Archive | Nostalgia

Desert Island Discs: Narrating Your Life Through Music

peter paul and mary
peter paul and mary

There’s a popular, long-running radio show in the U.K. where I live called Desert Island Discs. The premise behind the show is quite simple: a guest is invited by the host choose the eight records they would take with them to a desert island. But it’s really a vehicle for getting famous people – whether that’s Bill Gates or David Beckham or Zaha Hadid – to narrate their lives through music.

So what most guests do is to select songs that speak to different parts of their lives: a piece that conjures up their childhood or family…something to capture the time they met their spouse…a tune that speaks to the most creative point in their career or the death of a beloved relative. You get the picture.

Needless to say, in one of my occurring fantasies I am a guest being interviewed on this program about my book project on swimming and adulthood, narrating how I built my illustrious career as a full-time writer over the course of a lifetime. (Hey, we all gotta dream…)

Which of course only begs the question: which songs would I choose to tell my story?

Early Childhood

Early childhood is an easy one for me. I would select Puff The Magic Dragon by Peter, Paul and Mary. Yes, I know, a cheesy selection by certain measures. Yet, for me, that’s a song that makes me weep every time I hear it as it is about the inevitability of loss as we age: the loss of playfulness, the loss of our childhood friends, and the painful but necessary separation we must all undertake from our families of origin.

Adolescence

Adolescence is also an easy one for me. I listened to a lot of Billy Joel as a teenager, a songwriter who so clearly evokes a particular moment in the late 1970s-early 1980s – just after the Disco era ended and a particular place – most of his songs are about the New Jersey-New York metropolitan area and the longing to get out and make more of ourselves. I could pick any of his hits, but these five Billy Joel tunes probably speak to me most, still.

College

College has got to be either The Grateful Dead singing Ripple or Dire Straits doing Romeo and Juliet – the only two bands I ever went to see perform more than once. These songs readily call to mind the most carefree time of my life, a time when I didn’t worry about anything other than going to classes and hanging out with my friends (not always in that order!) and didn’t think at all about the future. It was perhaps the only time in my life that I was fully “present,” before any concerns about rent and jobs and graduate school kicked in.

Courtship

I had never listened to jazz before I met my husband, but he introduced me to this great musical tradition and to this artist – Gene Harris – in particular. During the early months of our courtship, we used to listen to Like a Lover first thing when we woke up in the morning. Bliss.

Using Music to Better Understand Yourself

Much like writing your own obituary – something I wrote about on these pages recently – thinking about how your narrate your life through music is an intersting exercise. Music reconnects you to your past. It gets you to think in concrete terms about what different phases of your life meant to you and why. And in doing that, you get a better handle on your present self – what you like about yourself, what you might wish to flee, what you miss about yourself, what you’d like to see more of in the years ahead.

So go ahead, try it. What are some of your “desert island discs”?

 

Image: Peter, Paul and Mary 1970 via Wikimedia Commons

Why I Miss Phone Books

phone books

phone booksI had a 21st century moment the other day.

A telephone book came through our mail slot in London and landed with a bang on the floor. It was a mere shadow of a *real* phone book – probably measuring no more than 1/2 inch in diameter – but it was a bonafide phone book nonetheless.

My 15 year-old son picked it up, inspected it and turned to me, puzzled: “What’s that?” He asked.

My husband and I stared back at him in disbelief.

Not to go all 19th century on you, but man, did that make me feel old. And nostalgic.

I knew this because in our recent frenzy to declutter our home, my husband’s immediate instinct was to throw the phone book out. After all, who needs a phone book? It will just sit on a shelf somewhere gathering dust before invariably being tossed the next time we have occasion to tidy up.

And yet, I found myself resisting throwing this one away, almost as if in giving it up, I was losing something powerful that I might one day regret.

So what’s with my attachment to phone books, you ask?

Much like mood rings or candy necklaces, we all have an emotional attachment to objects that remind us of childhood. In the case of phone books, they take me straight back to the kitchen of the house I grew up in in suburban New Jersey and the colourful, chaotic and cacophonous room that housed our White Pages and its corporate sister, The Yellow Pages. Seeing that phone book all these many years later it as as if I were suddenly back in that room, competing with the dog and the classical music station and my three siblings as we struggled to dominate the nightly family dinner.

