I am not, in most ways, a self-involved person. In fact, sometimes my own life seems to be the most slight and uninteresting thing around me: perhaps how I ended up being 33, marginally employed, and single. But while I might not find myself of much interest, I am obsessed with my milieu. Or, if you prefer to call it something else, with my surroundings, my zeitgeist. Especially in recent years, I've become somewhat obsessed with cataloging and recording the details of my environment.
I keep a daily journal, and have since 1993. I have twenty years of descriptions of what is going on around me. I also take a lot of pictures. I download pictures of things I am interested in. I have mail that others sent me. I can pretty much remember what was going on around me week by week for the past twenty years. And its not just a matter of "big things". Its a matter of the small details that give life texture: sometimes its not the words written in an old letter, but just seeing the stamp, and remembering what stamps looked like in 1997 or 2003.
I moved to a new town in December of 2012, and since that date have been acquiring many new memories: and when I don't feel like I am acquiring enough experience, I go out and create memories on schedule. I am living in a beautiful, somewhat eccentric location, and I feel that if I am not creating memories of bicycle trips through the towering Redwoods, etcetera, I am doing it wrong. And I have created many memories, so much it is hard for me to make sense of them all: January 10th and January 20th were/are very different times for me, and three months later, I don't know if I can quite describe how.
But here is the thing: with all this obsession with the differing shades and textures of my experience, I find those experiences running out, half-formed, before I can realize them. And when I look back at times in my life when I do remember a richness and fullness and uniqueness to my experiences, those weren't times when I was trying to capture just the essence of the day, those were times I was trying to understand The Truth. Many of those when I was younger, and The Truth seemed to be a valid thing to pursue. I remember being fourteen, and walking through my suburban town, smelling the misty smell of trees, enjoying the excitement of buying vinyl records and comic books, and the thrill of getting to play Street Fighter II at a convenience store. But at the time, I was not looking for great memories: I was looking for absolute truth, trying to understand myself and the universe and capital-G God with an earnestness that befits being fourteen.
Children often haven't seen their world change much, and it seems that they often see their world in terms of absolutes more than adults do. Perhaps you remember as a young child, the amazement of having a new play structure at your neighborhood, or seeing a house being built? I remember as a slightly older child, being somewhat amazed when the idea of disposable cameras was introduced. When children (and teenagers) start to investigate the world, they think in terms of absolute and eternal, because they haven't seen many things change around them. It is, perhaps counterintuitively, adults who think in terms of change and gradations, because we've seen enough of them. As I investigate my life, I no longer spend as much time asking who I am, as who I am right now. For me, just in 2013, April Matthew, March Matthew, February Matthew and January Matthew are all different things. Each one the production of circumstances that won't come again, and can't be captured.
And yet now, I am wondering if that will satisfy me, simply trying to figure out what the essence of a month or week is, or whether I will want to move back to trying to find a larger picture.