Two years after buying a recordable DVD player, one year after the threats from my wife got serious, I begin transferring the home movies of my children from VHS tapes to DVDs.  I know I’m still at least one platform behind, but any digital form is better than one that can be destroyed by light, air, and time.

Because they’re analogue, I need to play them in real time to copy them.  And as I do, I watch them, and I realize that the last time I watched them was the last time I transferred them, from camcorder cassettes to VHS.  Their entire existence rests on converting them from one obsolete medium to the next.  

As I watch, I see my young self and young wife, recent parents and, far more seriously, recent homebuyers.  I see my oldest son, now a teenager, as a baby, then a toddler, then an older brother to his new baby brother.  And I think, Ah, so young, so cute.  The kids, too.  The tapes from twelve to eight years ago show a new family in a small, snowbound Minnesota house, each of us swaddled and layered in Fleet Farm sweat clothes, the new baby in so many layers that he’s a Midwest Matryoshka.  All laughing and smiling, just joy, spinning, dancing.  Nine years, four houses, and three states elapse in two hours, and our daughter, now five, is born. 

Yet looking at these people on TV, I realize that I don’t remember the times this way. What I remember is the stress and mess, the lack of money, the ever-present question: what’s going to happen?  Not unlike now, but then even more so.   I never liked recording the movies, never feigned love or expertise manning the camera.  I always felt that parents who spent their time with a lens in front of their eyes were blocking their view of their children, already anticipating the minute when that very moment would turn to nostalgia: Ah, look at us. We were so happy fifteen minutes ago. 

But it has not been fifteen minutes. It has been fifteen years, and I can see not just how fresh but how fragile the moments were. I’m glad I didn’t film too much, the Warren Report of our lives, the volumes Proust would have filmed if he’d lived in the Midwest and owned a camera.  But I’m grateful that I have something, a few compressed flashes beyond the faded reel of my own mottled memory, and that these videos are more luminous and numinous than my mental VHS’s translucent haze.  I wish that I could transfer the images in my head to a newer platform as well, and as the last tape cuts to static, I close my eyes and imagine how today will look to the future me of the next transference, how I’ll look at the deteriorating self that I now see entering middle age, and instead I marvel at how young and thin, how thick the hair, how joyous the moments, since I have recorded proof that they will not last.


Time: less than an hour. Lost track.

This was published in the 2013 issue of Maryville University’s literary magazine, Magnolia.

Hourman update: despite two posts this month, still on hiatus.  Thanks for hanging in there.

–Jesse Kavadlo



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52 thoughts on “Transference

  1. Ted Houser says:

    great post.

  2. segmation says:

    I can’t keep up with the technology. It seems to change by the minute, don’t you agree?

  3. When reading articles about this process I’m reminded of a great old Kinks song that says “People take pictures of each other, just to prove they really existed.” I’m transferring my old LPs to CDs, having the same experience you are with the home movies. It might amuse you to know that at the Library of Congress, they are transferring old wax cylinders, wire recordings and radio broadcasts onto 78rpm records, because 78s are LESS subject to data deterioration than digital recordings!

    • Hourman says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Invisible Mikey. It will be a funny day when everyone has to transfer all of their digital recordings on to 78s.

  4. The Rider says:

    The writable DVD’s only lasted a few months, and then also became corrupt, I found… External Hard Drive is all I trust at the moment, but even that is vulnerable…
    So- we need to burn every moment on the hard drive of our mind, and enjoy every moment!

    • Hourman says:

      I’m going to stick with the enjoying every moment, since I’m never going to get the technology part right. Not the writable DVDs too! Anyway, thanks for reading and commenting, Rider.

  5. It is touching the way you have written about this topic, so warm. Congrats on being FP!

  6. Love this post. I am so grateful for my videos of my small kids because my memory is awful. And, we try to watch them as a family every once in a while. My kids are still super little, but they love seeing themselves as babies. I hope that I won’t only remember the struggles, and one thing I love about being behind the camera is capturing all the pretty moments so that one day, I will maybe only remember those.

