It's been fifty-four weeks since I began this project, two more than I'd promised myself I'd complete before documenting what its been like, and about fifty more than I really believed I'd have done in a row. In those fifty-four weeks, there were 648 pictures, more words than I'd care to count, pieces of birth announcements, cards, and post-it note hellos from friends, forty-eight lists, and one heartbreaking full page letter about a week I'd rather not relive. There are three full albums, and not a single missing week.
If you'd asked me a year ago if I'd be making albums - scrapbooks - let's just call them what they are - I would have scoffed. Art journals, yes, of course, I've got lot of those. Commonplace books packed with scraps, both of images and words, yes, again, of course, I have shelves of those, too. If you'd asked me a year ago if I thought maybe I'd be a scrapbooker one day, I would have said no without hesitation. Too many implications, too soft, too cute, too easy. It's for people who have children, or grandchildren, or are retired and needing a project. Of course, I know now that those assumptions are inaccurate, and the world of paper crafting and memory keeping so much larger than I'd imagined. Now, fifty-four weeks later, I realize how much empty energy I might have put toward that label, and if I'm being honest, how much I sometimes still do when I am trying to tell someone how I spend so much of my free time.
The reality is, a little over fifty-four weeks ago I returned from visiting my mother, from a week of waiting rooms and doctor's offices, tears and uncertainties, and as I flew back across the country, three thousand miles from where I felt I should be and where I wanted to be, to where I needed to be, I realized that my old way of making sense of my life wasn't working any more. I returned home to the latest of my half-empty commonplace books, unmotivated to complete another page, but needing to tell my story. And it wasn't grand, and it wasn't the story of my life in its summation, or of any big events or celebrations, but I knew it needed to be told differently, and I knew there needed to be more. In the middle of a life growing increasingly messy and complicated, I needed a bit of order, and habit. I didn't and don't have children, which by default makes grandchildren less likely, and though I hope to one day, I was not retired, but ... and this was the best but ... I needed a project. Enter: Project Life.
I bought an album, the simplest kraft colored one I could find, a box of page protectors, and a core kit full of cards. It was rudimentary at first, and I had so many photos misprinted as I tried to figure out how to make it all work that I think I could make an entirely separate album of only the oddly cropped, mis-sized images of those first few weeks. I had almost no supplies, which was probably for the best because I wouldn't have had any idea how to use them. Instead, it was about two very simply premises: take photos during the week, and write their corresponding stories on cards.
Since that first week, there have been holidays, promotions, and birthdays, and there have been losses, bad news, and heartbreak. There have been a myriad of big changes and seemingly unsurmountable obstacles, but there have also been thousands of tiny victories. In those weeks, there were new favorite socks, and pots of coffee, and new sheets, and different albums on repeat, and paint stained fingers, and postage stamps on packages, and dancing before bed, and it's those things that fill those three albums. There were also days with coffee forgotten at home, and unkind words shouted in anger, and misplaced gifts, and unresolved dreams, and bland soup, and tears from missing people, and guilt over choices, and tights with holes.
All of these things made it into the pages of the albums, and suddenly, without having to work to remind myself to keep doing this project, to find time or make time, it was just a habit that was as much a part of life as anything else, and for the first time, I wasn't losing steam or getting behind on where I'd hoped I'd be. Instead of sometimes writing things down, and sometimes taking a picture, and sometimes capturing the reality of my every days, part of those days went to the documenting, and now it's impossible to forget both the good and the bad.
And now it's become something more, and I've got a few more albums, some full of larger layouts, and some small, focused on one single premise, but each one houses so much of my story, of our story when I think about all the people who are part of these days I record.
It started small, but hopeful, and it grew, one week at a time, and for now, I don't see that slowing. Life itself is long and messy, but all that length, and all that width leaves room for so much seemingly insignificant beauty that, once passed, is almost as good when remembered.
And so though I'm nowhere near being comfortable with any of the labels for what I spend my free time working on - scrapbooker just doesn't feel right, Project Lifer makes me feel like someone jailed by memories, and memory keeper seems too simple (we all do a bit of this everyday, yes?), for now, I will just say I am someone who likes to pay attention, more specifically who likes to pay attention to the smallest pieces of life, and I just happen to take time each week to capture them so there's no chance I'll forget how good toast and jam can be with a mug of coffee on a random Thursday morning.