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Entries in nostalgia (63)

Monday
Aug242009

"Tell Me A Story."

Tell me something that happened. Use the names of people you’d forgotten about, and say what you’d thought would happen but didn’t. Write down what part of the song was playing when you slammed the door only to realize you had to go back inside for your car keys. Can you remember when you were still little enough to hide under the kitchen sink where it smelled like ammonia and Comet and old sponges? What was the color of the clunky old car your Dad would let you help steer. What brand did he smoke?
- Merlin Mann

It would have been so easy to "heart" this quote on Tumblr, then walk away. Which is what I did at first. But it wasn't enough: this experience of storytelling - this is exactly why I write (and read) online.

The same sentiment was echoed in the "60 Minutes" special we watched last night, a memorial for the show's creator, Don Hewitt. Don's mantra was "four words: tell me a story." Because that's all that matters. Merlin is right. Don was right. That's all that matters. Most art is born out of this need to share stories, share portions of our lives meaningful enough to come back to us every time we sit down in front of a keyboard (or easel, or piano) and try to form words (or lines, or chords).

The "clackity noise," as Merlin calls it, is what brings these things out. All of it. Sitting down, and typing. In small little puffs of air: the tiger's eye color of a Goody barrette pulling back your babysitter's hair as she sits motionless in front of the television (shhh "General Hospital"'s on), the sound of the air conditioner in the Dodge van being turned on Maximum High as you kick your Dr. Scholl's off and under the seat, the smell of the grass and dirt and boy that mingled together late one night and lingered long enough for you to mark it down in your journal in a scrawl so frantic you could barely read it years later, punctuated by row after row of swooning hearts and giddy stars. Or huge great marathons of memory, sense, and time, an entire house reconstructed on the page, when you don't want to stop for a second in case it all might fly away - boards, nails, chimney, curtains, attic, and all - into the ether.

Keep typing. Tell me a story. It's what we're here for.

Friday
Aug072009

No Matter How Your Heart Breaks, In The End You Grow Up And You Walk Away

When I heard the news, I sat at my desk listening to OMD and getting teary. Embarrassing. This is far worse than Michael Jackson, I thought. Then I went home and watched selected scenes from Uncle Buck.

We were pre-teens when most of his stuff came out, and so I'd be lying if I said that those films were my life. But they were still ours. We watched them in our friends' dens on VHS, devouring them at slumber parties, reciting lines the next Monday at school. They were our Bibles of Teendom. They gave us something to look forward to. The days we'd spend playing hooky, the parties we'd crash thrown by the popular kids. (When I was 13, I thought that all high school parties would be that crowded, that there would be many, many girls smoking and wearing porkpie hats.)

The school dances and the boys with cars and even detention where we'd dance with the jocks, and the smokers, and the preppies, and the nerds. Working in a record shop with a woman who dressed like Cindy Lauper.

We imagined that everything would be perfect, that we'd all have our happy high school ending, soundtracked by the best British bands. But sometimes the script changes.

Andie and Duckie enter the ballroom. Blane goes over to shake Duckie's hand. Andie says he doesn't need to apologize to her. She and Duckie step onto the dance floor. They both admit that they cannot dance, but they begin to anyway. They don't care what anyone else thinks of them.
John Hughes gave us a lifetime of angst and heartbreak to look forward to.

It was amazing, John.

Wednesday
Jul292009

Donkey-Donkey

She picked up a book and brought it over to me, warning that there was a page in there she didn't like. I turned the pages slowly. "I know this one." I remembered that this was the same book that had a certain page I hadn't liked much either when I was her age. Her mother promised us we could skip that page.

"Your nostalgia is her present," Jim said. And I nearly died from the thought.

Thursday
May072009

Blinks: The "Everyone Is Suddenly Nostalgic For The Early 90s" Edition

It's absolute nostalgic explosion in my internet these days.

  • The '90s vs. The '90s
    I think I have to go to this just to hear the panelists answer the question "Is 2009 1991?" (Possible answer: "Yes, but with fewer Hypercolor t-shirts.")

