Monday, December 30, 2013

Memory box

Jeffrey was cleaning the other day and asked if I wanted to keep an invitation to a baby shower. The event had long passed; the baby had been born, and I had already gone to see the new little family and sniffed said newborn's noggin with abandon. I really couldn't think of a reason to keep the invitation, but I didn't want to toss it either, so I told him I'd put it in my memory box. He paused for a beat, then asked if that was a euphemism for something. 

It's not. I have memory boxes scattered throughout the house. They're full of pictures, old date books, articles, cards from friends, any little snippets that I liked. The main one is just plain corrugated cardboard, and I go through it maybe once every few years. It's painful and embarrassing to look through, but I keep it just the same.

I've been wondering about this practice lately. Not about it as such, really, but about the way I think about the past, specifically things I've done wrong. I'm a regret hoarder. I know the arguments against such nonsense, and I've spouted them plenty of times (sorry!): If you make a mistake, you either had bad information or a bad decision-making process. If it's bad information, you can't blame yourself; if it's a bad process, you can work to change it. I know. I get it. But I've never been able to do it.

True story: In second grade, our teacher used a sticker program to motivate good behavior. Sitting down quietly after recess and the like. And a few friends and I, who were the good kids and who would have had the most of these stickers anyway, gamed the system. As the year went on, we were the ones trusted to hand out these stickers (circles, they were called, since they were the cheap little round labels you'd get at an office supply store), and each of our friends would get more than one. So at the end of the year, we ended up with a really insane number of circles.

But here's the actual crazy part: When I was a senior in college (so, 14 years later), I wrote to Miss Randle about it. And this was before the internet had really come into its bloated own. I tracked her down (on paper!) and came clean. I never heard back. 

So that's the kind of person I am.

Facebook has made this act of leaving the past in the past even more difficult for someone like me. I somehow believe that if I become friends with someone now, I can undo whatever we did to each other in the past. For years I looked for a kid I knew in second grade (a troubled year, now that I reflect on it) who I think had a crush on me, because I wasn't very nice to him. Seven, I was when this happened. And you know? This year he tracked me down. I apologized right away. And he didn't remember any of it.

So here I am, carrying all of these things around -- things that I've done wrong, things that other people have done wrong -- and is it worth a damn thing? I could argue no, but I still do it.

I think, by extension, I do the same thing with relationships. A few years ago, I was chatting with a friend from college about how much I missed our other friends from college. I was lamenting all I'd done a lot wrong, and how I'd fucked up those friendships. He told me something that sort of rocked my world: Relationships have an arc. They have a beginning, a middle and an end. Like everything else. Some are longer, some are shorter. Goddamn it if he wasn't right.

I had just never thought about it that way before. I just figured, when you know someone, you know them forever. The idea of having someone I *used* to know was completely foreign to me. You may lose touch, but how can you actually not know someone?

But I'm starting to understand, finally, that that is not the case. That we can have endings to relationships and be OK. 

Someone recently unfriended me on Facebook. We didn't have a ton in common, but we knew each other a long time ago. And there are tons of people who won't accept my friend requests -- people who had been really important to me at one time. And you know? It's taken me a long time but I finally understand that that's OK. There are relationships that are open, in which both of us float in and out of touch for decades. And these are just not those. It doesn't change the fact that they will always be important to The Story Of Firstname Lastname. But their narrative can be written in past tense.

Sunday, December 22, 2013


During my going-away party from my first job out of college, one of the editors told me to never step foot in the building again. And that guy actually liked me.

He wasn't saying it in a mean way; it was as though he knew I would find a better situation elsewhere. And he was right. That was not a happy place.

I've been thinking about that conversation since Friday, when I went to three going-away parties at the paper. It was our latest round of layoffs, and it hit closer to me than it ever has. And I'd been feeling angry and stressed about it.

But what I realized Friday is that I have not appreciated what great fortune I've had to work where I work. I work with people who care about what they do, and who care about the people they work with. I've made amazing friends -- smart, warm, hilarious. And I've gone through a lot here (including the illness that I wrote about in great detail here several years ago). I've grown up here. My life is demarcated into two eras: The time when my mom was alive, and the time when I have worked at The Pilot. On the day that my mom died, Denis called me from the paper to see if I was ready to talk about coming out here. He had no way of knowing she had died; it was only several hours after I had found out myself. He was really great about it; he just happened to call on that day. And I was ready to talk.

So it's been my mom, and The Pilot. Nothing in between, and no overlap. That's pretty big to me. And I feel good that it was here, and not somewhere else.

The Apple and The Tree And All That, Part II

Abbott sometimes uses incorrect words to tweak me; for months he called soy milk "foy milk" as a joke. This fact leaped to mind this evening as I sat down to write "Happy holidays" in my Fox-News-loving dad's Christmas card just to tweak him. 

