Recently I attended an outdoor art exhibition in Perth called Sculptures by the Sea. It’s a fantastic beach venue where artists who have spent hours labouring over their sculptures in preparation for the event and thousands of people attend it. Apart from the masses of people, I loved it! I enjoyed the process of getting into the artist’s head and trying to see the world from their viewpoint. But I have to say, I was astounded by the amount of people who went from sculpture to sculpture just taking selfies or lining up to have their photo taken with the art piece. There is no problem in having a photo with a piece, but there was this sort of competitiveness, of “Oh, I haven’t got a photo of that one yet” which I find incredibly puzzling. At what point did the artist say, “Gee, I hope people just line up to have their photos taken with my piece and not give my hours of work a second thought?” Although thousands of people attended, I wonder how many walked away with a sense of wonder, or questioning their views of the world or a new perspective.
This growing obsession of self-documenting our lives is somewhat of a conundrum to me. About five years ago, I saw John Butler in concert in Hobart, at the Derwent Entertainment Centre. It was Fathers’ Day, I remember, and I also remember being so grateful that on a day celebrating his fatherhood, he had chosen to spend part of it with us. Anyway, during his 15 minute, amazing, soul-raising song, Ocean, my heart was rising and falling with the song and enjoying the moment and wondering at the brilliance of the song-writing and guitar skills of this incredible man who has an awesome sense of social justice (Okay, yes, I’m in love with him!), regardless, it is an amazing song. My point being, that during this song (and indeed throughout the whole concert), these tall, blonde, youngish women were walking around the venue taking selfies! They paid no attention to the artist who sacrificed his Fathers’ Day to sing to us, or the song, or in-fact anybody else who MAY have been interested in watching what they paid to watch. I related this story to a friend recently, who told me that during an intense dance set of one of her favourite bands, a woman stood in the front row, took a selfie with the band in the background and then spent the next 20 minutes bragging about it on Facebook!
Seriously, I wonder what is going on with the world! Sometimes I do not understand other people. Similarly, I have seen this behaviour at famous sites around the world, or at social gatherings where it’s an “I can tick that off my list now” sort of attitude for documenting lives and adventures. My question is, what do people DO with all these photos and “achievements”. As a 40-year-old, I can remember the days when, with a film camera, you made sure the composition of the photo was just right before you took it, as film was expensive, it took a long time to see what you took a photo of, and more importantly, you only ever took one, perhaps two photos of the same thing! Now, people take hundreds of photos, many that they will never edit, or use or even recall taking and they are stored somewhere in a computer or, in the cloud – whatever that is!
The obsession with the selfie (and the selfie stick) is somewhat narcissistic – after all, who wants to see an awful photo of themselves, even if that’s what you actually look like! I’m sure there are positives to selfies, but right now, I think that as a society we are missing the point of photography, of why we document our lives. When you take a selfie, what are the thoughts going on in your life? And seriously, how many selfies does one person need?? I have only ever seen one photo of my great grandmother and great grandfather on my Dad’s side. In the picture, I am being held by one of them and that image is burned into my memory, as I was a baby when they died. But what images of you or your loved ones are like precious memories? Or is it all just a blur of random memories? I have taken selfies on occasion, but admittedly, only when I look smokin’ hot, so I’m not immune from the selfie!! But what I am aware of is to treasure every moment. I don’t need to take a photo of every single sculpture at the sea, I remember the ones that made me think or reflect, I don’t need a photo of me at my favourite singers’ concert, I remember how that song made me feel, I don’t need a selfie at the pyramids, or the Eiffel Tower or the Sydney Harbour Bridge or the Taj Mahal, I want to enjoy and appreciate the architecture, the wonder, the simplicity and the complexities of the stories behind it. I want to just be in the moment and savour the sights, the smells, the sounds and the texture of the air on my skin, of the tastes of the authentic food on street corners. Perhaps if we all spent a little less time self-documenting our lives instead of rushing from one “historical” moment in our lives to another and instead BE in the moment and treasuring that moment, imagine the possibilities for humanity?
