It’s been a year since my Grandma Helen died. I inherited several things from her before and after her death, including a Selectric typewriter and typewriter desk. But of these heirlooms, what I now notice most frequently, and what most often remind me of her, are the dressers.
One horizontal and one vertical, they are massive and sturdy things made of solid wood. We had to rent a U-Haul to get them home. They are properly worn in (but not worn down) by decades of previous use. My grandparents were frugal, but when they made big purchases they were of high quality.
Though I usually notice the distinct burnt orange color first, it’s the smell that triggers the memories. The dressers lived with her for so long that inevitably the aroma I associate with her—a melange of perfumes, deodorants, and who knows what other products that made up her graceful cosmetic presentation—seeped deeply into the wood and now wafts its way to me at random times throughout the day.
Then I think of the time we spent in her apartment baking and talking and laughing at eating grapes together in the final years of her life, and I smile.
On Being—a top-5 podcast for me—has a new offshoot podcast called This Movie Changed Me, with “one fan talking about the transformative power of one movie.” So far they’ve featured Star Wars: A New Hope, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and You’ve Got Mail.
It made me think about what mine would be. The quick and easy answer would be Back to the Future, if only because of how much I’ve written about it on this site. But I think there are other candidates. Some that come to mind, all for different reasons, include It’s a Wonderful Life, High Fidelity, Once, Toy Story, and Unbreakable.
I don’t know. I have to think about this. What’s yours?
Update: I want to include some of the replies I’ve gotten to this query:
“Oddly enough, Snowpiercer. While it’s a terribly chaotic movie, man, it haunts me every day. The ignorant frivolity of the front car compared to the ruthless survival of the back cars…way too real. I probably think about it every day. Because I’m one of the front car a**holes.”
“It’s A Wonderful Life. Each Christmas Eve we watch it I learn something from the movie that is applied to my life; courage through hardship, wisdom of God, love of family and friends, mystery of life. It’s amazing how this movie has been intertwined with me on a small yet profound level.”
“Cloud Atlas. I frankly had a spiritual experience in the theater. It articulated my worldview in a way I hadn’t really seen before (or at least to that extent). Uneven as it may be, it floored me.”
“While I look at it quite differently now, Chasing Amy had a huge impact on me. Her monologue about sexual freedom and independence is feminist AF and it was like finally having my thoughts and feelings validated.”
“Do the Right Thing made me aware of how I process anger as a white person.”
Humans are not hunter-gatherers anymore, but we were for a long time. Nicholas Bate has a list of 50 skills we collectively gained from that era can go to waste in our modern existence, unless we realize how useful they still are. I like the list because it combines small practicalities with big-picture stuff. For example:
Tell stories that fire the imagination.
Use eyes for distances beyond the screen: look long, look up.
Remember what’s important.
Stare at night skies unpolluted by light.
Establish rituals: writing, building & crafting, reflecting
No elevators. No escalators. No PPT. No Facebook after the sun sets.
Be self-reliant: learn how it works, from pensions to mowers.
This is the view from my New Year’s Eve. Since I can count the number of degrees it is outside on one hand, I decided to stay in this morning to look back at my 2017 calendar and remember the notable events, trips, and people that made up my year. In chronological order:
Going down to Florida for my cousin’s funeral was the definition of bittersweet: horrible reason for being there, but good opportunity to see family we don’t see very often.
Sold two typewriters for more than I bought them for. It’s a seller’s market out there.
Went to Ann Arbor, MI, for the first time for a baby shower and hung out with far flung friends.
Starting a two-person book club with my friend Josh, where we get together to eat and discuss the book, along with politics, religion, and everything under the sun. I call them our “save the world” sessions because we sort through the miasma of current events and decide on the proper way to fix them. If only D.C. would listen in!
Bar trivia with Jenny and her cousins. Weren’t close to winning, but reminded me I should do bar trivia more.
Had neighbors over for dinner, which reminded me we should have neighbors over for dinner more.
Continued playing ultimate frisbee Sunday afternoons when I was able, and loving the feeling of a perfectly thrown touchdown.
