Life

Biography of some blue jeans

Adopted ca 2006 from a consignment store in Chicago, on Southport.

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Meant to be “dressier” jeans due to original darker wash and stiffer denim.

Heritage: “Made in the United States,” likely one of the last pairs of Luckys to carry that distinction.

Worn: everywhere, from dive bars to wine bars to bicycle seats to ferry seats to porch stoops.

Worn: any time, from first thing in the day to late, late at night and into the early morning and then into the next day again.

Worn: with polo shirts, button-down shirts; T-shirts; sweaters. Flip flops; heels; boots; flats; bare feet; sneakers of all stripes and spots.

First tear: down around the cuffs, from scuffing along in flip flops.

First wear: Front right pocket, top edge, from rooting for change and keys.

Most obnoxious tragic flaw: zipper placket hopelessly crunched to the side, so as to expose brass of zipper. Sigh.

Second visible wear: Zipper placket, from constant tugging back into place.

Second and third tears: Knees

Fourth and fifth tears: Thighs

Sixth, inexcusable, mysterious tear: Crotch.

Diagnosis of sixth tear: consistent right-leg-over-left-leg crossing, and accompanying, inevitable slide down the seat.

Legacy: Mournfulness. Where will I find another pair?

Do you have a favorite item you’d write a biography for? Tell me in the comments below. 

 

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Brain Flotsam from the past

Early this morning, while I was walking the dog, a kid on a bike with a loaded-down backpack rode by on the way to school. It recalled for me the sense I had on my own bike, riding the very same road, on the way to the high school a mile down the road.

I never felt rushed, I remember that. I remember feeling free, and like I knew I was going to get there. (I felt the same thing walking, but I usually walked home with a friend. And I do remember also the little frisson I got when some guy friend pulled up in either a black Mustang or a Jeep and asked if I wanted a lift (those were the two best, in my experience). What a thrill, to be part of this landscape. How cool it was, to be in a scene I’d seen so many times before on television. The stuff of dreams, I tell you.

Place can often shake loose so many memories. It's worth having a wander in your old haunts.

Place can often shake loose so many memories. It’s worth having a wander through your old haunts.

Last week I was with a friend at my high school track. We were doing laps. Laps upon laps, terrifically painful rotations from a workout from my coach (triathlon, not high school). Afterwards, we took a walk through campus. I was surprised to feel how many memories just being in those places shook loose. The students with the formaldehyde cats; the argument I had with a guy who was running for class secretary, or something like that, against me (he won); the place I was confronted about losing a book a fellow student had just loaned me–I’ll never forget the hurt look on his face.

And then, recently, I’ve been remembering some things my brother said to me when he was older, about some things that happened when we were very very young:

  • “You know when you guys used to put the french fries in my burger so I’d eat the burger first? Well, I always knew what you were doing.”
  • “Hey. I always knew those weren’t Scooby Snacks.”
  • “Remember when you were cutting my hair with the clippers? And then you went, ‘Oops!’ and walked away? Yeah.”

What places shake loose memories for you? Tell me in the comments below.

 

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

A tiny little rant

Generally, it’d be time for a Brain Flotsam post. But today all I can think of are two radio advertising spots I heard early this morning as I drove my poor hound to have a fractured tooth extracted. (I am sure this added to my consternation.) They were so insidious that they have colored everything I have done so far today.

The first was a spot from Jimmy John’s sandwiches, starring their “fast talker,” who I guess is hired because he’s fast enough to mirror their speedy delivery. The guy delivers to a dog house, where there’s a guy who’s been relegated to…uh, the dog house, by his wife. And, oh, it’s funny because “Thank goodness she can’t throw a lamp that far.” The spot ends with the sound of a shattering lamp.

The second was a spot from Hooters, starring a girl who happens to win the NCAA March Madness bracket because she’s picked all the winners according to how cute their mascots are.

These two commercials pissed me off for three reasons:

  • They’re doing nothing to sell the product. You want me to be a customer? Show me how good your product is.
  • They use dried-out, idiotic, never-were-true stereotypes of any girl or woman I’ve ever known.
  • They aired back to back, in one of the most expensive time slots of the day.

