Last year I watched a short video diary put together by my friend Zachary Zeidler. It was an intriguing concept. Every day for a year he’d take a 2 second video on his phone, and when the year was over he’d thread them all together into a neat mosaic of the places he went, things he carried, dinners he and his girlfriend shared, and on at least a few occasions, the urinals he flushed.
A few days after seeing the videos he made, while trimming my beard with an electronic clippers, I clicked it off and pulled out my phone. The video I took was a few seconds too long, so I trimmed it down, added it to a new folder on my phone. Just about every day afterwards I’d add another to this folder: “2 sec year.”
Keeping a written diary is something I’ve done regularly since I was a young. But the video diary is a different beast, at least in this form. There’s no dwelling on something at length. There’s not even much opportunity to self-narrativize. Early on I explained the project to a friend. She warned me that doing this project may prevent me from living “in the moment”. In plenty of instances, she’s completely right. Most of the clips where I shot myself doing something are an act of vanity—look at me eat soup, look at me recite this nursery rhyme. I had an easy time justifying it to myself because it was only two seconds of vanity.
In 300+ clips that are only 2-4 seconds long, there’s a lot from your day you don’t record. I’ve never been a big snap chatter so my grab-the-camera reflex is pretty weak. And generally, I felt uncomfortable including people in my video. There are no clips of me running into a friend out of the blue. There are no videos of arguments. I wouldn’t record anything while on a first date.
The project was a game before it was a project. When I’d think to take the video, that’s what I’d get. As the game became a project I realize I’d show people one day, I formed a few loose rules. Like, don’t take more than one video per day. Don’t skip a day. Don’t interrupt conversation for the sake of a video. Don’t be rude. Don’t include anything shameful, embarrassing, graphic, whatever. And finally, don’t feel like you need to do something exciting every day. Just do something.
This last one surprises me. Watching the video in its entirety I think the banal clips do a lot more to remind me of what happened on that day. They’re full of involuntary memories. They’re a more accurate log of my life.
Eating soup, or being too lazy to cook and opting for wine and cereal. I’d be okay videotaping events like these, but I wouldn’t normally document these things in a written journal. I may note in a diary, “I bought a tent today” but leave out how I stood around at the bus stop, carrying a tent, feeling ridiculous. Or a peculiar moment where a Safeway clerk walked me back to the stock room to make a point that they didn’t carry the cereal I asked about. Yoga became a big part of my life this year, but I never brought my phone into the yoga studio. It’s fun to see I could do a headstand finally so I’m glad I got the video—but when looking back, all I see is the purple psoriatic patch that takes up a chunk of my calf, a mark that has since healed itself away.
There are eerie moments, too. Shaking out my laundered bedsheets and calculating that in a few hours, in the same frame, I’d be going through an unexpected break up.
The year had some big events. Yoga, for example, like I mentioned above. My family grew bigger with the birth of my nephew and niece just weeks apart from each other. Only caught a cold twice. The company I worked for got acquired and I got to start a job in product management that I always wanted to try. For about two months I took a break from drinking—something I never thought I’d do. For about 60 second you’ll notice I’m reading books, going on runs, and drinking more tea. And then you see alcohol return to videos.
Earlier this year I listened to David Sedaris’ audiobook Theft by Finding. It compiled diary entries that span about 25 years. In the introduction he writes that he’s not one to write about his feelings because they’re not interesting and they’re so likely to change. Instead, he would document his days with succinct bullet points, things like bumper stickers, overheard conversations, bad jokes, the cost of groceries. He just documented endlessly. At the end of the day, the week, the year, or a book, he’d feel a little more clear about what his interests are, who he is as a person, and what he should be true to.
In a less cleaned up version, I think this video diary describes my interests and who I am. Or perhaps, (how can one tell?), who I was. On their own the clips aren’t emotional but watching them brings back many memories, both sweet and bitter. If I were asked point blank about 2017 I’d have a lot of sour things to say, for reasons both personal and political. Seeing time spent with friends, family and loved ones, time dedicated to reading and writing, outings into nature, don’t necessarily make a bad year good. And still, at the end of the day, I find encouragement that in hard times I had such good fortune to turn to the most lovely people.