The only thing missing from the view from the Eiffel Tower…
…is the Eiffel Tower itself.
I think Paris might just have given me an epiphany. You see, I think this one observation, however small and obvious, kind of embodies how I’ve felt about quite a lot of my life: especially last semester in Costa Rica. As the idea of moving abroad towered over me, I admired it, I dreamed up mental pictures of how it would be – me in a hammock drinking from a coconut, or shopping for mangoes at a local market, etc. – just like I admired and photographed Eiffel’s creation on that chilly Sunday afternoon in Paris.
But, in both cases, something changed when I got there. This isn’t to say that either was a disappointment; however, when you climb the tower, you know you won’t see it from the top, so you don’t have the expectation. When I went to Costa Rica, I did have the expectation. The view of the starfruit tree from that hammock was lovely; but it wasn’t a view of me in the hammock, and for some reason I think that jolted me a little. This didn’t look like the picture I’d dreamed up.
I think that discrepancy between expectation and reality was my first and foremost lesson last semester, although it didn’t seem it at the time. The other week, fellow blogger C.B. Wentworth posted about a three-week trip to London she took over six months ago, and said that “The full significance of my experiences has yet to be discovered”. That seemed strange to read at first, but on reflection, it makes total sense. And I think it’s helped me understand why I didn’t feel fundamentally changed as a human being as soon as my own adventure was over. It’s just taking time for these lessons to come through – I only just realized that I’d learned the one about expectations and reality!
I’ve come to the conclusion that humans are long-sighted. (My optician’s prescription for me begs to differ; but of course I’m speaking figuratively). We can dream up the future months in advance, and we can look way behind in retrospect, but the present is always fuzzy, because we are it. It’s no surprise, really: nobody expects the Eiffel Tower to be as breathtaking when they’re standing on it.
So we take pictures. We take pictures because we want to remember the moment – but have you ever noticed how, when you look back over them, while the landscapes and the architectural photos are nice, the photos you pause and sigh over are the ones of you and your friends in front of the Eiffel Tower, or you in the hammock, or whatever your equivalent may be? But you never saw that picture at the time – you were in it. That picture was never part of your experience. That picture is proof that we really are much more interested in looking back on the experience than we are in doing it at the time.
That’s okay – there’s nothing wrong with this human long-sightedness. It’s just that it’s often very useful to be aware of it. That’s why I’m so thankful to have learned this lesson last semester. Firstly, it tells me that all those times I cried because my picture of Costa Rica hadn’t included 6-inch-long millipedes in my room, that wasn’t disappointment talking: it was my tendency to expect the reality to be like the picture. And it never is, whether the picture is one you dream up beforehand or one you look back on later: it’s never the same as the reality. So all my worries that Costa Rica wasn’t what I’d expected: they were unfounded, because I just hadn’t learned about the whole long-sighted thing yet. But I have now, and that’s why this semester in France is going to be way different. : )
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love taking photographs and videos. I want to have plenty of visual things to remind me of my time here, so it makes sense to document it while I’m here. After all, as we’ve established, the looking back is the best part! But I think my desire to see myself in those representations is probably also linked to how much I care about what others think of me. For instance: I think the clips I have of my friend Nicola during our Paris trip will make a really good montage. Why? Because I deliberately captured her doing things that I think of as ‘being Nicola’. That means that when she’s jumping around, or dancing, or making silly faces, I’d whip out my camera and, if I was lucky/sneaky enough, capture it. So I think my wish for photos and videos of me is not just about wanting to look back on the moment and see me in it, the way I couldn’t at the time: it’s also a curiosity to see what my videographer would have chosen to highlight as ‘being Megan’, and my hope against hope that they’d see me in the way I’d want them to: the way I think of myself on my more confident days: cheerful, kind-hearted and fun.
So that was what I realized during my trip to Paris. I love photos because I’m self-absorbed and like to see myself as others see me; and because I like having the recorded memories because the hindsight is more important to me than the event itself. I was so eager to see how I’d changed in Costa Rica that I was all but scouring the gyri of my brain for physical changes while my homebound plane was still in the air: C.B. Wentworth’s attitude which I quoted earlier reassures me it’s okay, that you just have to wait, that you’ll see those changes worming their way through to the surface sooner or later. And I know that even if I don’t have the candid footage of me laughing, dancing on the Metro, or chattering away in Spanish (although I do actually have one of the latter!), I can paint it back in by reflecting, acknowledging what I’ve learned and taking the distance I need to look back on that part of my life and see it clearly, for what it was. I can even immortalize it with my good friend WordPress!
I’ll leave you with an inspirational quote that also serves the function of proving that Schopenhauer agrees with me. I posted it in a comment on Wentworth’s original post, but what the hell: it’s a gem.
“When you look back on your life, it looks as though it were a plot, but when you are in it, it’s a mess: just one surprise after another. Then, later, you see it was perfect”.
So that’s it for todays reflection! I’ll see you again on Saturday for some more Spotlight fun : )
Lots and lots of love,
P.S. If you and I are ever on holiday somewhere special together, don’t forget to take lots of photos of me :P