Like, OMG, aren’t girls FUNNY? They don’t know anything about basketball, so they have to pick the winners according to their FUZZY ANIMALS. Angry women are hilarious! I love it when they hysterically banish their husbands to “doghouses” and throw things out of doors or windows to show their displeasure!

Look, here’s the scoop, okay? I don’t care about spectator sports. I like to go to them so I can be with my friends. Some sports I truly enjoy the beauty of: I like baseball for its chess-like strategy; I like basketball for its eerie silence; I like hockey for…I don’t know why I like hockey. But I’m not about to play the sports version of Dungeons and Dragons if I’m laying real money down on the game, and frankly, I’m much more interested in sports I can actually participate in, and not on a fantasy level.

 

I could go on and on here, about why these spots are so wrong, but really the point is two-fold: Advertisers, if you’re going to shell out good money, be smart about it. Don’t buy asshole copy. That’s just sheer laziness.

And the other half of the point? Well, that should be obvious: I am so. damn. tired. of hearing these same tired tropes over and over. It’s 2016. Women do more than scream and flail when a monster crosses the screen; we’re more likely than not to pull off our sensible heels and poke its eyes out, or just use our perfectly manicured thumbs. Worried about “the doghouse” when we’re mad at you? Don’t worry; we’ll probably just leave and go to the bar so you can sit there by yourself and think about what you’ve done, and then ignore you for the rest of the night.

These things–these commercials–have to go away. I find them idiotic and offensive, both to my intelligence as a consumer and as a woman.

I had to get that off my chest. Somehow, I don’t feel better. And oh, look, I just smashed a gnat into my keyboard. Awesome.

And now, back to your regularly scheduled programming.

 

 

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

I’m Passionate About…Professional Loafing

A little while ago I wrote a post for the great people over at WriteByNight.net about maintaining “balance” in a writer’s life. So much of what we do as writers is grey area: “drinks with friends” could just as easily be work-drinks, since you’re probably going to spend some time moaning about your writing anyway; seeing a movie, you might suddenly find yourself thinking about just how that plot twist happened…even something as mundane as going for a walk might turn into a short story. It’s easy to work all the time.

photo: Michael Regan/Getty

Balancing a writerly life can sometimes feel like this. Photo of Gabby Douglas: Michael Regan/Getty

So I advocated exactly the opposite of balance. Let yourself fall off the wagon, I said, for an hour a day, or a whole day every week. Just slack off, do nothing, watch reruns of old TV shows (I’m working my way through “Quantum Leap” right now, in fact). I said it would refresh your head, and thus, provide the balance we so desperately seek.

I have a lot of thoughts about the way we work today. We’re in this age where so many people say to just-graduated college students, “Find something you’re passionate about, and you’ll never work a day in your life.”

Part of that is true: You really will never work a day in your life if you love what you do. You’ll feel like the hours zip by if you’re working on something you’re really passionate about. I’m lucky: I feel like this a lot. But I have a big beef with that sentiment: A lot of people never discover what it is they’re passionate about. Then they spend a lot of time casting for what it is they love to do, rather than practicing it.

I have advice for them, and it might seem backwards: Find something you’re willing to work at, hour after hour, day after day, year after year. That’s what you’re passionate about. That’s what you get up in the middle of the night for.

Me? I’m passionate, it turns out, about slacking off. Let’s have a look. Here is a list of the things I like to do and have regularly indulged in over the past month:

  • Eating nuclear colored, complex foods with unpronounceable ingredients. (Why, this morning I had a Cadbury Egg for breakfast.)
  • Chatting with my friends, ad nauseum, either via letters, Gchat, facebook chat, or anything else.
  • Reading the Internet. Blog posts, news digests, web comics, anything. (This morning I read an article about diversity in publishing and one about the disappearance of Richard Simmons before 6 AM.)
  • Messing around outside, mooning at the trees and the sky.

Let’s be realistic: Obviously I never graduated from high school. I’m still eating Cheetos, passing notes, reading like a magpie collects shiny bits, and playing in the dirt.

Me. At the beginning of my slacker career.

Me. At the beginning of my slacker career.

But I’ve had to work at it. It’d be disingenuous to say I have this terrible urge to Be Responsible, or whatever, all the time, but it is true that took me a long time to figure out just what kind of slacking off works for me. You gotta be intentional about this kind of thing, you know.

