this is truly a wonderful note about the end of 2011.
[I’ve never been a new year’s resolution maker. why start tonight on what I thought about doing last week? why plan to do tomorrow what you want to do today? why wait until a stroke of midnight for things to change. why imbue one day with so much meaning — shouldn’t all your days mean just as much as this one?]
this morning, on an airplane, I finished a post started earlier this week entitled ‘2011: a review.’ I surprised myself by how much of january and february I forgot, how much of march and april I remembered, and how quickly may through december seemed to move. this year was filled with a whole lot of learning. I’m not sure the actual events would be quite as interesting if they were missing their context, their back story. the post wasn’t quite right, so I’ll keep it to myself.
I also worked on a post entitled ‘people I met in 2011.’ I met a lot of people. I realized, though, that the list itself, comprised of personalities, interests, hobbies, occupations, physical characteristics instead of names and locations, was a way for me to protect against the forgetting. this was a post I deleted — too often we painstakingly pore over each minute detail of the events of our past, hoping to make sense of things. I think I’ll let those who will be remembered stay in my mind, and those who will be forgotten naturally fade away.
in lieu of a review of events or people, here is a list of books I’ve purchased and/or read throughout the year. I don’t think I’ve purchased a single new book in the past twelve months. Instead, I tend to wander into used bookstores, finger through old pages, hold books up to my nose, and settle into a quiet corner in the back where I sort through my collection until I’ve selected the perfect few to bring home. these books would probably tell a more interesting tale about the course of my disposition throughout the year.
in no particular order:
Eating Animals | Jonathan Safran Foer Perfectly Reasonable Deviations from the Beaten Track | Richard Feynman The Fountainhead | Ayn Rand Liar’s Poker | Michael Lewis How to Be Alone | Jonathan Franzen Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman | Richard Feynman The Third Chimpanzee | Jared Diamond I Am Charlotte Simmons | Tom Wolfe Hooking Up | Tom Wolfe The Origin of Species | Charles Darwin The Pleasure of Finding Things Out | Richard Feynman Atlas Shrugged | Ayn Rand The Big Short | Michael Lewis The Mismeasure of Man | Stephen J. Gould Einstein in Love | Dennis Overbye Words and Rules | Stephen Pinker Stuff Hipsters Hate | How We Decide | Jonah Lehrer What Do You Care What Other People Think? | Richard Feynman
“the only ones for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars, and in the middle, you see the blue center-light pop and everybody goes ahhh…”—Jack Kerouac | On the Road
what about the people we don’t mention in our writing? they’re probably discussed in conversation — so much of our days are filled with spoken word, how could you not mention the boy you briefly dated this summer? the one who insisted on paying for dinner and drinks and holding the door open. who woke up early and made you coffee while you brushed your teeth. the one with the nice apartment and the porch and the air conditioning in july. of course you mentioned him to your friends, but you never wrote about him.
you wrote about the girl with fire crackers for feelings and whims that went on for days and days. the one who cried during commercials but who would wipe away those tears with the hand that she then cocked into a fist as she prepared to fight. why not the one who made countless dinners, provided a venue for sweatpants-wearing wine-drinking nights? she was a rock who insisted, time and again, that everything would be ok (and who was usually right). why didn’t you write about her?
what about the boy who took you out to dinner, who selected the perfect restaurant, picked you up AND dropped you off in his car (had a car), sat for hours talking about philosophy and politics and neil degrasse tyson? you’ve never mentioned him once.
your best friends, the ones you’ve known since you were a teenager, with whom you text just because one or the other of you is bored or sad or happy or, really, feeling anything at all, you’ve not mentioned them one single time. and the girls with whom you went to college — the ones who worriedly call each other when they think you might need some extra support or the one with whom you spent a snow day drinking boxed wine and watching tv and who continues to be both incredibly fun and unendingly dependable — is there any particular reason you’ve failed to expend a single word on them?
what about the boys who walk you home from the bar even when you insist that it’s perfectly safe and you’re not terribly drunk and it’s not even midnight yet? you’ve never mentioned the guy you met the first summer after you graduated from college, who began as a crush and became a best friend and is now sometimes the only reason you’ve managed to continuously date anyone at all; or the guy who invited you to your own high school prom because he knew you were never going to do it and who is still, nearly a decade later, standing beside you every time you need support.
what is it about some characters that incites you to select them as the players in your stories, while others remain uncredited, supporting cast members? what is it about you that results in this particular arrangement?
[when I start watching a new show, I need to see every single episode that has ever been created. e.g., I watched (while very sick) the first seven seasons of law & order svu — the only seasons available at the time — in, I think, three weeks. so if I start downton abbey, that will be the only thing I do for an entire day.]
I just sent off an email to a friend from college from whom I haven’t heard in five years. in his original message, he’d said that a life update was in order, so I set out to update him. here’s first thing I typed (which I put at the end of the message): I have no idea what to say here.
I don’t know what it would look like to type too much or too little, because we haven’t spoken in five years, and there’s no really simple way to update someone on every important moment of the last five years. there’s not even a reasonably complex way to update someone on five year’s worth of life events. there are so many words that there are no words.