But it’s more than that. Seeing a real, live phone book was also a lovely reminder of that frisson that accompanied the process of discovery around someone’s “details” (as we say here in the U.K.) when I was young. You’d make a new friend at school or discover a boy or girl you had a crush on or possibly just wanted to know the street your weird math teacher lived on. And so you went and paged through that vast, floppy tome of ripped, extensively underlined and coffee stained white pages to learn that your one true love (or physics partner…or jerky guy at the pizza parlor…or uptight lady at the reference desk of the local library) had a phone number. And somehow, knowing that small piece of information – that number – gave you some small measure of power. Or at least you believed that it did.

My inner social media junkie notwithstanding, seeing this phone book even made me long for the days when *all*  you might know about a person was their phone number and their address. And you had to imagine the rest. “Oh, he lives on such and such a street and goes to *that* junior high. Maybe I’ll ride my bicycle over there one day after school and see what color his house is painted or if he has a big back yard.”

And remember how strange it was when someone’s number was “unlisted?” We thought people were obsessively private if they didn’t share their phone numbers with a bunch of strangers. Ha! Now we have lawsuits over whether it’s fair game to reveal someone’s sexual orientation/behavior on line. Kind of makes you long for the days when “the dark web” sounded like the name of a Star Trek episode.

I’ve written before about how nostalgia is a huge part of growing up. I don’t quite put phone books in the same category as the place you grew up or your college friends or your first love – the sorts of things that can truly inspire that odd mix of longing, regret and fondness that nostalgia conjures up.

But it did feel strange – for just that brief moment – to be overcome with a desire for it to be 1975 again.

And then I threw the phone book in the bin.

Image: Auckland Yellow Pages via Wikipedia.com

The Death of the Summer Job

Amid the many indicators that summer has finally arrived – barbecues…Fourth of July parades…flip-flops and sun block — here’s one signpost you won’t be seeing much of this year: the proverbial summer job. New figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that only one in three teenagersnow holds a summer job.

The decline in teen employment has been precipitous. Whereas in 1978, nearly 60 percent of 16- to 19 year-olds were employed during the summer months, by 2001, that number dropped to slightly over 50 percent. It now hovers just below 30 percent.

In some ways, this trend shouldn’t be all that surprising. Many low-skilled summer jobs — things like mowing lawns, waiting tables and manning cash registers — are now being done by other workers struggling to make ends meet in the current recession: older workers, immigrants or college graduates shouldering massive debts.

And yet, the death of the summer job is troubling all the same. For starters, when you disaggregate the numbers by race and income, you see that the groups least likely to be employed in summer jobs are blacks and Hispanics from lower-income families. These are precisely the individuals for whom early work experience is most closely tied to success in the labor market, largely because they are less likely to attend college. In a country with the highest level of inequality in the advanced, industrialized world, the last thing we need is to exacerbate the income gap between rich and poor.

But there’s also a sociological reason for alarm.

Read the rest of this post at The Washington Post’s She The People blog

 

Image: Old Mower by Cavalier92 via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

Feeling Nostalgic For The 70s

A while back I wrote a post entitled Five Signs You’re Feeling Nostalgic For Your Childhood. It featured Monopoly, candy necklaces and that staple of 70s culture, the mood ring.

Imagine my delight, then, when I happened upon the following post over on Salon entitled The Forgotten Treasures of Gen-X Childhood. It’s a slide show featuring assorted toys and memorabilia that defined my childhood: things like Fisher Price Little People (in case you’d forgotten that there was once was a predecessor to Playmobil)…candy cigarettes…and unsafe playground equipment. (Oh, for those see-saws that just came banging down on your leg!)

I will confess to not recognizing all of it. Maybelline kissing potion didn’t ring a bell. (Though I do have vivid memories of those sickly sweet, giant lip glosses we all hung around our necks with flavors like bubble gum and watermelon and Dr. Pepper…I think they were called  Bonnie Bell Lip Smackers. Anyone?)

And, of course, I remember Love’s Baby Soft Perfume, which also makes a cameo in said post. (“You can try soft: Harry. Or you can try hard: HARRY! Soft will get him every ti-i-ime…Love’s Baby Soft!”) Positively creepy, 35 years on…

So I cordially invite you to take a stroll down memory lane and check out the forgotten treasures of Gen-X Childhood. You won’t regret it.

Then in the comment section, tell me what they’re missing…

 

Image: End of Times Holiday Party by Laughing Squid via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

 

 

Saying Goodbye to My Mews House: A Poem

I’ve long been of the mind that right before you give something up – a car…a neighborhood…definitely a relationship – you allow yourself to be annoyed by that thing.

