Edition #58: On Memories You Can't Toss
Plus, sex confessions, a cool app to reduce food waste, and the problem with meritocracy
A Note From the Editor
I’ve never been much of a stuff person. In fact, I’ve always been quite the opposite. I love throwing things away and am able to do so with a near serial killer level of detachment. I get great joy out of purging both my wardrobe and my collection of stuff, as though my ability to part with any given object signifies that a small part of my heart has escaped the throws of modern-day capitalism, holding its value in other, more significant places: words scrawled in notebooks, subtle scents, long saved voicemails. But never stuff.
After six and a half months of sleeping in other people’s beds and living out of a carry-on suitcase that was sporadically refilled with seasonally appropriate clothing from my storage unit, I finally moved into my own apartment this week. It sits five floors up on a loud street in the West Village just a few blocks from Washington Square Park. Every night as I lay down to bed I hear a parade of noise outside my window, car horns and conversation, music and shouting. I don’t mind the noise, actually. It reminds me that despite how I’ve come to feel about this period of time, life is still happening somewhere out there. And, I suppose, in here.
There is but one exception to my purging habit: my memory box. I’m not sure when or why I started it, but based on the items inside it must have been several years ago when I began storing bits of my past in the oversized shoebox. I allow myself only this one, compact space to indulge, to attach. There is a tin of M&M’s screen printed with my best friend and her husbands face from their wedding back in 2017, cards from my mother that make my eyes well up with their ordinary kindness (I know you’re having a hard week, it’ll get better), stubs from dates with people whose names I cannot recall, shadows of inside jokes that I am no longer in on. Whenever I sort through the contents of the box I am surprised by the items I chose to keep, but I never throw a single thing away. If it were important enough for me to preserve at one point then it deserves to be saved. Maybe one day I’ll look at that scrap of paper and its significance will come rushing back, transporting me to some point in the past, back to when I was 23 and living in a crowded house in Maui or to that dimly lit neighborhood bar in the East Village.
I’m getting to know this new space that is mine in the way you get to know a lover, feeling it out tentatively in quiet moments, letting it reveal itself in a way that feels natural. The dark wooden floorboards in the living room are slightly sloped so that if I were to release a marble near the wall it would roll to the middle of the floor. The bathroom has a beautifully clean tub with a detached contraption for a plug. As I’ve soaked in Epsom salt every night this week, the lights off, a three-wick candle flickering beside me, I’ve imagined the people who must have lived in here before I did. People from decades ago, for whom this plug contraption might have been the latest technology. I didn’t notice these hints of the apartments age when I first came to see it — I was distracted by the white walls and the grey tiled backsplash in the tiny kitchen — but they are quickly becoming to be my favorite parts of the space. With every discovery of character I feel delighted. I wonder what else I will find as I continue to live here, what small imperfections are waiting for me.
I began to unpack my boxes on Monday, reuniting with my things after so many months away. While I may not be a stuff person, I held my breath with every swipe of scissors over tape. I craved access to my full wardrobe. I wanted to have spices to pull from when I cooked, to know where the cumin and the cutting board were kept without having to ask. Every sealed box felt like a Christmas present, tantalizing me to tear it open and rejoice over its contents. When I got to the third or fourth box, I realized this would not be Christmas. There would be no presents, no rejoicing.
Instead, my discoveries took on a morbid quality, like going through a loved one’s belongings after their funeral and piecing together who you thought they were in comparison to the stuff they left behind. I found the blouse that I wore to my last first date, souvenir cups from New York City events I had been proud to attend, a fancy tin of Herbs de Provence, the kind you have to pinch with two fingers to sprinkle over your eggs, and it was all so unexpectedly painful. Every item was seeping with a memory that I didn’t care to recall. I felt impossibly distant and close to myself at the same time, sifting through the previous version of me while recognizing that many of these things would not carry over. Too much time has passed, too much has changed. I have changed.
Slowly, the things I once loved were sorted into piles: to donate, to toss, to store in the back of my closet for another day. Only a scant few boxes of belongings made their way into my new space. I think it’s better that way.