Back in 1950, looking to publicise a new exhibition named “Conquest of Space,” the Hayden Planetarium in New York publicly announced that they were accepting reservations for the first trip into space, whenever that may be. Unsurprisingly, in the coming weeks and months applications from all corners began to arrive at the museum, from would-be space travelers of all ages.
He walked out of the hospital and into the cool December air. It stung his eyes as his body struggled to adjust to the transition from uncomfortably warm, unnaturally lit hospital to blindingly bright sun, which shone directly overhead in a clear, blue sky.
This weather outside didn’t fit with his feelings inside. When things like this happen, he thought, isn’t the weather supposed to reflect your mood? You’re supposed to walk out into a dreary, sad, rainy day. Cloud cover is supposed to reflect your internal darkness and unease. The sun shouldn’t be out. The day shouldn’t be crisp and clear. Isn’t that the way things are supposed to be?
He found his car in the parking lot and dug the keys out of his pocket. He jammed them into the lock and opened the door. It creaked a little. It hadn’t been opened in days.
The cold air burned his nose and made his eyes water. He reached into the glove compartment for a tissue. He found the wads of fast-food restaurant napkins she’d shoved there. The collection was laughable; they’d covered thousands and thousands of miles in this car, driving across the country, north and south, east and west, and her guilty pleasure was those unusually-delicious-for-such-a-low-price burgers you can only find when you pull off the highway for gas. They’re just never as good when you stop and grab one on your way home from work or on a lazy Sunday afternoon. By now she’d probably had hundreds of them, which made her guilty pleasure more like a regular occurrence.
He grabbed a fistful of napkins and, as he pulled them out, he noticed the stack of pictures he’d meant to bring in to her. She knew she wasn’t going to leave the hospital anytime soon and she wanted to be surrounded by the people she loved. She asked him to bring pictures for her to tape around the room. He’d intended to bring pictures of their life — the dogs, now with neighbors who had children and time and who weren’t too sick to walk them around the block; their home, an old-fashioned bungalow whose windows were, right now, open and allowing the space to fill with this inappropriately crisp and refreshing air; and themselves.
A few days before, as he began searching the house, he found that there were no pictures like this. He’d hurriedly tugged open the drawers of a desk, her bedside table, and the drawer in the kitchen where every family kept knick-knacks and other things that don’t have a home before he realized there were no current pictures. Who prints pictures now? They’d saved all their pictures on their computers. A disk with a handful of their very best pictures was sitting on the table by the front door — they’d talked about having those pictures printed for months, maybe a year, and never got around to it.
He ran upstairs, opened her closet, and found the shoebox on the top shelf. Pictures of their younger selves, pictures of the midwest, pictures of snow, pictures of youth and family. He selected out a few and meant to put them in an envelope. As he was walking down the stairs, pictures in hand, the phone rang. He ran to answer it; she probably remembered one more thing she wanted him to bring back — a blanket, a book, her favorite t-shirt.
The words were a blur, but he never managed to grab the rest of the items he’d been sent for, and the pictures never made it into an envelope. He ran to the car, shoved the pictures into the glove compartment and drove back to the hospital, heart beating rapidly near the base of his throat, heat spreading across his cheeks, neck, back, legs. He forgot to bring the pictures in to her. It didn’t matter now.
He selected one of her smiling an innocent, healthy, sixteen year old smile and stuck it in the little gap where the pieces of plastic that make up the dashboard connect. He started the engine and pulled out of the parking space, out of the parking lot, and began driving. He headed away from the hospital, away from their home, away from their life. He wasn’t sure where he was headed, but he felt his body weighing heavily against the car seat as he brushed tears from his cheeks and continued to drive. The house held all their belongings, their memories, and he couldn’t bring himself to go back. He had no need to go back.
She’d wanted to settle here — he’d done it to make her happy. When she was happy, he was happy. He didn’t need the house. The dogs were in good hands. They’d failed to make friends in the time since moving here; they’d been so busy planning their next adventure, buying groceries, sitting in the drafty living room drinking tea, nailing together pieces of wood to make the porch she’d always dreamed of, rushing off to the hospital, learning she was sick, dying here. There was nothing left. He had a small bag with a book, a few necessities, and two or three t-shirts, so he’d be ok for a while. And he had the pictures.
“whatever the ill-advised origins of you and me, we did have some fun times that i don’t regret at all.”—
things people say to each other as the new year approaches; a message sent by email to me tonight; a sentiment I’ve heard before
[sometimes a new year comes and goes with little fanfare as we continue down an unimpeded path. other years, we grasp into the cold december air, hoping to catch some redemption as we’re propelled forward, too quickly and too violently to really make sense of our surroundings. in those moments when we’re able to catch a glimpse of things, to pick out the pieces of our lives from amongst the fog and ice and snow of winter, we might consider separating the good from the bad, and holding onto the good with the free hand that isn’t gripping tightly to redemption. take the good with you as you leave here, this place we’ve called 2011, and leave behind the bad, trapped and frozen in the snow.]