Got to facilitate two dozen very cute interviews between 3rd graders for a local history project at my library.
Saw the Cubs lose to the Brewers at Wrigley Field on a cold and rainy day. Highlights within that include seeing two of Jenny’s cousins there, and Nick Offerman walking directly past us after singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”.
Went to my first local ward meeting, in a post-election effort to become more civically engaged.
Had a quick and haphazard solo recording session of some of my songs. Won’t be able to use most of it, but it reminded me of the agony and ecstasy of recording.
Called or hung out with several friends, new and old, to catch up and get to know each other, all of which I appreciate.
Drove to Toronto for a family wedding. The 8-hour drive wasn’t so great, but being there for the first time was.
Convened with family in Cape May, NJ, for a reunion of sorts, then caravanned to Elkins, WV, for grandma’s memorial service. Saw lots of extended family for the first time and got to hang with my cousins’ kids, who grow too fast.
Played golf for the first time in at least 15 years in Elkins the morning of the memorial. Grateful for my cousin’s husband’s caddying and encouragement the whole rushed 9. Sank one sweet putt and had one great approach shot, otherwise: A for effort.
My sister visited to see Billy Joel at Wrigley Field. We were planning to just listen from outside the ballpark as I did years ago with a friend for Paul McCartney, but on a whim we checked the box office for tickets and decided to jump on them as an early birthday present to me. Awesome show.
Saw The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, California Typewriter, and Columbus at the Music Box.
Hosted several friends and family overnight on our pullout couch-bed, having each of them leave a note in our guest book.
Went to college homecoming for the first time since graduating, and got an alumni discount on a t-shirt as a reward.
Not sure when I learned about the Enneagram, but almost immediately after I did I knew I was a Five. However flawed and subjective it is, I’ve found it to be a good model for understanding human nature as an individual and in relationship with others. Plus it’s easier to remember than the Myers-Briggs.
It was through the podcast I learned Ryan O’Neal of the band Sleeping At Last is writing a song about every Enneagram number, as part of his ambitious Atlas project. He’s done One and Two thus far, and they are exceptionally beautiful.
I didn’t realize I had a reputation. At a wedding recently, the bride and groom told me one of the things they were looking forward to the most was my air drumming. They had seen it in action at a previous wedding and had enjoyed it so much that they decided they would make time at their own wedding reception to watch me perform and even participate themselves.
Humbled though I was, I didn’t set out to be a beloved wedding reception air drummer. Out on those shiny faux wooden dance floors, air music is all I can do. Because I can’t really dance—aside from the slow-dance swaying that hasn’t improved much since middle school—my strategy for participating in reception dancing is to pretend to play the music well enough to appear united with the exuberant, sweaty throng of guests who are actually dancing.
This doesn’t happen at every reception. The right combination of people I know, complete strangers, and alcohol have to be in place for this very particular set of skills to be unleashed.
people I know, I wouldn’t have the comfort of a supportive home base in which to air-boogie;
complete strangers I know I’ll never see again, I wouldn’t be OK with making a fool of myself;
and alcohol and the liquid courage it provides, I wouldn’t be dancing in front of strangers and people I know at all.
Until I learn one day how to go beyond the simple side-to-side two-stepping many tall, lanky, self-conscious white dudes like myself resort to under dance duress, air drumming will have to do.
And you know what? I enjoy it. I’m good at it. Though I tend to stick to drumming because I was a drummer before anything else, my air talents aren’t limited to the percussive arts. I’ll thrown down a mean air rhythm guitar, string, horn, or bass line too, and make it look good. Any palooka can flail around pretending to play “Don’t Stop Believin'”; it takes a true air instrument craftsman to accurately mime the crunchy guitars in “Party in the USA” or the synth solo in “Shut Up and Dance”.
There are at least two weddings on the docket for me next summer, so I have a few months to get back into air shape. Once I am, you’ll find me out there again, planted in my air power stance—knees bent, left foot forward, leaning back slightly, and doing my part to keep the party going.
