What time travel sounds like

Oh how I wish I was in your bedroom right now and could place inside your tiny paper plate ears a pair of plastic headphones so you could close your eyes and hear what time travel sounds like at least once before you die.

Since I can’t or, let’s face it, you won’t let me no matter how nicely I ask or how sane I try to sound, I will settle for the next best thing which is to request that you click through to this link and turn the volume up as high as it will go, press play and close your eyes.

The next 27 seconds is what time travel sounds like; and the three and a half minutes after is best suited for singing out loud. No, not lip syncing, but, singing out loud. Or (this part is optional and only for the truly possessed) pretend you are slow dancing — with me, or with someone else not me, someone you won’t let put headphones into your ears even though you really want to because you think she’s a little off or a little too sorrowful or a little off.

Close your eyes. Then, cross your arms. Rest your hands on opposite shoulders. Sway back and forth. Back and forth. Until

The soundtrack of home

I am not a music-while-I-work kinda girl. While writing or editing, music typically gets in my way. Instead of focusing on the project, I’ll often sing along or find my mind wandering back to a time before.

This morning, however, as I sat in front of the screen, I realized I needed music to kickstart my week and opened YouTube whose imaginary panel of advisors recommended a few playlists to me based on my previous choices; but all were from albums I knew would distract me from the careful proofreading I was required to perform.

The last option in the row of recommended playlists was one I haven’t listened to … in almost forever: America’s Greatest Hits.

(courtesy Wikipedia)

(courtesy Wikipedia)

I recognized the album cover as one that used to be among my parents’ combined record collection that moved to the finished basement once they purchased a stereo with a cassette player for the living room. I remember only really discovering these records, though — Kansas, The Eagles, The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Jim Croce — the summer I turned ten and went off to sleepaway camp. Music, from that summer on, became the soundtrack to my memories. Music became longing.

That summer, now that I think about it, was also when I first discovered my own taste for music. It’s not that I didn’t appreciate music before — some of my earliest memories are singing harmonies in the backseat of my father’s car with my brother. But what I remember about discovering the record collection is understanding that music is not just words and melody strung together; it’s a legacy. There was a reason why certain songs ended up sung around a campfire. There was a reason why I laid on my back on the Berber carpet in the basement while Photographs and Memories crackled over the speakers, filling me with a certain sense of sorrow.

The only title familiar to me on America’s Greatest Hits.before I pressed play was “A Horse With No Name.” But as I faced the screen to review the manuscript I was working on and as the album moved along, I found myself humming along knowingly from time to time — curious that I had stumbled upon an album that was both surprisingly and pleasantly familiar, but neutral enough to allow me to stay focused on the task at hand. (Ironic since many of the songs are, indeed, about longing.)

This music, unlike my mixed tapes which seem to always jolt me back, kept me rooted in the present, but still subtly soothed by the comforts of home. Not the home I am often drawn back to — the emotionally-charged home of Milan Kundera or Proust. Home without the overwhelming nostalgia. Without the compelling need to look back.

We remember so little even as we remember it all

I am minorly obsessed with memory. Why we remember. What we remember. How we go about retaining and recalling memories. Which of our senses most trigger memory — is it smell? Is it sound?

I am not as obsessed as I could be. Most of the books I want to read about memory are still holding their place on my “want-to-read” shelf on GoodReads. The closest I do get to studying the topic is scanning every single article Maria Popova posts on the subject on BrainPickings and examining — both critically and creatively — my own memory and others’.

Generally, when I am not worrying about the future, I’m thinking about the past.

Based on conversations with friends, I get the sense that my memory is comparatively vivid and richly detailed. I can remember incidents as far back as age four; I remember the song I slow-danced to with my first camp boyfriend. I remember when I saw Jurassic Park, with whom, and at which theater.

But while I’ve forever prided myself on possessing accurate knowledge of when I did things and how and with whom and in what season and to what soundtrack … I’m beginning to understand just how inaccurate and filled with holes my memory is even in its breadth of knowledge. Moreso, I’ve started to recognize a pattern about what I can remember and what I can’t.

