Preserving the Past Part 3: Post-Graduation Travels in the USA

Michael J. Vowles
12 min readAug 18, 2021

The intent of this little series has always been to reflect on my obsession with preserving the past, which I’ve always gone about in the same basic way: externalizing the memory in a physical form of some kind. Usually it’s something creative and crafty, but sometimes it’s just a simple keepsake from the period I want to preserve. These objects become more than just themselves. They become the embodiment of the time period they’re from.

In the first post, I wrote about the scrapbooks I made at the age of 11. In the second, I wrote about the photos I took at the age of 16. What interested me in retrospect is that both of these instances of obsessive record-keeping came just before periods of big transition in my life.

The first: it was 2004 and I was leaving Primary School.

The second: it was 2009 and I was leaving Secondary School.

In both cases I was fearful of imminent change and sentimental about the life I was leaving behind. When I finished college in 2011 and university in 2014, however, I didn’t feel this same urge to commemorate my time. I had no social life at either of these places, and so nothing that could be documented. The camera I’d taken so many pictures with during my last year of school remained unused after I left. College and university were not experiences I wanted to remember. Looking back at my 2004 scrapbook and my 2009 photos, it’s clear that my focus was on a sense of belonging. During my friendless years at college and university, I didn’t belong, and so when I transitioned out of them, I felt no sense of fear or nostalgia.

After leaving Secondary School in 2009, my social life went into a deep decline. But I found a sense of belonging again when I started traveling to the United States, and almost instantly the desire to record things returned- starting with photos. In some ways it felt like I’d picked up right where I left off in 2009. I was eager to get photos of myself with my new friends while the opportunity was there, and just like I had at school, I became very shy and indecisive about asking for photos. I was a lot…

Michael J. Vowles

Freelance writer, occasional traveler, full-time ice cream taster. I run a blog at where I ramble with enthusiasm.