by Chloe Koffas, Light From A Pixel
How We Change Time
When you are a child who is only five or six years old, you excitedly and impatiently wait for the celebration of your birthday or an upcoming holiday, and the months stretch out ahead of you like years do to an adult. When I was in third grade, the short time between Thanksgiving and Christmas seemed like months as my teacher slowly, gradually changed the decorations in our classroom from gold and yellow paper leaves to shiny green and red tinsel. During my middle school years, somewhere in between memorizing the combination to my locker and trying to find the right jean jacket to wear, I noticed time speeding up maybe just a little. In high school as each year’s Homecoming came and went, and as boyfriends came and went, it seemed time sped up even just a little more. And that’s because, in my perception, it did.
In those high school days, as the books of Steinbeck, Fitzgerald and other writers of the Lost Generation weighed heavy in my backpack, I took analog pictures of my friends and the places we went. I invested many hours developing these memories in black and white under the red light and chemicals of the dark room of my school’s art building. And during those high school years, when my camera took up half the space in my backpack, I would go to my literature classes where reading the work of legendary writers often felt like a chore. I hardly appreciated their writing the way I do now. Part of this is because life has given me an exponentially fuller understanding of time and human suffering in my 40s than I had when I was 14.
Here is a brilliant visual of how we experience time by Maximilian Kiener:
Amazingly, when you are seven, half your ‘perceived life’ is already over. I realized that my daughter and I are middle-aged at the same time. And in recognizing that, I think I’ve finally grasped the story of Benjamin Button. Hopefully Fitzgerald would be proud. I have recently been reading works of the Lost Generation (those born around 1883-1900 or very soon after). Gen X is also considered a lost generation, so I have been wondering what wisdom they have to pass onto us about life, about time.
While I was near the end of college, which felt like a long time after high school, even though it was only just a few years later, I was living in a century-old apartment I rented from a slumlord. Very late one night, while I was delirious with a fever from mono and the flu, the plumbing failed, and dirty water started seeping out slowly onto my possessions, and as I slept, the leak got worse, and the water my upstairs neighbor had just showered with after she came home from her bartending shift began to destroy almost everything I owned. As the night went on, the water filled up my ceiling that had collapsed all around me but I was so sick that I slept through it. I woke up in the morning to find the flooding had destroyed my photo albums down to the spines that held them together. I had lost something that could never be returned. Since then, my high school friends and I have gotten together to make and photograph new memories. We have pictures from our recent reunion, I can see my friends’ lives as they post pictures online as they are now, and no doubt there is some redemption in all that. But no amount of renters’ insurance can replace photos, and when you don’t have much money for food, you surely don’t have money for renters’ insurance, let alone a digital camera to take pictures of water-damaged photos before throwing them away….
Throw Away Generation
We are sometimes referred to as a “throwaway generation.” We are known as a lost generation, and we are known as a nomadic generation, and because of that, most Gen Xers have a story, or several stories, like the one above. The road has not been easy for us. One place we can find solace is in each other’s experiences. When it comes to those photos, those memories we once had that were lost, we can find our own stories in each others’ stories. If a picture we once loved is missing, we can find a puzzle piece of it in someone else’s story. As you go through your old acid-washed pictures, you have many of the same cassette tapes in the background that I once owned. In some picture I still have that wasn’t lost, maybe there was the same clunky VCR in the background that was used to record your favorite sitcoms on, or the same mall-bought 80’s poster on my wall that was on yours. In some picture you had, maybe your face reflected the cutting pain of adolescence or the immeasurable hope of youth as mine once did.
Gen X Photo Album
Jen X has collected a veritable museum of photos from our Gen X growing up years, and I take great comfort in that. From the photos and stories that remain of our lives, each of us has some number of puzzle pieces, and many of those pieces are similar if not identical.
A generation is like a thousand-piece puzzle on the table of a passenger train that keeps gaining momentum as it moves down the tracks. Through space and time, it takes putting those pieces together for a long time before a bigger picture emerges. And what we know now that we did not know then is the return trip always feels shorter than the one that got us here. Let’s all sit together at a table by the window in the train café and have a cup of coffee together. You can bring some old photo albums if you want. I will look for myself in your pictures, and in your story, and you can look for yourself in mine.
© 2017 Chloe Koffas