It’s not that the thing itself has changed in any fundamental way. It’s just that whereas you once focused on the upsides (he’s cute…he’s funny…my mother likes him), you now allow the negatives to creep in (I hate that shirt…please stop chewing like that…kissing you is so boring.) It’s just normal. It’s how we begin to separate before we say goodbye.

In that vein, as I pack up the last bits and bobs around our current house before leaving it permanently on Thursday, I find myself doing precisely that:  allowing myself to hate all the things about this house that I’ve managed to put up with over the past four years.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s a lot to like about this house, which I’ve often described as an exceedingly well-located closet. I wrote a novel here. I started my blog here. And – most important of all – it’s the place that we first moved into when we decided to throw caution to the wind and move our family overseas four years ago. For that reason alone, it will always be special.

And yet, as we stagger towards the finish line, I’m allowing all the negative things I’ve suppressed about the house to come to the fore.

I’m not much of a poet. I usually leave that to the fabulous Communicatrix and her Poetry Thursday series. But as I take my last walk around this house and pick up the errant sock or felt tip (magic marker) cap or MatchAttax card that mysteriously appears – years later – in the obscure corners of our storage space, I find myself moved to wax poetic.

So here it is – my Ode to a Mews House – inspired by that childhood classic, Good Night, Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. I’m calling it Goodnight, Mews:

Goodnight Mews

In the tiny, cobble-stoned street

without a sign

there was a house

and for four years, it was mine.

And though I’ll be sad to see it gone

Here are some things for which I won’t long:


Goodnight kitchen tiles, that never quite fit

and were meant for the wall – not the floor – but tough sh*#.

Good night shower curtain, which hangs by a thread

And the sweaters I was forced to keep under my bed.

Good night builders, who knew nothing of plumbing

and Good night, next-door neighbors who hated my son.

Good night, storage closet that eventually hits earth

and was home to the rats who made our house their berth.

Good night, Toilet Seat from which I would fall

And the miniature fridge that stands two feet tall.

Good night shower that always floods when it rains

And goodnight darling landlord, you were really a pain.

Goodnight stars, Goodnight air

Good night Mewses everywhere.

*****

For those who are interested, head on over to PoliticsDaily.com to see why I think Gordon Brown will lose this election on Thursday.

Image: Pink Mews by tubb via Flickr under a Creative Commons License


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Five Ways To Stay Positive While You Move

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

We’re moving in exactly one week. And so I’m pretty single-minded right now. When I’m not actually doing something connected to the move, I’m thinking about the move.

I’ve fessed up before to just how very much I hate moving. (Some would say irrationally so. I name no names.) But I’m also trying to take my own advice from last week’s volcanic ash crisis and remind myself that “Ce n’est pas gràve.”

And it really isn’t all that “gràve.” In fact, there are a lot of positives that emerge when you move house and they aren’t just the simple pleasures of decluttering.

In that spirit, here are five ways to stay upbeat during a move:

1. Reconnect with your kids’ childhood. One of Gretchen Rubin’s four splendid truths is that “The days are long but the years are short.” She employs this principle to capture what it’s like to be a parent:  how those long, seemingly endless days of reading Good Night, Moon and potty-training dissolve – overnight – into adolescence. Her point is that you really need to savor your kids’ childhood while it lasts because while it may feel long in the day to day, it’s actually fleeting. (I had this same realization last year while re-reading Peter Pan with my daughter.)

Moving helps you to savor their childhood. Because of the many things you unearth as you re-open those frightening storage containers that you hid in the depths of your closet when you first moved in are the myriad art projects, report cards, essays and birthday cards that your kids have done over the years. My own favorite was a picture that my son drew when his (quite progressive) nursery school did a unit on Martin Luther King. I’d forgotten all about this picture, which used to hang above the desk in my old office. It depicts a sort of Monsters, Inc.-style version of MLK addressing an audience with a disproportionately large microphone while saying “I hope that one day Black people and White people can be friends.” Priceless.

2. Reconnect with your own past. You may not have any kids. But you’ll still be forced to take a trip down memory lane as you yank stuff out  of those dusty old cupboards. I found a pair of my father’s orthopedic shoes. He left them here on his last visit to London in October of 2008. We saved them so that we could give them back to him on his next visit. But he never came back. He died, suddenly, of a heart attack in March, 2009. Back when he was alive, I hated those shoes. They were large and clunky and a visible reminder that the body of a man who used to take jump shots in our driveway well into his 50s was slowly giving out on him. (It ended up giving out on him much more quickly than we expected.) But seeing those shoes again actually made me happy. They were a tangible reminder of his presence in our lives. And I needed that.

