Why I'm Filming You

  • By Laurence Pevsner
  • lpevsner14@amherst.edu

Volume XXXV, Issue 3, March 8, 2013

Filming 3

Imagine if you could recall every day of your life, starting today, for the rest of your life. That was what artist Cesar Kuriyama promised me at the beginning of January this year. From there I embarked on a project that got such responses as “stop that” and “what are you doing” and “that’s really cool” and “I don’t get it”. But perhaps most important is my response: With mixed feelings and a sometimes heavy heart, I've thoroughly enjoyed myself.

It all started this past summer, when friend and Associate Editor Dan Adler recommended a piece by the late Marina Keegan to me, “The Opposite of Loneliness”. The essay is a reflection from a graduating senior, worried about the future, worried about what she will lose leaving her school. It’s a piece many of us can relate to. Perhaps the most moving part of the essay is the unintentional dramatic irony: “We’re so young. We’re so young.” she says. “We’re twenty-two years old. We have so much time.” Marina was killed in a car accident a few days after the essay was published.

As much as lines like these send shivers up the spine, I found myself more interested in her depiction of college life, and what we would find missing when we wake up one day as graduates. She comments: “Yale is full of tiny circles we pull around ourselves. A cappella groups, sports teams, houses, societies, clubs. These tiny groups that make us feel loved and safe and part of something even on our loneliest nights when we stumble home to our computers—partner-less, tired, awake. We won’t have those next year. We won’t live on the same block as all our friends. We won’t have a bunch of group-texts.

This scares me. More than finding the right job or city or spouse—I’m scared of losing this web we’re in. This elusive, indefinable, opposite of loneliness. This feeling I feel right now.”

When I read this part, I immediately realized that these were my deepest graduation fears. What will happen to my web of people? What will happen when I don’t have the ultimate team, or The Indicator, or my freshmen hall, or my Marsh friends, or my suite to keep me afloat? What would I do without my little circles, my own sprawling and nebulous web of support that holds me (and, I’m guessing, you) together every day? Who will I turn to when that’s not there? I know, graduation is a far way off, and I may just be a junior, but…holy shit, I’m a junior. As consolation, or perhaps inspiration, Marina goes on: “But let us get one thing straight: The best years of our lives are not behind us. They’re part of us and they are set for repetition as we grow up and move to New York and away from New York and wish we did or didn’t live in New York.”

The best years of our lives are not behind us, they’re a part of us. I’ve been told before that life doesn’t stop after college. I’ve heard talk of real cities and real girls and real money from real jobs after you really graduate. That sounds cool. But nothing has assuaged my post-graduate fears more than understanding that I can take college with me, forever.

Except, that’s not quite true, is it? Unless you’re Professor Rabinowitz, you’re bound to forget some parts of your time at Amherst. And if you’re like me, you barely remember what homework is due the next day, or whose suite you were in last weekend, let alone your entire collective college experience. How can I say that my college years are a part of me if I’m not really, exactly, and entirely sure what happened during them?

What had previously consoled me began to haunt me. How much do you remember from your life a mere two years ago? When I asked myself this question, I found I could remember the general gist—but in terms of real moments? Only little glimpses, little flashes. And talking with friends about freshman year only scared me more—I hadn’t even realized how much I’d forgotten. Late nights in the Chuck Pratt common room. Going to Luau for the first time. Playing “telephone” on the Freshmen Quad. Thinking Tony Marx was a total boss. All of that was a blur to me. It still is. Of course there are moments, important moments, and even unimportant moments, that I remember well. But for every one I remember, there are an unconceivable number I forget. I posit that this is likely the case for you too.

And what about now? This year has been my most fulfilling year in college so far—am I destined to forget it? In so many courses and readings I’ve been taught to think in the moment, to pay attention to the now. But what a loss, a truly devastating loss, if that ephemeral now evaporates before it even has the chance to become a part of me!

This winter break, I found myself still brooding. I decided my New Year’s Resolution was to come up with a way to remember as much as possible. I hadn’t figured out how I was going to do it, but I knew I was going to try. And that’s where Cesar Kuriyama came in.