(I should note that I wasn’t deprived, or anything, as a child.)

(N.B. At a certain point in time I had this overwhelming urge to figure out how to become a professional loafer. But even that was inspired by something I read.)

Reading this book helped me to clarify my goals.

Reading this book helped me to clarify my goals.

I think this mastery of loafing makes me a better person. It makes me a better writer, a better worker, a better friend. Is that weird?

I can’t be bothered to think too hard about it. Quantum Leap awaits.

 

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Brain Flotsam 5

Welcome to brain flotsam, the weekly column where I tell you about some stuff I read, saw, or otherwise encountered.

A woman down the street from us waves with both arms when she sees us walking the dog. I like it when people wave with both arms. It seems so happy! enthusiastic! I think I may adopt this from now on.

This important opinion article, from a female firefighter, made me recall my own childhood. Apparently we tell our girls to “be careful” four times as often as we tell our boys. It’s making me check the way I think: Why do I constantly remind myself to be careful? Total situational awareness is one thing. Over-caution is another. Societally-created over-caution is yet another beast, and I’ll keep on fighting it within myself.

Last week, though, I caroomed down the Claremont Wilderness Trail on my bike with something like 10% brake functionality. Maybe I shouldn’t have gone out that day, since I’d already noticed they were soft. Hmmm.

I started re-reading Stephen King’s It recently. I’m reasonably sure I read it in high school, which is when one reads Stephen King books, after all. You guys. This book is remarkable, in aspiration and scope and sheer complexity. Six characters, all fully fleshed out by partway through; flashbacks that all totally make sense. Plus, somehow, proving to me once again that Stephen King really is a master at character above all else, the suspense of this thing lies not so much in the supernatural, but in the humanity of what is ostensibly the subplot.

It

On another note, I stopped reading a book recently, too: It’s called Look Who’s Back, and it presumes that Adolph Hitler somehow wakes up again in 2011 on a patch of grass in a Berlin park. After some bumbling around, he gets his own reality show, starts influencing people, and…and…you might be able to guess why I stopped reading it smack in the middle. *cough* Art imitating life, anyone? Still, it was entertaining for as long as I could stand it.

LookWhosBack

I also went to The Getty with my friend Jen. I hadn’t been there in ages. I like it for its collection, for the fact that it’s free, for the exhibitions it draws from its research department–and also, for the weather that sometimes slides up the hill and only up the hill, leaving the rest of LA seemingly alone. So cool.

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Plus, I read this curatorial note at an exhibit on illuminated manuscripts: “Turbans and a camel add an exotic air.” You know, as they would, unless you lived someplace where turbans and a camel were normal. Then you’d have to find some of those Hot Dog on a Stick costumes to add an exotic air with. You know?

hotdog

(photo: LasVegas.net)

Later on that night we went to an L.A. Kings’ game. There were lots of flashing lights.

I am such a dork.

That’s it for this week. See you next week!

 

 

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

#45daysof, or Adam Kimble in Claremont

This weekend we had visitors.

They were unexpected and joyous and dashed about our house, a little group of sleek-headed, very effective, very friendly otters. (I have established this week that otters are not naturally friendly. They are cute for the sake of survival. But that is another post.)

Well, three of them were sleek. The last, standing head and shoulders above me, was one Adam Kimble, and he was not sleek. He is bearded and bushy and grinny, all teeth and goodwill, and he is, even as we speak, running across America in an attempt to break the current Guinness World Record.

This is Adam at the Gobi March last year.

This is Adam at the Gobi March last year. (photo: Adam Kimble)

Adam is not an ultramarathoner, historically. He only came onto the scene two years ago, but since then, he’s placed in the top ten several times, and last year, he won the famed Gobi March. He’ll take 45 days to run across the U.S., and if he does it, he’ll be the the first person ever to break the GWR, besting the current record by a day and a third. (That record has stood for 36 years, and it’s been challenged a handful of times.)

Here is where we marvel at the fortitude of a guy who’s setting out to break a world record. And then we marvel at the fact that Adam will have to average 68 miles a day in order to make his preferred time. And then we think about the organizational skills of Adam’s core team of five people, who will manage everything from his nutritional intake to his social media presence.

