My first international adventure took place during college, when I spent a Summer studying in Greece. This was in the days before the proliferation of smartphones and the ability to capture, edit, and transmit every observation, thought, and experience in real-time. I took photos on film, not knowing for days - or even weeks - how they would turn out, but fully aware that among the gems would be a healthy dose of poor angles, closed eyes, and bad lighting. I also journaled extensively - noting the highs, lows, and everything in between.
As I departed for my recent South African expedition, I determined to be equally diligent in capturing the experience. Thanks to modern technology, however, this time I was able to see the photos and videos immediately and choose which to keep and which to delete. And instead of recording the events of each day in a journal, I sent sporadic updates to the babe and her father - focusing on the highlights and best experiences.
My return home coincided with a burst of work travel for the babe's father, and I found myself continuing to play the role of archivist. I sent him pictures of her playground antics and videos of clever remarks. As the days went on, I found myself editing - not merely photos, but also my daughter. "That was so funny! Can you say it again so I can send a video to Papa?" "Wow - look at you up there! Hold on so I can get a picture."
When I realized what I was doing, I recalled a Ted Talk in which the presenter suggested the current generation is experiencing the present as an anticipated memory. At the time I thought his was a sad, but accurate, observation, and here I was doing the very same thing.
We are all at risk of falling into this pattern. It seems more natural to carefully cultivate our desired image than to acknowledge - let alone embrace - our flaws. Rather than allowing each moment to unfold, we seek to memorialize events as we wish they had happened: My child wasn't a terror at this age - look at his angelic smile in this picture. The party wasn't a failure - you can see how much fun we were having!
If we are being honest with ourselves (and others), we must admit our lives are a blend of brilliant and banal, equal parts beautiful and beastly. And this is how it should be. We need contrast to appreciate the full spectrum of our experiences. By editing every flaw out of our reality, we rob ourselves of the richness of life.
As we enter Summer, I am committing to living unedited. To allow experiences to unfold in all their glorious disarray. To capture pictures that reflect life as it happens - the good, the bad, and the ugly. Won't you join me? Let's be real.