Prior to getting rid of my desktop computer this afternoon, I had to transfer a bunch of old files to my laptop. Mostly they were random photos, ancient word documents I wasn’t sure I’d archived anywhere else – and a folder of video diary entries I made throughout my second year as a college student, way back in 2005.
As memory serves, I first started making them as the end result of a thought process that went something like this:
1. What does my head really look like from the side? Whenever I see photos of me from that angle, I always look like a giant nose with a face attached. It’s sort of unflattering. I hope I don’t look like that all the time.
2. Can I see my sidelong profile in the mirror, ever?
*several failed attempts later*
3. No. Because my eyes are on the FRONT of my head. Because I am a PREDATORY MAMMAL, not a PARROT, despite my APPARENTLY GIANT NOSE. Also, I am an IDIOT.
4. But wait! I have a shiny new digital camera! I can take PHOTOS of my sidelong profile by holding the camera at arm’s length from the side of my head while looking in a different direction! Problem solved!
*several failed attempts later*
5. I AM STILL AN IDIOT.
6. Hey, I know! Why don’t I put the camera on top of my bookshelf and make a video of me moving around?
7. And if I’m going to go to all that effort, why don’t I talk about my life, too?
And thus, the video diary idea was born.
There are 33 entries, all taken between the 24th of April and the 28th of October 2005 – I saved each file according to time and date. The digital camera I used wasn’t particularly good, and I could only talk for about six minutes before the recording cut out, but despite all this, the results are fascinating. To me, anyway. I never posted them anywhere; they were only ever for my own enjoyment. It was a novel thing, being able to watch myself on film. My parents never owned a video camera when I was growing up, and until that point, I’d only ever seen stills of myself; or, if I were very lucky, a three-second cameo in some other family’s tape of a school event. When I rewatched each entry after making it, I remember being more interested in how I looked than what I was actually saying: not just on the level of a nineteen-year-old girl attempting to gauge her attractiveness, but how I moved, the way my eyes flicked sideways or down, how my mouth twisted or my hands moved. Even my voice, which always sounds deeper to me on tape than it ever does while speaking, was a source of interest. Trying to learn all the tricks of my own face – all the things that my friends and family must have known by heart, which in some ways defined me as much as my words or actions, but which were foreign to me – was both strange and compelling.
Now, almost six years later, my reactions to the entries have changed. I look at the girl I was then, and think:
I was so beautiful! What on Earth possessed me to think otherwise? Why did I constantly disparage myself?
I was so young! I look at teenagers now and there’s this freshness to them I sort of assumed was generational, but in those videos, I have it, too! Why do none of us realise it at the time?
I was so earnest! And awkward! But that self-conscious humour and weird, dreamy introspection, it’s all the seed of who I am now – I was still learning to be me. I just didn’t know it yet.
Did I really care about all those things that are so unimportant now, but which were so important then? How much of what’s important to me now will be just as unimportant in another five years? Or is it all important, always?
Did I have any inkling how significant that year would end up being? If I look hard enough, can I see it there? Could I ever have guessed?
This last is the thing that sticks with me most, which moved me to write this post. Because 2005 was, in many respects, the year that turned me into who I am now. I recorded the final entry the night I acquired my then-kitten, Quill, who crawls across my shoulders as I talk. I say that I’ve made the decision to defer my studies for 2006 in favour of finishing my novel, what I now refer to as the Great Unpublished Epic. Several times in earlier entries, I talk about Toby, the man who is now my husband, but who was then a friend and ex-roomate of my college boyfriend, Sean. I only watched a few entries tonight, but what struck me from that random selection was the number of times I mentioned doing something without Sean – usually karate lessons, which he’d started me on, but often seemed to ditch, at least by this subjective record – compared to the number of times I talked about doing things with Toby, like playing music or hanging out. A month later, beyond the scope of the video entries, Sean and I had parted ways. By Christmas, Toby and I were living together. The next year, we saved our money and moved to Melbourne, where I finished my novel and, eventually, started the story that grew into Solace & Grief. The year after that, we were married.
I made a few more entries much later on, using the camera function on my laptop – eleven in 2007, four in 2008 – but they weren’t the same. Lacking regularity or purpose, made in response to boredom and without the camera’s ability to cut me off if I waffled, they devolved into indulgent ramblings about whatever it was I thought interesting and profound at the time – topics which, in retrospect, usually weren’t. Given another few years, there’s every chance I’ll find them as interesting as the original 33, but right now, they’re just that little bit too recent for proper retrospect: the only lesson I can take from them now is that I’m not always as fascinating as I might think.
As I type this, I’m lying on a borrowed bed. The computer clock has just ticked on past 12AM: technically, it’s Wednesday already, which means that tomorrow night – Thursday night – we’ll board the plane for Scotland. Not a new life, because that implies escape, or erasure somehow, as though I were trying to forget Melbourne and what living here has meant to us. But a new start? Definitely. And with everything that entails – with the ghost of my teenage self still flickering in my vision – I think that, like 2005 before it, 2011 will be a year worth documenting, too. It just so happens that I received another new digital camera for Christmas: a belated replacement for the earlier model, which died some time ago. The new video function cuts out after eight minutes, not six. But then, I’m older now. Perhaps I’ll have that little bit more to say.
Something old. Something new. Something borrowed.