    • Hourman says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment, fakingpictureperfect. Pictures certainly help, which is why I try to force myself to take them when I can.

  7. This is beautifully written. Thanks!

  8. This is too good. Reading such blogs makes you feel so good. I am going to share this with all my friends circle. Thank you Hourman for posting such good post 🙂

  9. Jaye's Brain says:

    Really great stuff, and great comments. I am sentimental just this side of hoarding, and I have a bunch of media I can no longer use but I hold onto it because there are memories locked inside. I think reading this post and the replies will help me let go a little.

    • Hourman says:

      I know what you mean about memories locked inside, too. I have two dead laptops and more in a graveyard of obsolete technology. As nice as cloud and other intangible technologies are, we tend to crave things we can touch. Thanks for reading and posting, Jaye’s Brain.

  10. I really appreciated this post. I am in the middle of crazy with three kids, a house full of needed renovations, stress… The list goes on. I always seem to think back to a time which was simpler. And as a parent, I desperately wish some of the baby years were on video because I feel that they will be lost in the cracks of my sleep deprived mind. Thank you for reminding me to breathe in the moments. Peace-

  11. bernasvibe says:

    Excellent write beautifully expressed! WOW you took me there…Its been said a picture is worth a million words & the memories just wow! My own Dad recently did the very same thing! And over the years he’s transferred our childhood memories from reel-to-reel(yep, they once existed..) to VHS and now to DVD. Imagine watching hours & hours & hours of once’s life. Literally your life flashes before your very eyes! There is NO substitute for that..And for all the camera holders/picture takers/live video recorders out there reading this? Just now one day your child will, like me, thank you profusely for allll the time you did the JOB of recording their lives…Again awesome write 🙂

  12. Hourman says:

    Thanks for commenting, bernasvibe. My friend’s parents had a reel to reel, but that predates me as a parent, thankfully. But yes, the way the camera compresses life into something like a story is still surprising. Thanks again.

  13. I curse myself for believing it was better to watch life unfold than to film it. I curse the hours of tee-ball I can never see again, the hours of three tiny boys, unable to dribble, jostling to get the throw-in from their fourth team-mate, while the fifth, who could actually shoot, waited patiently under the basket on the other end of the court. I regret not having more footage of my daughter before she became self-conscious, when she spoke honestly to the camera. If all I ever did was to transfer those precious images from technology to technology, I’d love them. But we at least haul out the few miles of footage we do have over Christmas break and watch them, and watch them, and watch them.

    • Hourman says:

      I’m sorry to hear your regret, Bennettonbooks. I didn’t record much, as the piece describes, but I do feel as though I captured just enough to kindle everyone’s memories. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  14. Here is a pingback from my follow-up to Transference, which at the end mentions this entry.
    […] I started blogging and timing myself, but with the attention WordPress gave me by Freshly Pressing Transference, by last entry, I wanted to follow up quickly with something in the same vein that I’ve […]

  15. i think anyone who was born uptil the eighties, will know what you mean.
    have been on the transferring grid myself and everytime, i did, i relived so much of my life. gorgeous is technology.
    loved this so much ‘I close my eyes and imagine how today will look to the future me of the next transference’
    lovely post, congratulations on being freshly pressed.

  16. lsurrett2 says:

    Wonderful post. Care to share how to transfer from VHS to DVD…had the equipment for 4 years…hey, can you just come and do it for me?

  17. Isn’t it interesting to compare our present perspectives with our memories? Great post!

    • Hourman says:

      It is. We sometimes imagine our memories to be like cameras when they’re very different. Thanks for reading and commenting, cozyblanket.

  18. suzie81 says:

    Lovely post. I really enjoyed reading it… I wish my parents had recorded our family when we were young. I’m 31 so it’s a bit late now…

  19. L. Palmer says:

    I don’t have a lot of patience for taking pictures, but there is a joy in going back and seeing what was. Fifteen years creates an interesting perspective on a snapshot of the past.

