Thursday, January 20, 2005


What if... Photo Life Journalism

What if... wanted to document your life?

What if... had boxes of pictures and the little knick-knacks you've picked up over the course of a lifetime and lots of things that had actual financial value, though no one could tell?

What if...

...those items that had no fiscal value but lots of sentimental value to you were unrecognizable to anyone but you without explanation?

I've been thinking about the era of digital photography, the phenomenon of scrapbooking (you can tell who I live with, can't you?), and the fact that my ego is big enough to blog daily.

What if... took a photograph of your things, the things you've made an effort to collect, and put those photos in a scrapbook, along with a few lines (or even a few pages!) to explain what it was, where it came from, why it's worth anything to the people who might read your words later on...

(beneath a photo of a Shirley Jackson's book, Witchcraft in Salem Village)

When I was in elementary school, we read this book. I had no idea that Shirley Jackson was the same morbid woman who wrote the short story "The Lottery." As far as I was concerned, this was just another book we were reading for our fourth grade reading class. It became a much more interesting book when the hippy-teachers at The New School where I went decided to write a play based on the book, and we kids would perform it for the parents.

My best friend, Mark Parnaby, and I were cast at the eleventh hour in bit parts as the constables who escort the young witches to the gallows. We had no lines. We were on "stage" for under a minute. We were notorious troublemakers at The New School, so we were marginalized.

Mark was the one who devised the plan: after we had escorted the witches to the balsa wood gallows and put the nooses around their neck, the lights would go out to imply their executions. In that instant of darkness, Mark argued, we should kick the proverbial--and literal--bucket out from under witch Rosie (one of our fellow students who had received QUITE a substantial speaking role, due to her family's financial influence at the school, Mark further argued). I actually liked Rosie; it was her sister Barbie who I would much rather have hung, but Rosie was the witch we constables were accompanying out from the wings.

So, the deed was done. Balsa wood, I should note, is an extremely flimsy wood. Much chaos ensued following our bid for infamy, as you might guess.

Interestingly, Mark was cast as Handy Holmes, our friend Don as his sidekick Wally Watson, and I as the dim-witted Inspector of Scotland Yard in the next school play we did, a rip-off of the Pink Panther flicks. I'm assuming the attempted hanging of Rosie might have had something to do with it.

Years later, well after college, I stumbled upon this book at a used bookstore called The Book Barn in Forsyth, Illinois. Seventy-five bucks, the guy who ran the place wanted for it. I did not shell out, even for the memory of my and Mark's John Wilkes Booth moment during the adapted play. But my mom did, for the following Christmas.

If I ever see Mark again in this lifetime--last I know, he and his wife Zehra were living in Chicago, but at this writing, I've not seen or heard from him since 1995--I'll show it to him and see if he pegs me as the mastermind behind the "Witchcraft" play fiasco of 1974.


Would it tell the tale of your life when you were done? Or would it take you the rest of your life to document? Would anyone want to read it? What if someone did it for you? Would you be glad your parents, your sister, your best friend created a massive, photo-filled tome for you?

I would.

What if...?

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