This is the view of my typing station. It is currently manned by my Smith-Corona Electra, flanked by Life from a succulent and Light from an owl lamp, buttressed by a Jackalope typewriter pad I highly recommend, and supported by a typing desk I inherited from my typist grandmother, and it is quickly becoming my bliss station.
Here’s an incomplete, totally subjective playlist of music that reminds me of fall. Let me know in the comments what music reminds you of autumn.
“October” by Eric Whitacre. Played the orchestral version of this in high school, but the choral version is just as good and beautifully evocative of the season.
“Oh Shenandoah” folk song. Sang the choral version in high school, though really any version of it is bound to be good.
Keep It Together by Guster. Not really sure why. I don’t like any other Guster music, but this is the first of three indie-pop-rock albums I discovered in college that have clung to my consciousness in a specific seasonal way.
You Are My Sunshine by Copeland. Have a distinct memory of listening to this while walking through downtown Chicago at night in late November on my way back to my suburban college campus. “On the Safest Ledge” still gives me goosebumps. Eat, Sleep, Repeat is also a great autumnal album.
Everything In Transit by Jack’s Mannequin. Like Guster, I don’t listen to any of their other music, and again mostly the first half of the album resonates for some reason. Usually play this only once a year on a brisk overcast late November day, all the better if I’m in an emo mood.
“Adagio-Andante con moto” by George Gershwin. My friend Tim and I made a lot of live action and stop-motion movies together in middle school and high school. One (that was ultimately aborted) was a sort of impressionistic music video of our hometown, which at the time (and after) ranked among the Best Places to Live in America. We went to extreme lengths to try to align the footage with the music, including Tim sprinting through his house to turn out lights in time with the end notes of the song.
Meet Joe Black soundtrack by Thomas Newman. Tim had this on CD. We’d listen to it all the time and use it in our movies. I still have never seen Meet Joe Black and I’d like to keep it that way. (Runner-up Thomas Newman soundtrack: Little Women.)
Kind of Blue by Miles Davis. Though appropriate for listening any time, this was another album (along with the Lord of the Rings soundtracks) Tim and I kept in heavy rotation when hanging out. Have you figured out yet that we weren’t cool in high school?
I’ve officially become a Reader. Reading books is built into my life, to the point where if I haven’t read anything for a while (a while being a few days) I feel anxious.
It didn’t used to be this way. Regularly reading for fun outside of schoolwork wasn’t a concept I grokked until the end of college, which is also when I started keeping track of my reading. In my post-undergrad phase from 2010 to 2012 I read 16 to 18 books per year. In 2013, when I finished grad school, had a long reading-friendly train commute to a summer internship, and weathered a few months of unemployment, I shot up to 49 books. The number continued to rise once I started working in libraries in 2014: 66 that year, 53 in 2015, and my peak of 80 in 2016. I’ll be close to that again this year.
But I’ll be OK with not one-upping myself, because recently I realized I am trying to one-up myself. Totally separate from the psychic nourishment reading provides me is the equally powerful desire to collect more and more books on my Read shelf, almost for its own sake. Accumulating information and knowledge and units (books in this case) is a key part of my personality—Input, Context, and Learner are three of my top five StrengthsFinder characteristics—so this makes sense. But it can also become counterproductive if collecting-for-collecting’s-sake crowds out the deeper benefits of reading, which are many.
What good is reading a lot if I don’t remember a lot of what I read? I’m one of those nerds who takes notes of quotes and interesting factoids as I read, usually in nonfiction books. But there are several books I’ve read, even within the last year, that I remember very little of, if at all, except a general sense of whether I liked it or not. I can’t imagine what it’s like for people who read 100+ books a year: do they have amazing memories? are they skimming a lot of them? do they do anything else?
I suppose it’s the nature of memory when you’re not a savant to filter out certain memories and solidify others. To say it was a waste of time reading those forgotten books wouldn’t be true because I enjoyed them in the moment, and perhaps they filtered down into my subconscious in a way I don’t understand.
But still, I’ve resolved to slow down a little bit, to not feel the need to rush through every book, and to allow time between books to let them settle and to let myself do other things with my time except read.