  20. Pingback from a blogger who is struggling with some of the same questions as this piece. Thanks for the reference.

    […] a halt. We wondered what would be the best way to sort and save them for posterity. Today, I read a blog post by someone who has been saving his family’s VHS tapes on to DVD’s, knowing that the technology […]

  21. Johannes says:

    Okay, so this veteran Hourman supporter and commentator is coming out of hiding, delighted to see the attention the blog’s receiving. As so often, I was moved reading your piece (and, brilliant title! hilarious Proust reference!), and found myself thinking about it throughout the week……hmmmm, I also remember being a fierce “remain honest instead of nostalgizing your experiences immediately” proponent. But maybe it’s all proof for Nietzsche’s “life can only be justified as an aesthetic experience”????

    I recently saw pictures of my grandfather as a child and as a young man, and it was gut-wrenching: those pictures held out the hope for a good future, so different from the way his life actually turned out.

    As if there’s always more innocence in the pictures than in life. And it strikes me that we’re by definition always older than the picture of ourselves we’re looking at. Less innocent, and closer to death…


    • Hourman says:


      Thanks so much for this comment and all previous ones. It’s true that the experience of watching the home movies in one afternoon in this way made me reevaluate some of my anti-nostalgia sentiments. So not against nostalgia as much as ambivalent about it.

      I’m glad you liked the title–unlike almost everything else I’ve ever written, I came up with the title first. I opened a new doc, typed “Transference,” saved it, then didn’t look at it again for months. Although when I opened it back up a few weeks ago to see how far along I had come and was disappointed to see one word, that word alone allowed me to write the piece quickly.

      There is a whole piece to be written about this: “we’re by definition always older than the picture of ourselves we’re looking at.” It’s all yours. Thanks again.

      • Johannes says:

        Thanks, Jesse! You know, I read “Transference” as a kind of companion piece to the reflection on high school friends getting in touch again (I think this was the cupholders and an amazing thing essay).

        And, it must be said, although he claims to be on hiatus, I believe there’s now an urgent need for Hourman to write a follow-up piece, titled “Commencement”……


  22. olracuk says:

    Directed here from “Freshly Pressed”, a random click of a button. yet I have also been on that journey of re-discovery. And also pondered on the translation process – from camcorder to VHS to DVD (and probably to digital one day down the line).

    But – my biggest Eureka moment? I sent all the tapes of to a conversion company after watching the first 3 hours. The kids were embarrassed at Dad cuddling them, and my waist line was far to small. best money I spent for ages that conversion thing 🙂

    • Hourman says:

      Thanks for checking out the post and commenting, olracuk. I’m hoping the next conversion uploads directly to my cerebral cortex, but if not, I’ll look into a conversion company.

  23. This completely resonates with me. I separated when my boys were 7 and 9, and when I look at the photos , I cannot see into the past. I never saw a future when the family was together, only a monotonous now that kept blinding me with its anxieties and discomforts. Now , when I row with my new husband , I remember why I am with him, how I enjoy more moments of now, and feel more engaged about having a future. The rows are horrendous when they come, but part of a whole that is much more real.

  24. Hourman says:

    Thanks for writing, amonikabyanyuvva. I’m delighted and amazed that this post resonated strongly in different ways with so many readers.

  25. weezmarie says:

    Sheesh… much to think about! My initial response, of course, was to the title, “Transference” and its meaning. in my past, i spent time in therapy and experienced transference exactly as the psychiatrist explained it. Beautiful and crushing at the same time. Then i heard your explanation of transference. Beautiful and crushing at the same time.

  26. Hourman says:

    Thanks for reading and commenting, weezmarie. I’m glad you liked the title. I wasn’t thinking of the specifics of psychoanalytic transference as much as the underlying multiple meanings of the word.

    • weezmarie says:

      i knew that you were not thinking of the specifics of psychoanalytic transference, but because you were looking at the different meanings of transference, i wanted to share with you how it affected me. i thought the whole thing was excellent including the title!

  27. This kind of thought is very interesting. Takes me back to the days when I’d be very excited to watch films in VHS. Great post by the way!

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