Why Capture All These Details About Travel?

Recorded on June 2nd, 2016

My friend Jack tweeted me a question after yesterday’s photo and post about journal-recorded travel minutiae:

That is a totally great question and I’m eager to share the insane reasons behind all this.

I don’t know why, but I’ve always been driven to document things: what happened, who was there, where were we, what music was haunting me at the time, what got us excited, what did we learn. I know we’re on earth for a short time and this is my way of wringing a few extra seconds out of existence. Maybe if I capture as many details as possible now, I can artificially lengthen my stay, or make some elements of it reverberate after I’m gone. It’s a panicky need, and life happens more quickly than it can be documented, but I still try. I still can’t help it.

The other reason is time travel. Until we figure out how to make a real-life flux capacitor, our pitiful effort at recording details, words, images and sounds is the best hope we have to be able to revisit a past time. This is a Dick Cavett quote that I pointed out in an earlier post:

As with so many times in my life, I wish I’d kept some notes on the dinner conversation. In relative youth we assume we’ll remember everything. Someone should urge the young to think otherwise.

I forget stuff regularly. At this moment, I’m forgetting what I did between getting my hair cut this afternoon and sitting down to write this. We all discard inessential bits of information throughout the day because we don’t need all of it. Who cares if I went to Target and bought cat litter tonight? Those aren’t the details that interest me. But when we’re on vacation, or doing something unusual or unusually fun, I go into capture mode. I especially do this on trips. Mundane details are elevated because of their physical and temporal setting. The purchase of toothpaste and a toothbrush at Whole Foods on the edge of the Duke campus last week was a minor detail, but it was a tiny stitch in the fabric of the trip. If I assemble enough of those details, I can re-live the highs and lows of a travel day years after the weekend has settled in my mind as one hazy blob called “MoogFest 2016”.

Here’s an entry I made in Day One during a visit to Portland a few years ago. It’s another boring grocery store trek, just in a new town.

photo of journal entry from Portland grocery store

BUT! Looking at that list of foods, I now remember that we bought some of it to keep in the kitchen and eat for breakfast while we borrowed our friends’ apartment that weekend. And I remember distinctly that the Snackwells and chocolate cake were damn good. Those memories would be lost otherwise. If I do this capturing well enough, I can time travel as long as the paper or text files are readable.

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