Last week I woke up one day to find that my wi-fi was doing strange things and that my devices couldn’t connect to it. Turns out that the network name had magically reverted to default overnight, and so my devices, searching for the secured network I’d set-up, couldn’t find it. It was a bit of a mystery and a tad suspicious, but I got it sorted out soon enough.
In the course of this, I had to reset the Lenovo google device that sits on my bedside table, and which acts as a glorified clock radio. In the morning I tell it to play the radio. Occasionally I connect to Spotify through it or stream from my phone. I’ll ask it the odd question, and the rest of the time it cycles through photos on its bright screen.
I had to reset the photo album for it scroll through and, unable to decide but wanting something different, elected to go with what it suggested to me. Turns out it was a range of old film photos I’d digitised over Christmas. These dated back to the eighties and nineties. Because they came from film and because I was scanning by phone the quality was dodgy but adequate. At the time, I’d glanced at the photos, remembering, and indulging in some occasional nostalgia. I didn’t really think about them much.
Let me tell you when they’re scrolling continuously at the corner of your eye you find yourself looking more often, and thinking more deeply. You remember things forgotten. Or else, it sparks other thoughts and reflections. You begin to join dots and maybe it’s a form of narrative fallacy, but it loops together and begins to integrate into your life today, and your perspective of it.
There was of a photo of one Christmas, I think, and in the foreground is a smiling character of someone now long dead. He was an affable, slightly hopeless person, but good-hearted. He came from the other side of the joined family and was only an occasional presence, so never featured much in my life, and rarely in my thoughts. Seeing him again after all these years sparked an unexpected pang of regret.
What I remembered was a 50th birthday party he’d arranged at a restaurant in Tullamarine. I was invited, along with everyone else. It was unlikely I would consider going. I wasn’t close to him, and Tullamarine was miles away. As it turned out, very few went, and while he was disappointed, his partner was upset. I was sorry when I heard, but that was that.
All these years later, with him long dead, and his partner, it occurred to me that I’d never really been fair to him. I was always affable and friendly to him. I’d stop and have a chat and a laugh, but I realised I’d marked him down in the back of your mind. You do that. He was a bit of a no-hoper, you see, inoffensive, a bit drug-fucked after years of living badly, but with a heart of gold. I made no moral judgements on him. My judgements are intellectual. I acknowledged him as a decent bloke, but he never figured in my mind because he had nothing interesting to say or contribute, not by my lofty standards.
I thought none of this back then. I wasn’t a bad person – I always tried to be decent and fair. But sometimes you’re oblivious, aren’t you? You only see what you see, and you don’t peer too deeply in the mirror. But now, today, much too late, I felt regret. I should never have been so dismissive and arrogant. That was not my right, but I recognised it well. I can accept character flaws, but for some reason, I’m less tolerant of intellectual flaws. It’s not a conscious thing. I know full well that there’s a wide range of capabilities and whether you’re at the top or bottom of that is largely a matter of luck and genetics. I know that full well, but most of my frustrations in life are with people who don’t measure up to my expectations in that regard. It makes a control freak in general, and an arrogant prig otherwise.
I wished I’d gone to his party. And wished I’d been capable of looking past my shallow preconceptions and recognised him as the human being that he was. These are things worth remembering.
Then there were other photos, a whole succession of them, of me out in restaurants having dinner with my family. Outside of the day I scanned them, these are photos I hadn’t set eyes on since the films came back from being developed, 25 years or so ago. I’d forgotten they existed, forgotten the occasions, forgotten myself really, in a way. But there they were again.
There was a range of memories that came to mind, but there was one thing that struck me as I looked at these. Well, two, really. Superficially, I thought how nineties slick I looked, very much with the times – I was a tad disappointed by that. I had that look, too school for school man about town. I probably believed it, too!
But then there was the other thing, and it would never have occurred to me except that I’d had a minor revelation the day or so before. I’m a great reader and have been all my life, but it occurred to me suddenly that I read differently now to what I used to.
I read the same books now, but back then I read them hungrily, eager to absorb and to learn from them for the journey ahead. Books were entertainment, they were perspective, and they were a kind of education. I felt so empowered. I felt as if every word I read improved me. They were relevant in the ways books aren’t now, because they informed who I wanted to be. I was confident and ambitious and lusty – I wanted to eat the world up, devour experience, feel every sense in me explode. There was a sensuality to it, but at its bedrock, it was – as always – intellectual. I would learn, I would get better, and I would take this into the world with me. And, looking at these photos of me from back then, I felt as if I could see that appetite in my eyes:
I have a policy of not sharing personal pics of me here – I’m anonymous after all, right? But on this occasion, I’ll break the rule. This is me in my late twenties, I guess. I had the world ahead of me, and I knew it. What adventures I would have! And I was already having a few…
But so, today. Books are just books now. Vital and important to me, but they’re background. Not relevant as they used to be. I learn things and facts, I might gain a perspective here and there, but there’s nothing anymore that defines how I live or what I think or what I aspire to. I was so certain then. Today, I’m not so sure.