3. Allow yourself to let go of the *shoulds*. I’ve written before about how many of us go through life tethered to an endless list of things that we feel we ought to be doing, yet never quite manage to accomplish: making photo albums, reading the Bible, joining a gym. During the course of going through my files the other day, I came across some notes from a Hebrew class that I took while pregnant with my son and which I’ve schlepped around with me for (gulp) ten years. The thought was that some day I’d get my act together and really learn Hebrew. Well folks, I still haven’t let go of the goal of figuring out my relationship to Judaism. But I think that I’ve finally acknowledged to myself that despite my best intentions, that process will not entail learning Hebrew (a least for the foreseeable future.) Toss. Ditto my hopes of ever actually using that over-sized fish poacher that we got for our wedding. After twelve years doing noble service as a de facto spice rack, I think it’s finally time for me to dispatch that particular item from our lives. Phew.

4. Imagine new vistas literally and figuratively. One of the most exciting things about moving is that it offers the prospect of a whole new neighborhood to discover. There will be new cafés, new book stores, new dry cleaners – not to mention new neighbors!  I love change so imagining these things is always a way to motivate myself when I just don’t feel like calling the Gas company to request new service or whatever arduous task lies at hand. It’s a bit like singing My Favorite Things from The Sound of Music, if you’ll forgive the cheesy Musical analogy. And change in one’s physical scenery can also furnish a new take on life psychologically. Out with the old and in with the new, and all that good stuff. I really believe that.

5. Trust that things will be better once you make it to the other side. Like childbirth, if you really remembered all the gory details, you’d never move more than once in your life. And yet, most of us do it several times. So, yes, moving is painful but it also does come to an end. And when the clouds part, there’s a whole new world to explore.

*****

For those of you who’d like to hear my latest thoughts on this unbelievably exciting British election, please head on over to PoliticsDaily.com.


Image: Statue of Dr. Martin Luther King by zug55 via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Time Marches On: Vienna, And Feeling Nostalgic For The Last Century

Yesterday was New Year’s Eve, which is  – as we sit back and contemplate our various “top 10” lists from the past year – often an occasion for nostalgia.

I was also feeling nostalgic yesterday, though my nostalgia wasn’t for what changed in 2009 so much as for what’s changed over the last century. I’m just back from a vacation in Vienna, you see. And unlike other European capitals I’ve visited in recent years — Paris, Amsterdam, Helsinki — Vienna feels decidedly less modern and cosmopolitan. Instead, it’s got that proverbial “Old European” feel, the kind that makes you reach for one more hot chocolate mit schlag, crank up the Johann Strauss and break out the Wittgenstein.

Find out the five things Vienna made me feel nostalgic for from the last century at PoliticsDaily.com

Image: Vienna State Opera by tm boris via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Nostalgia for a Place: When Time Forces Us To Move On

Nostalgia is most frequently defined as a “longing for the past.” This melancholy, sentimental feeling might be triggered by any number of events:  we stumble upon a journal from our childhood…we watch a documentary about the Kennedy family…someone dies. Or it might happen when we re-visit a location that has a very specific, evocative meaning for our lives – a first home, our elementary school.

This sort of deep attachment to a place – and the bittersweet emotions it evokes – was the subject of an essay by Judith Warner in her NYTimes.com blog, Domestic Disturbances, on Friday. Entitled “Summer’s End,” the essay talks about Warner’s most recent trip back to her family’s second home in France following the death of a close friend over there. It’s a wonderful and far-ranging piece, encompassing themes of aging, mortality, friendship and nostalgia all in one go. But what I found most moving was the “irrational” (her word) attachment she feels towards this house as a sort of alternate anchor to her “real life” in Washington, D.C., even as she recognizes that time itself has changed the house’s meaning irrevocably.

As she writes: “I used to feel that our life in France was as solid, as permanent and unchanging as our little house. Like our identities there, built in the moment, always in the present tense, it existed outside of time. That has changed. Nothing can be taken for granted anymore.”

This sort of nostalgia rooted in place is also the subject of a small, lovely movie that came out last year called “Summer Hours” (L’heure d’été). It’s also set in France and is about a group of (grown) siblings who must come to terms with selling the large country home their family has held for generations. The two younger children – who clearly symbolize modern France  – wish to be done with the burden of keeping up the house and move on. It’s the eldest brother who- while realizing that it would be most practical to sell the house and use the proceeds to finance various family expenditures – can’t quite bear to part with it emotionally. But he, too, is forced to acknowledge that times have changed, his kids have grown up, and the house no longer has the same meaning or use that it once did.