So, you know, the apple does not fall far from the tree that sprouted nearby the previous tree after having fallen and rolled only a short distance.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Music, by the numbers

So, I've been compiling a list of the albums I've listened to the most in my life. I'm obsessive and a creature of habit, so it's no joke when I say that I've listened to some of these more than 1000 times. In the beginning of my serious music-listening career, I had no disposable income to speak of and just a few tapes, which my sister and I would listen to every day as we did the dishes or played Super Mario Bros. And when we weren't listening to those few tapes, we were listening to the radio, which is harder to quantify. Anyway, then there was college, and the Walkman that accompanied me everywhere. Then driving around in my '94 Corolla, with the same tapes over and over. Now, though, it's a Civic with an iPod, so I'm rarely listening to whole albums anymore. I don't really actively seek out a ton of new music (which drives Jeffrey nuts) -- even from artists whose other albums I really like; once I find something that's relatively in my range and that I like, I stick with it for a while. Also, I'm not really an album-cut kind of a gal; I was raised on MTV and radio, so I know singles. And some albums only have, like, 2 good songs. So they didn't make the cut, but you'll see that a ton of Greatest Hits collections did.

I decided that there were 3 groupings that made sense for these albums: > 100 listenings, > 500 listenings and > 1000. In the first category are albums I mostly like. But either they didn't really take or they came too late, after the revelation of cherry-picking MP3s. In the second category are most albums I know by heart. In the third category are albums that stayed important to me for a long time, for whatever reason. They probably say the most about me. Within each category, they're in the order in which my addled brain recalled them. 

Notes: 1. For the purposes of this list, I'm including albums of which I listened to at least 80 percent. Most have 1-2 fast-forward songs. 2. There are also a lot of mixtapes/CDs I'm not including, which sort of makes me sad. It's just a little harder to accurately remember all of those. 3. I'm surely forgetting many; this list is subject to change without notice when I remember more of them. 4. Some of these albums I will never be able to listen to again (I'm looking squarely at you, Billy Joel).

100 < x < 499
Grease, Original Broadway Cast (I think I would have listened to this one more if there hadn't been a rapey line in one of the first songs. Not cool.)
Mozart, Requiem (I mean to listen to this one more than I do, but I did listen to it a ton in high school.)
Henry V, Motion Picture Soundtrack (I had such a crush on Kenneth Branagh. Plus there's a song in Latin, which I love. Non nobis domine domine ...)
Adele, 19
Adele, 21
Janet Jackson, Control
Barenaked Ladies, Born on a Pirate Ship
Barenaked Ladies, Maybe You Should Drive (I tried with these two. I really did.)
Phil Collins, ... But Seriously (This is, for many reasons, painful for me to type out.)
Madonna, True Blue

500 < x < 999
Sting, Dream of the Blue Turtles
They Might Be Giants, Severe Tire Damage
Boston, Third Stage
Chicago, Greatest Hits 1982-1989
Bon Jovi, New Jersey
Beth Orton, Central Reservation
Magnetic Fields, 69 Love Songs (only the first disc)
Richard Marx, Richard Marx (Yes, I said it!)
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Greatest Hits
George Winston, December (though to be fair, at first I thought this was my ex-boyfriend Mike playing. It wasn't until Betsy Carmody told me freshman year of college that I learned he had lied.)
REO Speedwagon, You Can Tune a Piano, But You Can't Tuna Fish
Natalie Merchant, Tigerlily (I still fast forward through "My Beloved Wife.")
10,000 Maniacs, MTV Unplugged (Natalie Merchant, you may have some complicated feelings about parenthood to explore with a counselor)
Queen, Classic Queen
Dennis Miller, The White Album (I mean, didn't everyone in the early '90s?)
The Monkees, whatever greatest-hits album was available in 1985 or thereabouts
Pearl Jam, Ten
The Sounds of Murphy Brown (Motown)
The Big Chill, Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (also mostly Motown)
The Police, Every Breath You Take: The Singles
Night Ranger, Greatest Hits 
Ben Folds Five, Whatever and Ever Amen 
The Eagles, Greatest Hits 
Don Henley, End of the Innocence
Edie Brickell & New Bohemians, Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars  
Kansas, Best of 

1000 < x 
Barenaked Ladies, Gordon
Barenaked Ladies, Stunt
Barenaked Ladies, Rock Spectacle
They Might Be Giants, Flood 
They Might Be Giants, Lincoln
A Chorus Line, Original Broadway Cast
Rent, Original Broadway Cast (including Taye Diggs and that guy from Law and Order!)
Alanis Morissette, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie (I have never heard the song "Baba" all the way through. No idea why. Also, "Heart of the House" can make me cry, so I usually fast forward through that one, too.)
Alanis Morissette, Jagged Little Pill
David Mathews Band, Crash
Billy Joel, Greatest Hits, Volumes 1-2
Elton John, Greatest Hits, Volumes 1 and 2
Indigo Girls, Rites of Passage
Indigo Girls, 12,000 Curfews (only the first disc, though, strangely)
Def Leppard, Hysteria 
Gin Blossoms, New Miserable Experience
Matthew Sweet, Girlfriend (This one's hard to listen to again but sometimes creeps up on shuffle.)
Simon & Garfunkel, Greatest Hits
Journey, Greatest Hits
Jim Croce, Greatest Hits
Damn Yankees, Damn Yankees (To this day, I'd have Jack Blades' baby. I'd at least consider it, at any rate.) 
Melissa Etheridge, Yes I Am