For instance, I remember scene well. My visual memory is stunning. But I get lost trying to conjure up anything physical — pain or pleasure. I remember sound more than smell. I remember color more than texture.

I remember sitting in the backseat of my dad’s green fiat convertible, the top down, the interior beige, my hair blowing back as we all sang — me, my dad, and my brother — at the top of our lungs Little Honda .

First gear, it’s all right (Honda, Honda, go faster, faster)
Second gear, I’ll lean right (Honda, Honda, go faster, faster)
Third gear, hang on tight (Honda, Honda, go faster, faster)

But I can’t remember if it was cold back there or comfortably breezy. What season was it? Early summer? I can’t remember if it was when my dad had a mustache or not. I can’t remember where we were going or what I was wearing.

Likewise, I can recall many a ride shotgun in my high school boyfriend’s used light blue BMW, a hand-me-down from his uncle. I remember the dashboard and pulling a Van Morrison compilation out of a gray canvas cassette holder and pushing it into the tape deck. But I can’t recall more than a handful of kisses — even though I must have kissed him thousands of times during our 10 year on-again off-again relationship.

The list goes on. I remember an Elvis Costello concert in Maryland the summer of 1994 (Crash Test Dummies opened). I remember it because said high school boyfriend had returned from a semester abroad in Israel and this concert was our first attempt at being “just friends.” But until I Googled Elvis Costello Concert Tour 1994, I couldn’t remember a single song on the playlist that night. And when I read the playlist, I still couldn’t recall hearing any of them or cheering for them or singing along.

I remember a fight with my brother in an airport in Denver. I remember he threw a glass rootbeer bottle at me, but I can’t remember over what we disagreed.

Then there was the time I first saw my now-husband. I can picture him sitting in a conference room in the JCC in Cherry Hill, NJ. I was there with a group of 8 or 9 20-somethings to be interviewed for a position to lead a teen tour to Israel. Get this: I remember the lighting in the room. I remember where I sat at the table in comparison to my future-husband. But I don’t remember his voice that day, what he wore, or any interaction we had.

All this matters because as I track down my memories in an attempt to write memoir — really, in an attempt to understand myself and my life — I find my memories with their limited and unreliable perspective are indeed not memories at all.  I find I understand what Oliver Sacks means when he says, our memories are “not fixed or frozen … but transformed, disassembled, reassembled, and recategorized with every act of recollection.”

All this matters because it is via this patched together quiltwork of recall that we assess and reassess the fabric of our lives. Whether or not we are writing memoir.

As I continue to examine my memory and put it through the hard test of being fact-checked, I find myself re-evaluating who I am and how I got this way.

And I remember it all with a grain of salt.

A list of things I’d rather be doing than frowning

Wiping the dust off an antique mirror inside a shop in Nogales
Kissing my baby on the underside of his left ear
Smelling the crusty old spit-up there
Listening to Van Morrison on the tape deck of the blue BMW

Opening that teeny tiny folded up love note with the lift-the-flaps
Chewing Hubba Bubba with one of the Adams
Asking Suzanne to fix my bra strap in gym class
Fun fun fun til her daddy takes the t-bird away

Sipping cider right through a straw
Licking powdered sugar off my fingers
Baking chocolate chip cookies for a sundae
Memorizing the lyrics to Don’t Stop Believing

Watching the third season of Lost
Braiding hair, anyone’s hair, but mostly my mother’s
Lying on my right side while my back is tickled, by anyone, but mostly by my mother
When they’d play I’d sing along, it made me smile.

Riding my bicycle down Queen Anne
Jumping off the high dive at Woodcrest Swim Club
Reading Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret
That time Scott dedicated Love Bites

Lying on my back on the rooftop at sunrise at Nimrod
Someone’s basement, an old couch, Good Morning Vietnam
Odd’s or GG Flipps, whichever
Something by Blues Traveler

Swimming from the beach to the floating deck
Choosing Biff or Malibu for my birthday kiss
A wella wella wella uh tell me more
I Will.

Stepping off the bus on Old Route 16
We’ll set the air reverberating with a mighty cheer
Pretending I am psychic
Dreaming the good ones, even if I forget them.