A TED speaker, Cesar is an artist who decided to film one second of every day of his life on his iPhone. With this footage he made a compilation video, in date order, one second ticking after the next. The video is touchingly genuine. I found the constant, episodic narrative relatable and fascinating. It all went by so fasta clip of him making oatmeal, immediately followed by a night out with friends, then a sublime mountain view, and then reading a book, and then browsing the internet, and then playing mini-golf, and then eating a fish, and then dancing with a lady, and then spray painting cars, and then and then and then. Shot after shot ranged from the extraordinary to the completely ordinary. After the six minutes and nine seconds, I felt like I knew a lot about Cesar. I had literally seen (two years of) his life flash before my eyes. I had seen what I can only describe as second after second of human moments. 

There was more to the video than just fun glimpses into Cesar’s life. We normally take out our cameras (if we do at all) on good days. Cesar takes his out every day. And so the most moving part of the video is toward the end, where there is a repeated series of clips of a person in a hospital bed. In a video where the scenery and state of affairs were constantly changing, the sustained seconds of waiting in the hospital were powerful. You really felt the passage of time. I have no idea who that person was to Cesar, but I could tell she mattered a lot. He was in that hospital for a long time.

But it wasn’t the human connection that got me to look more into the One Second Everyday project. It was a promise. Over the course of the video, you hear Cesar start talking. He says: “Imagine a movie that includes every day of the rest of your life. For almost two years now, I’ve been recording one second every day, so I’ll never forget a day ever again.”

Remember my problem? The idea that I might never forget a day ever again made me intrigued but skeptical. What could only one second of video do for me? A picture certainly doesn’t jog my memory that way. Wouldn’t I just be reminded of one second, or perhaps one small episode of the day, and not a full day?

A close friend of mine who had started his own version of the project assured me that this was not the case. In fact, as Cesar points out in most of his talks, video is an entirely different medium from photography. The aspects of motion and sound in video, even for one second, do so much more for memory than a still photograph, as any Psych major can tell you. The Psych major might also point out that by filming, you remove yourself from that moment. Maybe. But recall that this happens for only one second. I was prepared to sacrifice a mere one second of the moment for posterity.

So I tossed a buck toward Kuriyama’s Kickstarter page for the iPhone app (1SE) that would make attempting such a project easier. Days later, the app came out. It worked quite well (though a little slowly) and I began filming the day I left for a twelve day trip to Israel. And Cesar was generally right—each second I filmed really helped me recall so much more of the day. And he was right about another point: It made me want to try new things, more interesting things. I wanted to film cool stuff, to make my life seem cool when I would one day show this compilation to people. This had the added effect of making me do cool stuff in real life.

But if this sounds too good to be true, it’s because it is.

Every night, before I go to bed, I review my footage and see what one second I want to select. This selection process, I think, is telling. Take February 19 for example. I had three clips to consider. One was of a box of the new issue of The Indicator. I was proud of the work we had done for the issue, and I thought a shot of the final product arriving would stir up those memories. The second was a clip of me having lunch at Schwemm’s with a friend. She unwraps her sandwich, looks up, and smiles. I really liked the clip because that lunch had meant something to me—we hadn’t talked for a while, and our conversation had been a meaningful one. The last was a clip I took of a reading at Amherst Books that night. I had really enjoyed the reading. The focus was George Howe Colt’s new book, Brothers, and it made me think about my relationship with my own brother.

The problem is, the clips don’t actually help you remember the whole day. They just help you remember more of it. And emphasized, in that memory, is whatever you choose as your one second. That video doesn’t just stir up the whole day, it reorganizes your memory and puts what you know for sure—that one second you select—at the forefront. It defines your memory. You define your memory. What was I going to choose to define as my memory of February 19?

I ended up choosing the reading. And if I’m being honest with myself, the reading wasn’t my most valued part of the day. But I chose it because I liked the idea of other people thinking I went to readings. I liked that image. And it mixed things up—I already had Indicator clips, and lunch clips. But that decision really worries me. What did it mean that I was picking clips based on how I would be perceived? Is this project for me, or for others to see, as Cesar says, the “film of me”, a carefully selected set of images that I’ve curated to represent my life?

1SE didn’t end up being my catch-all solution to the memory problem. In truth, what I will capture is the series of memories that I want to take with me and show to others, which will never fully represent my life. But a few years from now, when I’m either living in New York or moving away from New York or wishing I did or didn’t live in New York, I’ll have this series of memories, that I myself selected diligently, to keep me company. I can rest assured that the parts of college I decided to keep will safely roam with me in my pocket. That is, as long as I don’t forget my phone somewhere.

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