full experiences that lead to the memories being encoded … not only for the memories I’m encoding, but for the ones being created by those around me, particularly the littlest of those-s. 🙂

      I ditto your how-I-want-to-be!

  13. March 2, 2016 at 7:02 am

    Aaaand, as much as I know you detest John Mayer, he puts it pretty succinctly in his song 3×5:

    “didn’t have a camera by my side this time
    hopping I would see the world with both my eyes
    maybe I will tell you all about it when I’m
    in the mood to lose my way with words”

    The funny thing is that I think that we (you know the folks of ‘today’) lived life less through the lens before the digital revolution. When we had to take photos, change out the film, submit them to a developer and wait a couple of weeks for them to be processed, we spent less time looking through the back of our phones. You *had* to look up and experience the world. Now it’s snap, snap, snap, review, delete, post, snap snap snap. There’s no choices of what to share. You can share everything.

    When you can actually leave your camera at home, it makes a difference, doesn’t it? ❤

    • March 6, 2016 at 5:41 am

      I don’t mind John Mayer much if I don’t actually have to hear him, so reading his lyrics works great for me. 😉 He did say this well.

      Also, being able to leave the camera behind really is/was good for that. I’d still like to get a digital camera for this very reason.


  14. March 2, 2016 at 12:25 pm

    Hm…I found myself thinking very similar thoughts this past week as I visited with my siblings in Utah…how many photos do I need to take before I loose the feeling of the actual moment and experience? And then one of my siblings experienced a freak skiing accident and as I sat there in the hospital ER wondering if he was going to be all right, I looked back through my photos of that day and kept telling myself, “Damn! Why didn’t I take MORE pictures of him???” I sit here reading your post and I’m still not sure I have the answer for myself…. ❤

    • March 6, 2016 at 5:44 am

      How is your brother doing? How are you?

      I don’t think there’s a right answer for each person, necessarily, just a right answer for the moment, the history, the heart right then.

      Sometimes I get sad that my small folder of “Mom photos” will never be added to. Sometimes I get sad at how few photos are left from my childhood due to my mom’s destroying them all later in life. It’s much less frequent now than when I first learned those photos were gone, because now … it takes less time for me to remember the moments even without the photograph, and know that the photograph captured only a fraction of the experience.

      Of course, it’s been a decade or so since I learned those photos were destroyed, so that’s a long time to make peace with their missing. (I will ever be glad for those I “borrowed” for my website, and which thus fell outside her reach when she got to destroying photos.)

      • March 7, 2016 at 9:48 am

        Deb, you’re so kind to take the time and respond like this…so kind. Thank you for your concern. My brother is doing very well, thank you, and is home on the mends, as I write this. He remembers everything but the actual event itself, so I guess that’s a good thing, eh? And I, unfortunately, have come home with a variety of lovely maladies…pneumonia among them….Guess hanging in hospitals isn’t what you’d call “healthy” for those of us with compromised immune systems…oh well..not fun, but it is what it is.

        I’m sorry that your Mom destroyed some of your childhood photos. My Mom doesn’t have a lot of me ( I was the second to oldest child), but there’s a few that she has that still make me smie (one of them, of course, being the one that I use as my WP gravatar) And I like your comment” a right answer for the moment”…yes….. Hugs! ❤

  15. March 2, 2016 at 1:33 pm

    Yes. I need to consciously turn off my phone or camera lest I pursue taking the “perfect” photo for too long.

    • March 6, 2016 at 5:45 am

      I put this into practice at Legoland a couple of weeks ago. I was so happy to have a few great photos, and a day full of moments experienced fully in all their dimensions, not just the one.

  1. December 11, 2016 at 11:00 am
  2. January 12, 2017 at 9:12 am

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