But really, as I look back on our weekend with Team Bearded Sole, three things strike me:

1. I have cool friends. We got to hang out with Adam and his mates this weekend because Josh, one of their crew, is a friend of mine from ShelterBox. Although I’m never surprised by how awesome my friends are, I am always pleased to discover more great people because of them. Josh will be with Adam the entire trip. You can read more about him here.

2. Niceness is underrated. So many times when we meet people, we look for different things to say about them: “She’s sharp!” “What a striking look about him.” “Interesting background,” we might say. I don’t think I’ve heard someone say, for a long time, anyway, that someone they’ve just met is nice. I love nice. We should all be nicer. Team Bearded Sole is definitively, fantastically, nice peeps, from conversational skills to manners to all-around greatness to be around.

3. Forty-five days is a long-ass time. When I was training for Ironman, I thought to myself, what am I going to think about for those 16 hours they allow me on the course? And when we were training (I think Ironman is my biggest commitment yet), I always knew there would be a day off in the training schedule coming soon. I have never done anything hard for 45 days in a row.

So I’m signing up to “follow” Adam on his 45-day quest. Every day, today and for the next 44 days, I will produce a watercolor drawing of some sort. (Look for the hashtag, #45daysof, at Instagram and Twitter.)

I think Adam is after living the best life he can. He wants to inspire others to do the same. I also think that, in order to reach this best life, you sometimes have to do things that are a little bit hard, even if you naturally love to do them. So I will try my hand at this, and see what outs.

For Adam, it may be the besting of a Guinness World Record. For me, it may be a pile of 45 crap drawings. Or, it might be some gained watercolor skills. Either way, it’ll be fun.

Which, incidentally, seems to be the other part of this trek across the United States. Just in case, you know, you were wondering what it would be like to spend 45 days, doing something you love, with some close friends in an RV, mucking across a great, wide-open country.

Run, Adam, run. We’re with you.

Would you like to join me in #45daysof? Pick something you’d like to do for 45 whole days. Make it a goal. Tell me in the comments below. 

This is Adam's route. You can live-track him from his web site.

This is Adam’s route. You can live-track him from his web site.

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Brain Flotsam 3

Welcome back to the weekly digest of things I saw, heard, or encountered this week that I thought you might like, too!

Check this awesome museum out: It’s the museum of endangered sound. Yes, sounds like the fax shriek, the AOL sign-in, and other things guaranteed to bring you back in time. via Stefan Bucher.

I liked these New York steps the way they were when I used to live at the top of them.

This cover, of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” from Linkin Park. What I love about this is how much the crowd gets into the song, singing along with the chorus. Some music transcends genre.

We went to visit Monterey this weekend, and checked out Heart Castle along the way. Here are some faces I noticed at the castle:

By the way, Hearst collected sarcophagi. What a weirdo. More importantly, the architect for Hearst Castle was Julia Morgan, one of the U.S.’s first female architects. Very cool.

And then we went to the aquarium. Otters. Octopuses. Lovely views of the water. And I bought this book, all about the sea. Stay tuned for a capsule review over at Tahoma Literary Review at the end of this month. sea

That’s all for this week. What did you see, encounter, hear, read?

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Brain Flotsam 2

Stuff I read, saw, or encountered over the last week:

  • This pretty important, and revealing, post from author Wendy J. Fox on how many books she’s actually sold. (h/t Jen Dawn Brody)
  • These great photos from Ellis Island, ca 1900, digitized for the first time:
  • Bruce Lee’s personal manifesto (click the photo to read):
  • bruce lee

 

  • A fascinating story of what might have been, from Robert Kerbeck. It involves O.J. Simpson and an exercise tape.
  • My friend Josh is crewing for this guy as he runs across the country in 49 days. This is pretty bad-ass.
  • “Wist” is not a word. It should be, because sometimes you are wistful, and what is that if not full of wist???
  • Cool name of the week: “Drinkwater.” But not cooler than some of the names we encountered in Malawi:
    • Precious Bicycle
    • Lovemore Jones
    • Fanny Friday
    • Just Now Kolosi
  • Book I read this week: Jo Nesbo’s _The Snowman_. It was effing exhausting and I don’t need to read another Harry Hole novel anytime soon. (I’ve read two so far.)
  • Finally, today is the Iowa Caucus. Every election year I have to hunt down an article like this so I can re-educate myself on what the hell that means. Gah.
  • Okay, fine, let’s end on a better note. Here’s a brick in a washing machine on a trampoline. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=779fMc8ubOo
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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

All Your Creature Comforts are Relative

Last month we went back to Malawi, for a check-up on how beneficiaries of ShelterBox’s kit are doing, and for an overview of how the country is recovering.

