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the everyman memoirs

The official blog of author Tali Nay.
JAN
03

The Things You Keep

You're looking at the activity that perhaps took the largest percentage of my childhood: tying lanyards. Or, lanyard "lacing," as I so alliteratively called it on the small slips of paper with my name and phone number that I printed en masse to hand out to my friends. I also printed order forms, with blank spaces for things like the customer's name and the agreed upon price, as well as the selected colors and styles of pattern. So much about it appealed to me, in that it was something creative, something I could make with my hands, and something I could ultimately sell. A business, if you will. Complete with beads and hooks and a whole host of colored string options, it was all housed in a red, compartment-filled tin box.

I wouldn't necessarily have been able to recall how seriously I took my craft had it not been for the chance I had over Christmas to go through all the boxes of stuff I saved from my childhood. The boxes have been sitting in my parents' garage for decades, things from elementary school all the way up to through college. These are things like school papers, yearbooks, clothes, stuffed animals, collectible frogs from the years when I had a thing for collectible frogs, college textbooks, random vintage mugs picked up at thrift stores, etc. My main objective was to purge, to go through the boxes and decide what I wanted to keep vs. throw/give away, and what struck me as I sorted through everything was how delightful it was to be reminded of all these things that had once been important to me. The things I saved, the things I collected, the things I couldn't quite bring myself to part with. It's the memories they brought, of course, but also just the reminder of other phases of life. Things I had perhaps forgotten. Like how damn obsessed I was with those lanyards.

Is it sad that I ended up throwing or giving away probably 95% of everything in the boxes, including the lanyards? I think the answer you're looking for is yes. It's sad. It feels like my whole life just gone, with no way to now remember things like what my teachers said in the letters of recommendation they wrote for my scholarship applications or the songs my sister played at her violin recital or the note my co-star wrote on my program on the closing night of our high school performance of The Music Man. There's no way to remember them now, or to remind myself of them say ten, twenty, or thirty years from now when going through all the boxes again might have provided the same kind of delight. But the other side of coin, and one that cannot be ignored, is that I hadn't needed or really thought about anything in those boxes for, in most cases, decades. So what good was it doing me to have them sitting there, taking up space and collecting dust? What advantage would they serve at some future point in my life? It's this lens I used when considering each item, making it surprisingly easy to get rid of almost everything. It reminded me of moving to New York City several years ago, how I'd had to get rid of about 90% of what I owned in order to move to a tiny studio apartment. It was a similar decision process, in that only my favorite and most-used things were kept. I had to keep that filter in play or else I would get sad over parting with so much.

And so I'm focusing on the fact that the things I donated will hopefully find second, more useful lives with other people and families. I'm focusing on the memory of having gone through the boxes. After all, when I mentioned to the BF on the way back to the airport that I always pictured going through those boxes someday and them making me happy, he responded with, "And you got that. You got it today." It's sooner than I planned I guess, but he's right. I got that, and if happiness was the goal, then the whole endeavor was a complete success.

MAR
24

Time Travel

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I recently read Amy Poehler's memoir, and while I was pretty disappointed by it, one thing she said that has stuck with me is the idea of time travel. Amy says she believes in it, as there are people, places, and things throughout our lives that can instantly transport us to another time. It's just the sort of ethereal, sentimental notion that I tend to gravitate toward, and as if to prove her point, this weekend at the MET it happened to me. I was transported.

There's a painting that hung in the living room of my childhood home for years. A mother at the piano with her two daughters, one holding a violin and the other looking on. My own mother played the piano, me and my older sister both played the violin (although she for much longer than I because she enjoyed it far more), and so the painting always seemed to fit perfectly in our home. I was never really sure what happened to the painting (when I asked Mom this weekend what had ever happened to it, she said it was ruined by one of my brothers, which figures), and in fact hadn't even thought about the painting in many, many years, but as I turned a corner and saw it hanging in the center of an alcove at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I was hit with a pang of what can only be described as deja vu. (I'd seen this before.) Mixed with surprise. (Who knew this painting was actually, like, famous?) And extreme happiness. (I almost teared up, because it still reminded me of us, and of my very happy, musical childhood.)