  • Here is my synopsis of every Doug Coupland book, ever.
    I read Shampoo Planet in the summer of 1993 while working a night front desk job in the college dorms. Douglas Coupland will always and forever remind me of hockey players losing their keys, and dialing 1-800-I-FEEL-OK late at night just to hear another voice. Obviously, I would fit quite nicely inside any one of his novels. (via Bookslut)

  • The Transient, Digital Fetish
    How many of us have hauled crates of mixtapes and records and high school paperbacks from apartment to apartment over the years because they mean that much to us? Does the same music in different format mean less to a younger generation? TMN, can we hold hands?

  • This Mortal Coil, You and Your Sister
    Friends fail every day. I want to hear you say your love won't be leaving.

Tuesday
Apr282009

It disappeared many years ago.

At one point in my early twenties I decided to write a novel. I had a title, Erosion, and a first chapter, an overly sentimental and barely fictionalized account of the narrator — me, roughly — sorting through her grandmother's silk scarves. It centered around the idea that as families grow older they learn things about each other that erode the facade of what the family once was, but in the process carve out new identities for themselves, the same way a river can erode the earth and create new shapes in the landscape.

I think this chapter disappeared in the Great Computer Crash of '97, if not before, but I think about this idea a lot. How easy it is to turn old truths into new fictions, and how crushing it is to discover that you've got it completely the wrong way around.

I grew up believing in unicorns and ghosts, in Superman and the tooth fairy*. I also grew up believing that a woman from our town named Lottie Moon was a Civil War hero, a woman who had helped slaves escape by housing them in her stately home on the underground railroad. It wasn't until recently that I discovered how very, very wrong I was. Lottie wasn't helping slaves escape; she was using her flirtatious nature to spy on Ambrose Burnside for the Confederacy.

Oh, Lottie.

There actually were underground railroad stations in my town, they were just elsewhere. I went looking in old county records for Alanson Roots, one of the real owners of a home that had served as a station on the underground railroad, and in the process discovered the written origins of my town.

During the Summer of 1810 the tall trees which then covered the site of the town began to be cut down, and a few cabins commenced. The first house erected in Oxford was built by Samuel MCCULLOUGH, on Lot No. 1, being the lot on which Captain Joel COLLIN's house stood in 1838. It was built of unhewed beech logs, and for several years was the only house of entertainment in the place. It disappeared many years ago. On the lot adjoining the public square was shortly afterward erected a hewed log house by William MCMAHAN, which was also removed many years since. According to the census of 1830, the population of the village amounted to 737 souls.
Even back then things were disappearing.

* * *

All of the houses in my hometown seem to have new stories now. The house I grew up in has a new name, pavement where the patio once was, a cardboard beer carton blowing around in the backyard. The stucco has become siding, and all that's left of the porch swing is a single link dangling from a hook in the ceiling. The garden has been stripped of its flowers; just a few tulips and a pear tree remain.

Visiting places that have such weight in your memory can be such a dangerous thing, especially if the truth as you knew it is no longer there.

* * *

"This is verbena," Mom said as we walked in between the red brick buildings. (She meant viburnum.)

I held the flower to my nose and sniffed. Immediately I shouted that this was a tree that once grew in our yard. "That's right," said Dad, proud that I remembered. Proud that our old garden was something important enough to remember.

We watched a group of schoolchildren jumping rope near the clump of viburnum bushes, and I wondered if that smell would infect their memories as deeply as it had mine. If they would smell a viburnum bush twenty years from now and be violently whipped back to that beautiful sunny day when they skipped rope with their classmates among the trees and red brick buildings. If their laughter would come rushing back too.

I can't see yet what new shapes are forming in my old landscape. I only know that each time I go home the river has cut deeper, and I'm dizzy from reminding myself that I've got it completely the wrong way around.

* While I was home I unearthed my first letter to the tooth fairy, in which I'd tried to extort her for two whole dollars. There are certain things I'm glad I no longer believe in.

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