Sometimes I feel like a stranger on this planet because I see the world so very differently from others, particularly in popular culture. What is the point of all this documentation of our lives? Do we need to continually snap pictures so we can post them to social media? Will historians in the future use them as a way to track our path through lives? I suppose that I’ve come to a point where I can’t see the point in taking thousands of pictures, when one, well-composed, perfect picture is enough, maybe that’s just my age and I should embrace the shifting sands of society and the self-obsession with self-documenting the little moments in our lives. I would love to hear your views on this.
A couple of months ago at the gym a woman came up to me on the bike next to me and started chatting. She was in her sixties and had a visible physical disability. She introduced herself using the words of a song and we chatted for a while and then parted. The next time we were on the bike, she asked if I remembered her name. She started singing “Hey there, Georgie girl…”, Georgie, that’s right. Every time I see her now, that song comes to mind immediately.
Georgie always has a broad smile and such a lovely presence. People will come up to her all the time in the gym and stop and talk to her and she greets everyone with the same broad smile and genuineness which is so absent from today’s world. The responses by her other gym “friends” are just as genuine as mine, we look forward to seeing her and she makes our hearts happy. Many of them go out of their way to go to her and say hello, often with a gentle squeeze of her shoulder or a hug.
Over the course of the next few months, I learned more about her story and what caused her disability. At 28 with two young children, she had a brain tumour removed. Her right side is visibly restricted in movement and muscle tone. “I dribble a lot,” she said with a wry smile. Her speech is impaired and her sentences are coherent but missing words, much like someone when they are speaking a new language. Her right arm doesn’t seem to be functional without assistance, but she walks with a cane and a pronounced limp. Even when she smiles, her deep brown eyes show the wit and cheekiness of the soul of this gorgeous woman.
When I asked her if I had her permission to write about her in my blog, she shook her head and put her hands in her face in complete embarrassment before she agreed that it would be okay. Sometimes people fake humility, but there is no fakery with Georgie-girl, she is completely and utterly a wonderful human being. It is so refreshing to see and speak with someone who is just themselves and has no qualms or issues or psychological dramas attached to her story. It just is.
How often do we hear people complaining about their lives and their issues? How often do you? I know I have to remember not to keep telling the story over and over again, that just keeps us in the past, attached to the moment, but rather than beat her down, Georgie’s disability is a gift. Despite the story, she continues to be an inspiration to all who speak to her.
This month she is coming up to the anniversary of her 45th wedding anniversary and the 38th anniversary of her tumour and there’s no doubt that her path to recovery has been tough on her and her husband and children. But yet, she has an incredible amount of joy in her life, with her two children and seven grandchildren which bring her an enormous amount of joy, going to the gym to see her friends three or four times a week, sleeping in on Saturday morning, church on Sundays and however else she spends her time. “I love my life,” she exclaims emphatically.
This blog was never meant to be an in-depth analysis of Georgie’s life, but of the impact that she has had on my life. Without meaning to, Georgie has made me realise the impact that being fully myself can have on other people and how very contagious that joy is. With her joy and gratitude with her life and the life that she has been dealt, she continues to face up to it with a smile on her face and perspective about her abilities and her limits, “every six months I fall over,” she says, but she is very aware that her situation could be much worse. She has a lot to be grateful for and while she doesn’t say that, it shows in her being.
Before I left her today, as always, I told her what an inspiration she is and how special she is, her humility is such that I don’t think she believes me, so I’m going to keep telling her! I also don’t know if she ever hears it from others, but today as I hugged her she said “I love you,” and for that, and for being a teacher for me, I am truly grateful. 'I love you' often has this stigma attached to it, as if someone might sit on you forever and not let you go, but we need to say I love you more often and mean it. We need to say “I love those flowers” and feel the love that we have for the flowers, or your car, or your kids, or your friends or partners or parents. Practice on the flowers if those other things are hard! But it needs to be said. A genuine “I love you” does not hurt and in reality, you are not responsible for the other person’s reaction, they are. But being honest from your heart brings you closer to yourself and your divinity.
So, to finish with a cliché; every relationship has a reason or a season, but perhaps this is bigger than that cliché. Perhaps every interaction we have with another living being has an impact. Whether you know it, a smile, or a frown or a disapproving gesture has an impact on your fellow travellers on this journey of life. Make it your job to not make someone else happy, because that is their job, but to bring the joy of who you are into your everyday, you just don’t know what an impact it might make on another.