[Journal Extract, Democratic Republic of Congo, 2011]
In Dispatches, Michael Herr titles his first chapter ‘Inhale’, and his last ‘Exhale’. I’ve been thinking about that writing tactic a lot lately. The notion that this – all of it – is like some coiled spring or compression/decompression cycle. That it can only be made sense of afterwards, when the tension is allowed to unfold and experiences can be replayed.
During compression we live. In decompression, we become free to learn. Whether we want to or not, the memories will eventually leak out. And in watching that process happen in ourselves, we are forced to make sense of what we remember.
But not now. Not yet. Though I’ve tried, I remain far too wound up. Largely unreflective. Too engaged to let my mind drift between memories, trailing the connecting filament that would stitch it all into something that makes sense. Like some mental quilt, if you really want to pursue the sewing metaphors.
Video, on this journey, will make for an interesting medium through which to relive the experience. If ‘relive’ is really the right way of thinking about it. In a way, it’s taking audiovisual moments that actually happened and quilting them into something connected to, but different from, the experience that actually happened. Quilting time.
And that’s just for me, who was there holding the camera and so has a wider point of reference. For the stranger watching the result, editing will have spliced moments of recorded reality into something altogether different to anything that even I would probably recognise as the experience I had at the time.
Writing, I guess, does much the same thing though – sampling points from the day and thoughts that arise, to produce the illusion of a connected narrative. But writing presents itself as ‘authentic’ to a far lesser degree. It flits unapologetically between what happened, what I think and feel, and projections of possibilities. Inside and outside my mind in even strokes. Videography stays in the world of the senses, tempting the viewer to think that they are seeing and moving as I did.
In truth, it’s nothing like what I did. And how you feel watching is nothing like I would have felt filming. It’s a new experience. One which can nevertheless be every bit as profound. The challenge is not to recreate what was, but to collate it into something altogether new and resonant.