My mom as a little girl, with a handful of cookies

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to want so badly to document my life. Since I was 14 or 15, I’ve not just taken pictures of the things I’ve done day-to-day, but put them together in a sort of journal, and that journal’s online, for more people than just me to see. We talk a lot now about how kids today don’t know what life without “documenting” everything and sharing everything is like. I’m not of the generation in question, but do I even? Sometimes I feel neurotic from wanting everything documented and organized, and from the immense feeling of satisfaction accomplishing this gives me. Will I deeply miss this feeling when the time comes when I can no longer devote hours and hours to processing, posting, and writing about the pictures of my life?

Having just spent a weekend helping clean out my grandma’s house, I would not say she was an organized person. I know I get my organization knack from my mom, but I would not even say she is a terribly organized person (Sorry, Mom!). But the thread is there, as I saw when I found three big, labeled photo albums my grandma had put together of pictures taken in her youth. I stayed with my grandma for weeks at a time while I was studying photography, and I’d ask her again and again if she had any old photos she could show me, and for whatever reason she never did. It was such a happy surprise to find not only tons of photos, but dates and descriptions with them, in her handwriting. I was fascinated for hours.

My grandma and I weren’t close. She died in December, at 91, after spending more than a decade audibly unhappy about the direction her life had taken. I was always curious about her, especially her years before her children were born and when they were little, about which I knew absolutely nothing. I’m so happy now knowing she was this beautiful, excited, adventurous person, who spent a lot of time with her family and friends. She left Western New York and she traveled so much! She went to the 1939 New York World’s Fair! She went to California and she saw the Hollywood Bowl! She was content with and proud of her body, and she dressed fabulously. She loved being a mom to little kids. She liked taking pictures; she had an eye for landscapes. I love imagining her with a little Brownie around her neck, taking pictures of everything, including her father in his coffin. My mom said my grandma mentioned she always regretted taking that photo, but I love that she took it. Knowing she was, in that moment at least, interested in the culture surrounding death and felt compelled for some reason to make that photograph, I felt closer to her than I maybe ever have.