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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.

SEP
09

Our Version of Truth

A fan of Ira Glass and his weekly This American Life broadcasts (LaDonna, anyone??), I haven't been able to shake the story told in last week's How I got into College episode. The one about the Bosnian student who believed a certain teacher's reaction to an essay he wrote was the catalyst for the series of occurances that ultimately led him to success. Listening to the student's version, it's a great story. One that makes clear not only the gratitude he has for her impact upon his life, but also pinpoints the exact moment, the specific thing, that started the chain reaction. In this case, the essay. In the student's mind, if he hadn't written that essay, if his teacher hadn't read it, if she hadn't then told him he needed to get himself to a better school and then created the opportunity for him to do so, then he wouldn't be where he is today. It was the essay, see. The essay was the thing.

Interestingly, when they tracked down the teacher years later, she debunked the student's theory, assuring him the essay had played no part. She'd been watching him for months, she says, observing his talents and capabilities and determining he needed more than their school could offer long before he'd ever written the essay. You could tell from the student's reaction that he was having a hard time accepting this. He kept trying to bring the essay back into the conversation, even suggesting that while not the main driver then, it at least contributed to her determination that he needed a new school. Sounding almost frustrated, as if she'd realized he was twisting the story to his own end, she wouldn't even give him that. The essay was not the thing.

The teacher further claims that she can't take as much credit as the student gives her, in that she knew he was bound for greatness and fully believes he would have achieved it even without her help in getting admitted to a new high school. And it's a rather tragic thing, to watch (or in this case listen to) a person's core belief dissolve right in front of them. He'd counted on this. He told the story at every dinner party. It was the reason he had succeeded. 

The interviewer asked the student toward the end of the episode if he was going to start telling it differently now that he knew the truth, but he said he wouldn't. To him, it was reality. It was how he had observed a very significant series of life events. And this may seem sneaky, but the thing is, I kind of get it. Not having the full background, he built this memory around how he perceived what happened, (he wrote an essay, his teacher suggested a new school) and knowing nothing else, it became his doctrine. His truth. It's a reminder, not just of how fragile and shakable our memories can be, but also of how powerfully the most important ones can be rooted into our very being. To the point where we need them preserved, intact, and whole just to survive.

 

MAR
25

Adolescence and Memory

As a writer of memoirs, I mention a lof of people in the course of my writing. As a no-name author, I've been able to do this with very few of these people even knowing they are mentioned. I have a very small readership, see. And while nothing I write is vindictive and most of the interactions I mention in my books are positive (I remember my dad saying after my first book came out that he wished he were mentioned more), I do have a relatively constant worry that people I have mentioned will discover they are mentioned and be upset with me for mentioning them. 

Recently a girl I went to high school with contacted me to say she was reading my first book and loving it. I reveled in the compliment, but only for a moment, because this girl is mentioned in that book. She's mentioned most notably for hurting my tender adolescent feelings in a rather humiliating way as we began our sophomore year. I waited rather tortuously for her to get to that part in the book and scold me for outing her cruel slight, but the scolding never came. Instead I got a long and heartfelt apology from this girl for putting herself and her budding popularity ahead of loyalty and friendship. 

Of course, then I felt bad for making her feel bad about this silly thing that happened twenty years ago. I'd included it because the whole point of my first book was to make it a study of the things we learn from our school years that have nothing to do with textbooks. And being an adolescent girl is a study in itself. Her slight only affected me so much because I was fifteen, acutely aware of my own lack of popularity, and vastly influenced by the overamplication of any shred of it I gained or lost. So here was this girl, my friend, apologizing for this thing that had meant so much to me then, but now hardly seemed worth mentioning. I mean, what's the protocol for that?

I told her it was ok, because it was, and that it had been a long time ago, because it had. I'd made it through high school just fine, and my life had unfolded quite nicely despite her decades-old diss. So the only thing that really mattered now was that we were back in touch, bonded not at all by circumstance--our lives could not be more different--but by the shared memories of where we were raised, the people we had known during this time, and the uncharted paths by which we each navigated our adolescent selves, hoping for acceptance. 

The simple answer here is I really should be writing fiction. And believe me, if I could, I would. 

 

 

 

 

 

JAN
25

The LeBron James Bottle of Bubbly

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Something people might not know about me is that I love the NBA. I was able to take in two Cavaliers games this week, and I was reminiscing with my fellow game-goers last night about how wonderful the good years were. The Winning Years. Those couple of years when Cleveland had the best record in the NBA. I’d always had at the top of my bucket list that someday I wanted to be at a game 7 when my team won the championship. It seemed back then like it might be within the realm of possibility.

In my fridge you’ll find a long-expired bottle of bubbly, and it’s the same bottle I bought in the summer of 2010, the bottle I planned to drink when Lebron announced he would be staying in Cleveland. Obviously the bottle was never opened, and for some reason I’ve kept it in my fridge…I guess as some sort of reminder that things change. And that there are horribly inappropriate and ass-like ways to make announcements.

