Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Muddling Memoir: Photographs

I've spent the past week looking at slides of my Mexico years. I didn't set up the projector and screen, though I still own both. Instead, I used a small slide viewer. I set in a stack of thirty to forty year old slides and pushed them through the lighted cavity. One by one images of Mexico slid before me. The long dark hair and sad eyes of a young woman on the cliffs above the Pacific just before leaving Santa Cruz, California. The images of peasants and children who populated the street corners not only of Mexico City, but of villages from the northern border along both coastlines and south to Oaxaca. Images of farmers tending their fields and construction workers building the vast Mexico City subway system, humble churches and elaborate cathedrals, fortress-like museums and open-air markets.
In the early 1980s, long before digital cameras or cell phones, I splurged on a small 35 mm Olympus I carried with me wherever I went. What I didn't capture and develop in black and white, I recorded on color slides. I have hundreds of photographs of strangers, and even a few of myself. What I have in limited quantity are photos of the people who populated my life. I have Cathy in Santa Cruz, but not in Mexico City. I have Evelia and Judi, a few of friends at my Mexican wedding, and even a shot of my ex-husband painting our apartment for my sister's visit. But most of the time my camera recorded strangers and the places they inhabited. Does this show where my heart lay? Were culture, place, and local inhabitants what felt important? The extremes wealth and poverty what struck me?

Waves of memory wash over me. I am drowning under those waves, yet I need to stay in the turbulence, work within it until words make sense and memories fit together with the perfection of a jigsaw puzzle. I must give myself time to feel the joy and pain, the adventure and loss. I jot notes, scribble startlines, set a timer, put pen to paper. And repeat. From the muddled mess of memory I trust a story will emerge.

Prior posts in the Muddling Memoir series: 
La Flor de Noche Buena


Jan said...

Yes, it does take time to process our pasts. I find the extreme poverty of some parts of Mexico very difficult to to witness.

arleen said...

Yes, as it is around the world, including in this country. Thank you for reading, Jan. I appreciate your thoughts.