I have this box of photos. They are very old and very important to me. I know the people in the photos are family. I know they had lives of interest, that they had dreams, goals, hopes, desires, failures, and successes. What I don't know is who they are and what those lives of interest were, nor what their dreams, goals, hopes, desires, failures and successes were. When my Aunt passed away from an aggressive cancer a few years ago, an entire library for my family closed. She was the record keeper. She always had been. I had been scrapbooking for years before she was diagnosed. And, even after she was, I never took the time to interview her nor to sit with her and find out about my family members in these precious, now meaningless, photos. I knew better. Really, I did.
My scrapbook journaling up until then, consisted of a name and the date. After my Aunt's death, my perspective changed. I started to realize that my journaling was, also, meaningless. Yes, it's great to pass down the name of the person in the photo and the date, but what does that truly say about that person? Nothing. The next generation will have names and dates, but what happened to the "history"? As I flip through my first books, I find I have shared with future family members what I did for each and every holiday for three years. In many cases, the activities were the same. The tradition was obvious, but not the why of it. It dawned on me that I am not what I did for New Year's, I am not what I did for Easter, I am not what I did for..., etc. None of what I did has much to do with who I am. After this clicked, I began to journal with a new purpose. I want my children to hear my story from me. I want my children to know who they were, what they were saying, and what they were feeling growing up. I decided that them becoming a name and a date, simply wasn't enough. It's powerful to hear that someone has experienced something you are struggling with, to know you are not alone, and that it can be solved or gotten through. I want to leave some of that behind. More importantly, I want our histories, the who we truly are, to be recorded.
When I sit down to journal, I try to think of it as telling a story. I sometimes pretend I'm rehashing something to a girlfriend. I do this everyday with my friends. It's my personal gossip. I'm just telling them about my day, about me, about my son, etc. So, when I think of journaling as telling the tale, it takes the pressure off and allows me to get the story down on paper. It no longer feels like I'm trying to write the cool comment in the cool person's yearbook. When I sit down to scrap my photos, I think about what I'm trying to say. For example, let's say I have some pictures of a day at the park. Am I just showing a fun day of running around at the park? Or, am I sharing with my son why a day of running around the park had meaning to me and him? I'll share a journaling example of each scenario above to demonstrate the difference:
Scenario 1 (showing a cool day of running around at the park):
Page title: "Park Day"
Journaling: Dylan loves playing at the park. On this warm summer day he enjoyed running around, playing in the sand, and going up and down the stairs and slide. It was a fun time all around.
Scenario 2 (sharing how a park day had meaning):
Page title: "The Glimpse"
Journaling: It looks like your average day at the park. Dylan is playing on the park equipment in the photos and having a blast, as can be seen by the giant smile on his face. What I wasn't able to capture on film was the moment I saw some of Dylan's personality ring out. You see, a little girl was happily playing in the sand when a bigger boy came over and snatched her toy away from her. She was distraught. I saw Dylan watch this happen and I figured he'd continue with his play. Instead, I watched him walk over to the little girl, pat her on the back and tell her "it's ok". I watched him find her a new toy and sit with her to play. I saw her beam up at him with joy and could feel his pride in himself. I saw on this special day a tiny glimmer of the man my three-year-old son is becoming. I felt so proud I could hardly breathe. I saw through my tear-stained eyes, the appreciation of another mother who's little daughter had been wronged and righted all in the span of a few minutes. This was no average day at the park. This was a day a Mother caught a glimpse of her son's true heart.
We experience meaningful stories in our everyday activities. It's just a matter of taking the time to write them down before we forget them. Were I going through a scrapbook my Grandmother had done of my Father at three and found a page about the park, you can bet, I would much rather read the second scenario, than the obvious first one.
Ask yourself before you start scrapping your pictures, what it is about those pictures that is meaningful to you (do I have a story to tell?) and watch your page idea take form and blossom. Most importantly, enjoy the process. Not every page I make has journaling like this, but I make sure more do than don't. After all, it's the journaling that separates the scrapbook from the photo album.