I confess that basketball will always seem a little bit worse to me now. I’ve despised Lebron since he left, which is why I was surprised last night to be flooded with such good memories of him and all the success he brought to this city. I guess no matter how things ended up, the point is that I’ll always have those memories, and they’ll always be good. I’ll always remember what winning so many games felt like, seeing amazing on almost every play, walking through the streets after a second-half comeback win against Boston in game 1 of the first round of playoffs chanting “MVP! MVP!” with a sea of Clevelanders. I’ll always have that. Of course, there’s still the bubbly, which can always be counted on to bring me back down to reality. But not everything is worth hanging onto. And maybe that bottle is one thing I can finally toss out.

SEP
01

When a Writer Cleans House

I cleaned house yesterday. For seven hours. A few have expressed their bafflement as to how a house as small as mine could possibly take seven hours to clean, but this was a cleaning the likes of which I have never done in the 5 years I've lived here, at least not all at once. Going through every drawer, cupboard, and closet. Throwing away bags upon bags of crap I don't need, making a pile of stuff to give away, etc. It was quite an undertaking. One that left me exhausted from standing...not to mention lugging heavy bags and boxes up and down the stairs all day. But my house is now so improved, and I'm reveling in the lack of clutter; the improved organization.

Mass organization projects such as these affect me in ways they probably wouldn't if I weren't a writer. On one hand, they cause me to look back. I've been in my house for five years, and as I sorted through the photos, letters, and mementos I've acquired during these years, it was hard not to wax sentimental. A lot of things have gone down, from the most joyful to the most heartbreaking, and it's as if yesterday I relived them all. On the other hand, mass organization projects also cause me to look forward. The jumbo pack of Q-tips I found in the upstairs hall closet (Thank you, Costco) will last me nearly 1000 days, for instance. Almost three years. And I wonder what life will look like then. Will I still be in this house? This city? This job? All I know for sure is I'll be out of Q-tips, but it's a little exciting to think that even as an established adult, there are still unknowns out there; things to figure out, chances to take, trails to blaze--even if we are later to the game than we had always planned on being.

And all this just from cleaning out a closet. No wonder I only do it once every five years.

JUN
17

Seeing the World Through Both my Eyes

I love this commercial so much. And not just because of the piano music. To me, it's about life. Capturing it, sharing it. When you think about all the things we see in our lives, it's simply impossible to preserve all these memories without documenting them somehow. Isn't it?

The other school of thought on this topic can be summed up by John Mayer's Three by Five, a song I've always taken to heart. Because when our focus is on snapshooting our way through life (an event, a vacation, a sunset, whatever), we, in my opinion, get less out of the experience as we are having it.

While at an Indians game this weekend, it was the bottom of the 9th and a win was headed our way. Wanting to capture the winning run and the crowd's response, I readied my phone and managed (after a few dud plays) to hit record at just the right time. Success! Although it occurred to me as the crowd went victory-wild that I had failed to actually watch that final play. I'd been so focused on my little phone and making sure it was positioned correctly that I had to actually ask what exactly had happened, how the run had been scored. In my effort to preserve the moment, I had missed it completely. And I'll never get that moment back. Sure, I have a grainy, unfocused few seconds of footage shot from the upper deck, but I would gladly exchange that for the experience of having actually watched the runner slide into home plate and erupted into cheers with my fellow Clevelanders. Maybe today I finally overcame trying to fit the world inside a picture frame. Take it away, Mr. Mayer.

FEB
11

Eternal Sunshine

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I exchange Christmas cards with my third grade teacher, and in this most recent card, Mrs. Pace mentioned how much she enjoyed reading 'Schooled.' It always fills me with relief to hear praise from people who are actually mentioned in the book, and I was struck by one comment she made in particular. She said she was impressed by how well I was able to recall not only events from my childhood, but also the feelings those events inspired. It's not that I don't believe everyone has that same ability, but I have definitely come to believe that my temperament and disposition as an introvert, a writer, and a relatively sentimental person helps me in this regard. It's easy for me to look back and pinpoint the events, however minor, that shaped me and my perceptions, just as I can tell you right away when an event or circumstance in my life today is one I will eventually write about and put in a book.

It's a knack that in many ways I consider a gift, although I suppose the downside is that I am perhaps more sensitive than I would like to be. Meaning that sometimes I wish events or memories wouldn't impact me as much as they do, or that I could at least view them with less care and concern--particularly when the event involves how others (or how I assume others) perceive me. That I care too much is probably a weakness that many writers battle, but it ultimately helps the craft. Besides, I'd rather be plagued by a sea of memories and feelings, however unpleasant some of them might be, than to have forgotten the majority of my early experiences. It reminds me of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a great film by the way, where the main character (after choosing to have all memories of his ex erased) must fight to stop the process once he realizes that ridding his mind of the bad memories of their relationship is not worth also eliminating the good ones. It's a movie that makes me think about love and loss, risk and reward (or not), but ultimately one that resonates with the part of me that draws strength and insight (and dynamite book chapters) from even the most unfortunate of experiences. So here's to remembering, feeling, and writing. And also to keeping in touch with your third grade teacher.