I felt this way myself this summer, when I went to Cape Cod on holiday. Our family vacationed there every August throughout my entire childhood, but I hadn’t been back in nearly 20 years. And this time it felt very different, because for the first time in memory, my father wasn’t there.

My father worked a lot when I was a child, so we didn’t see all that much of him during the school year. But those three weeks in August were a special time for us, because – among other things – he was around. And so when I went back this time with my own children, I felt his absence all the more. I saw him at the beach, plunging into the freezing cold Atlantic Ocean and screaming “It’s toasty warm!” at the top of his lungs. I saw him at the corner store where he used to purchase his signature diet of coffee, cigarettes and newspapers (and comic books for us). The big treat were the days when he’d stuff all four of us into the trunk of the car – sometimes with a cousin or two in tow – and we’d drive the 1-2 miles to the store in complete, exhilarating darkness. And I saw his craggy, time-worn face embedded a thousand times in the stones that line Rock Harbor.

But because he wasn’t there this time, I now saw the Cape as I imagine others do: beautiful and rustic, yes. But also kitschy and tourist-y: a jumble of roadside clam bakes and miniature golf venues. That doesn’t make it any less appealing to me. But it does make it – inevitably – something else.

And I guess that’s what it means to grow up.

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Image: Las Dunas de Cape Cod by Copepodo via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Feeling Nostalgic for Snail Mail

As a relative newcomer to the world of Twitter and Facebook, I will own up to being a complete addict (this, despite being informed today that 40% of Twitter is “pointless babble.” ) And I’ve always been a huge fan of email.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t pine for the days when the old fashioned letter was the communication du jour.

Today, I’m over at PoliticsDaily.com talking about the bankruptcy crisis threatening the US Postal Service . I talk about what it means both economically –  in terms of jobs – and personally, for those of us who feel nostalgic for the post.

Have a look

Image: Mail Day! by Warm n’ Fuzzy via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Beam Me Up, Scotty: Are Sequels an Escape from Adulthood?

In case you haven’t heard, the summer movie season has officially begun.

Two weeks ago X-Men Origins: Wolverine opened. And last weekend Star Trek hit the Cineplexes.

Many of the current releases are either some version of a franchise, a re-make or an adaptation. And, for some, this trend is a veritable assault on adulthood.

Dennis Palumbo of Huffington Post bemoaned the current dearth of movies for adults, urging those of us who go in for more serious cinematic fare to “get off the couch” as it were (he’s also a psychotherapist). His point:  no one’s going to make movies for adults if we don’t actually go see them.

Another blogger, Lorrie Lynch, made a list of the serious Indie films coming out this summer and then wrote “Grown ups, read on.” (True confessions: I bookmarked the page post haste. I mean, c’mon. Atom Egoyan? In the summertime? Sign me up…)

I must say that I’m sympathetic to some of these concerns. The sight of grown men and women parading around theatres in their velour-insigniad Starship Enterprise tunics and Vulcan ears does give one pause. (For a particularly thoughtful review of the entire Star Trek franchise, read this article by Chicago Reader critic J.R. Jones. He argues that the original TV show was actually quite mature in its subject matter – with its mixed-gender, multiracial crew and Cold War overtones. Over time, however, the series – and movies it spawned – were dumbed down considerably to appeal to kids.)

But for me, the most interesting analysis of this trend was an article in the Washington Post by Hank Stuever examining the effect of  extreme fans (of the lightsaber bearing sort) on the making and marketing of these blockbuster-type movies.

The central question he asks – and I paraphrase here –  is why we feel compelled, as a society, to compulsively remake The Dukes of Hazard or our favorite books from fourth grade. Is it a lack of creativity? Nostalgia? Escape?

I don’t have an answer to that question. But as someone who’s quite prone to nostalgia myself, I can say that I, too, find it moving to revisit signature cultural artifacts – books, movies – from my childhood. I don’t necessarily need to don Lieutenant O’hura’s mini-dress in order to do so. But I understand the impulse.

So go ahead and beam me up, Scotty. But be warned: I’ll be looking for the Indie screening room on the Starship Enterprise when I get there.

Image: Trekkies by San Diego Shooter via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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