Memories are never fully erased, as it turns out, they are only hiding. Sometimes they hide in plain sight; a memory box, a necklace worn close to the heart, a framed photograph, but other times they conceal themselves in the cracks of daily life. A forgotten note saved in your phone, the smell of your old perfume lingering on a winter coat, the peeling pan that produced stacks of pancakes on lazy Sunday mornings. And while you may prefer to erase these memories entirely, to toss out their relics before they have the chance to remind you who you’ve been, they will always find their way back to you. You will be forced to look at them, to hold them, to feel them. Then you can put them away. You can move on.
Cheers, my dears, and as always thank you for reading. What level of attachment do you have to stuff? Have you experienced the sensation of particular objects, ordinary or extraordinary, triggering memories?
Three Pieces of Content Worth Consuming
Note: I haven’t spent much time reading new content this week, but enjoy a few of these older pieces that haven’t yet made thier way into a previous edition.
We Talked to Hundreds of People About Sex, and Two Things Struck Us. I've always been a fan of Shaina Feinberg's creative work, and this compilation of sex confessions is no different. It felt like an exercise in destigmatization (of talking about sex, which still carries a certain weight even in 2021) and in vulnerability. Reading these people share small stories about thier sex life made my shoulders relax. I can directly relate to a handful of them and I bet you can, too. Imagine how much less damaged or shameful we might feel if we approached the taboo subject more often, with more openness.
“I’m a kissing virgin and a virgin-virgin. I’m just now getting all my 17-year-old firsts in: hand-holding, cuddling, masturbation. I grew up Catholic, and I always blamed it on that. But that’s not quite it. Something in my body feels excruciatingly vulnerable when it comes to being physical with another person, and I’m still not sure what that’s about.”
‘Rent-a-Person Who Does Nothing’ in Tokyo Receives Endless Requests. One man in Japan has escaped his office job and uncovered a booming business that requires him to do nothing but hang out with strangers. The man in question, who offers his "do nothing" services for hire, does do something — he hangs out with people, eats or drinks with them, offers a neutral listening ear and bits of advice when he feels like it. I love this concept though it feels a bit sad, too. It seems to be proof that sometimes all people want is to feel acknowledged rather than judged, even if it is by someone they don’t know.
What’s Wrong With the Meritocracy. Meritocracy, a cornerstone of the good old American dream, is a topic I never tire of reading about. Americans seem to have a special place for this ideological system in which your results are a direct reflection of your actions, and thus, of your ability to harness what we consider the endless opportunity this country provides. Meritocracy wants you to believe that here, anyone can become rich and successful, though it has become abundantly clear in the past few years that that isn’t really the case. I loved reading about this Harvard philosipher’s take on meritocracy and the psychological effects this false promise has on different socioeconomic groups.
“Both rich and poor parents tell their kids, if you try hard enough, you can achieve your goals. For the upper strata, things may work out, but for the downwardly mobile blue collar and poor, there’s a Catch-22. If they fail to reach their goals — which a torpid economy almost guarantees — they blame themselves.”
Perhaps You Should…
Delight Yourself With Some Old Pastries
From the moment I read about Too Good To Go, I knew I would be hooked. I tried the app for the first time yesterday and am already itching to use it again. The concept is simple: restaurants and bakeries often produce more food than they can sell and are left with a surplus of items at the end of the day, which they often toss out. Through this app you can purchase a surprise bag of leftover goodies from a local restaurant to pick up at the end of the day, thus giving yourself a wonderful treat and reducing food waste. Some places, like the bakery I ordered from yesterday, give you a bag of assorted pastries, but others offer full meals that all fall within the $4-$6 range. You can read more about how it works here.
**Bonus Content** (How Bad Is Your Spotify?)
If you haven’t tried this AI yet, you should — it will rip apart your music tastes via your Spotify listening habits. Also, if anyone would like to make me a playlist that doe not contain a single Taylor Swift or Mac Miller song, I would gladly accept it.
A Quote From A Book You Should Read:
“People get rid of plenty when they move — sometimes they’re changing not just places but personalities.”
-The Nickle Boys by Colson Whitehead
This newsletter is best served with a side of conversation, so drop your opinions, reflections, and thoughts in the comments below and let’s get to talking.
Or, share the most thought-provoking piece from today’s edition with someone you love, then call them up to discuss, debate, and percolate. As a wise woman once said, “Great minds discuss ideas.”