I appreciate the ShelterBox deployments in part because they give me perspectives on other countries and cultures that I wouldn’t get as a normal tourist. I get to meet folks on their ground, witness what their lives used to be like, the lives they’re striving for. All disaster-landscapes look the same, but it’s often in these hard times that you really get to meet a culture, see how they interact with each other. We’re definitely not meeting them in their normal lives, but we are meeting them in their communities.

It wasn’t until this last deployment that I had it thrown into sharp focus what it might really mean to live their lives.

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In the first place, I got giardia when I got home. I mean, I probably got it in Africa someplace. But those little flagellated protozoa didn’t make themselves known until four or five days after I landed, when I was busily trying to do real-life things like writing jacket-copy for my forthcoming novel (that’s not real life, is it? Is it?) and paying bills and done with immediate deployment-aftermath things, like a lot of sleep, and sushi and salad, and laundry. Very very annoying.

I was laid up on the couch for five days. I toughed it out for two days before my body got sick of Kaiser-helmeted parasites ramming into each other and into the walls of my guts, and I finally caved to antibiotics. (I’m well on the mend now, thanks.)

In the second place, we spent three days in a place where it was up to 111° F (that’s 44° C) in the shade. And then, when we got back to our very poorly ventilated rooms, it was maybe a skosh cooler, but not by much. It was so hot that for part of the time I slept sitting up, so as to minimize contact of myself with, well, anything. It was so hot that I became irrationally annoyed at the silicone hair tie around my wrist, convinced that it was blocking pores that would otherwise be making everything cooler.

And that’s when I started thinking about my Creature Comforts kit. It’s a little pouch I take with me on every airplane ride, mostly because I’m lazy as sin and can’t be arsed to stand up and dig in my overhead baggage compartment. When I board the plane, I immediately unpack this little pouch, a litre bottle of water, and some food, and then I don’t have to mess with my bag for the rest of the flight. Here’s what’s in it.

creaturecomforts

 

These are some of the things that make my life a little better when I’m traveling. (Not pictured: Wet Wipes, because I used them all, and who needs to see a photo of Wet Wipes, anyway?)

But then, when I was lying there in my room, so hot I couldn’t sleep and practically gasping for air flow; and again when I was lying on the couch, moaning out loud to myself and imagining a Satanic game of bumper cars with parasites in my gut, I realized, damn it all to hell, this is life for some people. This is permanence for nearly everyone we meet whilst we’re on deployment. And when we go back home, to clean water out of the tap and air conditioning and fresh fruit and veg every single day, they still go on, getting sick from drinking river water, or living in mud-brick houses that, while staying cool, don’t change the fact that you still have to go outside and work in the fields, in 111° temperatures, every damn day. Every. Damn. Day.

We help a little bit. We provide water filters, so people can stop getting sick from the drinking water. (Families who live near boreholes can use chlorine dispensers that purify the water.) And our kit comes with solar lights, so folks can actually see what they’re doing inside their windowless homes (so made because it’s hard to make windows in a rush-grass home, and also, windows let in heat), and when they walk out to their latrine or bathroom at night. Our kit comes with blankets, fuzzy groundsheets, kitchen sets. Mosquito nets, so your family doesn’t get chewed up by mosquitos and then get sick with malaria.

You know. Things that make life a little bit better. Every damn day.

This isn’t one of those posts that’s all like, Oh, I feel so guilty that I’m so privileged, because it’s not like that. Some of us are lucky to have been born into better circumstances, places with more opportunity, or different standards of living. We can’t change that; no sense in regretting it.