I mean, yeah, it's embarrassing that I had never been to the MET, even after all my vacations to NYC and now having lived here for almost six months. And sure, I feel pretty sheepish about never having known of the painting's popularity or the identity of its artist (it's a Renoir). Nor did I have any concept of where to even find the art I was looking for while at the museum. "Do you have any Van Gogh?" I finally asked the lady at the information desk, anxious to see something I might recognize amidst the sea of sculpture and canvas. She directed me to where I found Rodin, Monet, Picasso, and several others that I recognized, although the highlight was, of course, the Renoir. Such an instant connection (by an object) to a time and place now so far removed from my current life and location has me a believer in Poehler's concept of time travel. There's not much else in her book I believe in, so I was grateful to come away with at least one nugget of wisdom.

JAN
04

Farewell to my First Hobby

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If you read Schooled, you'll recall I learned how to tie lanyards in the 3rd grade. I loved it so much that I kept tying them until I left home, at which time I had not only accumulated a sizable collection of supplies (string, hooks, beads, not to mention all of the finished lanyards themselves), but I had also realized that I couldn't possibly bring said supplies with me to college. Nor did I really want to at that point. I had outgrown my beloved hobby, only I couldn't bring myself to throw the supplies away.

I'd forgotten about them until I was at my parents' house over Christmas going through various bins of childhood belongings in an effort to consolidate. With my recent NYC-inspired gutting of possessions (see Less > More post), it seemed like the right time. Indeed, most everything in the bins got thrown away. Things like my She-ra dolls, my troll collection (remember the two minutes when those fluorescent-haired little things were trendy?), oodles of school papers, a box of dried up corsages (from what events, I have no idea, since the only dance I ever attended was my senior prom), framed photos of Olympic gymnasts from back when I was sure that the same level of glory and athletic prowess could be mine as well.

But nothing gave me as much pause as those spools of lanyard string. As Billy Collins says in his own poem, The Lanyard, nothing "could send one into the past more suddenly." I remember so well sitting through that after school program and, after having no interest in any of the other activities (think chess), I remember loving the lanyard tying right away. I recognize now it was probably because it didn't involve interacting with any of the other kids...nor was it something at which they could handily beat me. Indeed, I could not even count the hours I spent in my room over the next decade tying those things. It honestly makes me a little sad to think about--all the time NOT hanging out with friends or becoming an Olympic gymnast--but it made me happy.

I might have opted to keep the string instead of throw it away when I unpacked it from a bin last week, but apparently plastic lanyard string doesn't have a 20-year shelf life. Let's just say it was not in tie-able condition. And that is how any future child of mine was saved from inheriting a tub full of plastic lanyard string. Not that this will stop me, should any such child ever exist, from teaching her how to tie them. She may not be as introverted as I am, but I hope there is at least one season of her childhood where the calming repetition of strand over strand engenders a sense of independence and creation. Besides, we can't all be Olympic gymnasts, now can we?

JUN
13

The Buster Bars

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They are a downright force, these Buster Bars. Anything from Dairy Queen, really. We're talking about the only fast food option I had as a kid, and the one for which I (still) feel the most amount of affection and loyalty. My neighbors and I used to throw together all manner of fundraising activities as kids, all in the name of getting ourselves to the DQ.

Back to the Buster Bars. Being mostly a Blizzard girl in my adult life, I had forgotten about them. Fast forward to last week, when one of our vendors showed up at the office with a box of Buster Bars. Oh my gosh, it was the best day ever. Surely no object on this earth could have more quickly taken me back to age 10, sitting at a folding table in my neighbors' driveway selling froot loop bars and lemon squares, counting my change until I had enough for a DQ run.

Having been reminded of the deliciousness that is a Buster Bar, I stopped at DQ on my way home. I bought a whole box, just for me, and explained to the DQ counter worker that someone had brought them into the office and it had been the best day of my life. It was an exaggeration obviously, but she laughed in a nervous, pitying kind of way; a way that suggested she figured I must be a pretty unfortunate person if my life had peaked because of free ice cream. It was the same sort of expression that Warwick Davis wore when my sister and I, positively beside ourselves, approached after spotting him at Disneyland during a family trip and confessed in near hysterics that Willow was our favorite movie. Epic to our teenaged selves (have you seen Val Kilmer circa 1988??), I've always suspected Warwick thought we were a little tragic for our cinema preferences.

In any case, it's Friday night, and I'm celebrating with a Buster Bar. Or six.