But every once in awhile, you get floored by something like extreme heat, or giardia, and you realize just how much bigger our world really is. And, more importantly, how little we really know, and experience, in our limited lives. And then, on the heels of that, how lucky we really are, and how nice it is to be able to hope for more, for others and for ourselves.

That, too, is a creature comfort.

Tell me, what are your creature comforts? Let me know in the comments below. 

 

 

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

“Sparking Joy” is code for something else.

I’ve just finished reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo.

I haven’t yet begun to tackle the first step, which is to gather all of your clothing into one place so that you can touch and hold each item before deciding whether or not it “sparks joy.”

That’s not in quotes because I don’t buy the concept. I get it. It’s just that I have to do this with all of my clothes, all of my books, all of my ephemera, and I can’t seem to detach myself from the “joy” that’s tied up in “memories.”

Marie Kondo would say that we need to drill down to the primary purpose of a very thing. Letters, for instance, serve their purpose the moment you open them, read them, reply to them. After that, there’s no reason to hang on to them. (The writers among us are shrieking, I’m sure.) I’m also willing to bet that Marie Kondo does not keep diaries. (I picture her mental space being clean, uncluttered, perfectly Zen-like in that she concerns herself with the here and now. This sparks a moment of envy for me. What must it be like, to feel so unfettered to what’s in the past?)

A partial collection of my diaries. Marie Kondo would say to dump them all.

A partial collection of my diaries. Marie Kondo would say to dump them all.

But maybe there’s room for interpretation. Take, for instance, this shirt:

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Me and Pops in Buenos Aires. Credit: George Chen

 

I love this shirt. In fact, I am wearing it as I type. It sits snug around my biceps when the sleeves are pushed up, and more snugly across my shoulders than it used to (I have been swimming a lot). It has two chest pockets that I never use, because who wants lumpy boobs? It has tabs for when I want to fold the sleeves up and a tiny check pattern that I find both utilitarian and charming. Its button placket never ever really lies flat, no matter how many times I run the iron over it. (Which is, admittedly, almost never, because this is a shirt that looks better when it is rumpled.) It has good cuffs on it that I don’t button. I am more apt to let them flap, or roll the sleeves up partway, because this is also a shirt that feels better when it is half-done, like brownies and blondies: Better when they are half-baked.

My point is this: This is a shirt that sparks joy, but only partly because of its very being. It sparks joy because of where it’s been.

This shirt has been with me to at least eight different countries. I almost always pack it. It is far from being the shirt that makes the most sense: On a recent trip to Cornwall, England, where it rained down my neck and sideways at least four hours of each of the last 9 days I was there, it didn’t dry until I found a tumble dryer. And who takes a button-down traveling, anyway?

Marie Kondo, she of the anthropomorphic bent, might also say that the shirt likes to go traveling. That it finds its way into my baggage each time, that I would miss it if it weren’t along. I like this idea, but–it complicates things.

Because this shirt, and others items in my closet, carries with it joyful memories. In the photo above, it was in Argentina, then Antarctica, with my dad. In other photos in my facebook feed it is in Taiwan, looking cheery in a café next to a friend I hadn’t seen in 20 years; it is in Death Valley, at our wedding rehearsal dinner; in Claremont, hosting a dinner for friends; on a beach near Falmouth, Cornwall, looking sheepish because its fabric has failed to conceal the fact that my swimsuit is still wet and so there are embarrassing wet patches over my chest. Oh, well. It was still a damn fine day.

This shirt is almost always a shirt I am looking for. I wear it hiking; I wear it to the pool; I put it on over jeans and I tuck it in when I’m feeling the need to be neater than I usually am. I wear it out to walk the dog and for dinners in. I wear it probably once a week.

Maybe this is what Marie Kondo means by the need to hold each item before you can decide whether or not it sparks joy. Because when I put on this shirt, I imagine I can feel the grit of the Mojave; the crisp starchiness worked into the fabric from sea salt; the smoke from a steak dinner with friends. I think I can smell a story, like they say a dog can construct an entire narrative of who’s been where and where they were before, just from smelling one spot.

Is that joy? Are our memories tied up in each item? Is that a good thing? I’m not sure. But I’m keeping this shirt.

What item do you hang onto for its memories? Tell me about it below. 

 

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.