Sunday, December 31, 2006

Auld Lang Syne.

Amateur night. The night when people put on party hats and act like they can hold their liquor. They hug, kiss, drink, make resolutions, drink some more.

You always know New Year’s Day is approaching because all the TV stations have their “Best of” lists, their hangover suggestions, and their gentle reminders about resolutions. I even saw a sale today – “Let’s resolved to get organized this year honey, go to Home Depot for their big sale.” Jeez.

I find going out for New Year’s is less of a priority. It’s like Valentine’s Day – restaurants pass out noisemakers and cheap champagne, then charge out the wazoo for a fixed menu they produce by the boatload. Crap food dressed up to look nice. I’d rather celebrate at home and save the celebrating for a regular mundane day in early March when I really need it because the winter crazies have hit me hard. Yay, I didn’t kill anyone today, let’s crack open some champagne.

I do have a few memorable New Year’s I’d like down in writing – recorded somewhere so when I’m too old to remember them I can say, “Wow, I did that? Nice.”

So, in no particular order:

New Year’s 1977
It could’ve been any year in the 70’s. As a kid it was the pleading to stay up late, the thrill at watching the ball drop, Dick Clark and “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” all that stuff. I can remember wishing I was there in Times Square because everyone seemed so excited, jumping up and down like they’d won the lottery. And the dancers inside looked blissfully happy, covered in disco glitter, glaring at the camera saying, “Don’t you wish you were me?”

One year my parents went to a party at a friend’s house and got so drunk they couldn’t drive home, so we spent the night. That was the coolest, an impromptu sleepover complete with brunch the next morning. We never got brunch growing up, only on Christmas so that was a special treat.

I remember playing HotWheels with their son Michael, crashing cars on the looping track over and over way into the night. Mom’s friend Tony playing 70’s rock tunes on a reel-to-reel stereo system. Mom was actually really pissed we couldn’t drive home that night, but as a kid you block out the fighting and yelling, you just remember that it felt like an adventure.

Patrick’s House – 1983
My first real boyfriend. I asked to go over his house to watch the ball drop, all so I could have someone to kiss at midnight. And we did, sitting on a beanbag, watching those people freeze their asses off in Times Square and this time girls with big hair and guys in skinny ties dancing to Huey Lewis or something equally terrible. Still looking blissfully happy.

It’s funny about New Year’s, the momentum builds until midnight, you jump, scream, kiss, hug, blow horns and throw glitter, dancing around and then maybe an hour later, it’s like, “What now?”

And the older I get that moment comes sooner and sooner. We stay up, toast another year, flip channels a while, then say, “Okay, off to bed.” Another year down.

I’m digressing. I remember my heart pounding hard right before midnight 1983 because it was the first time ever I had someone special to smooch at the stroke of twelve. I felt like Cinderella. It was so innocent and poignant, just like you’d think it would be. I’ll never forget it.

New York – 1992 (or thereabouts)
The only time I’ve actually gone to Times Square. A bunch of friends racing like mad people for the train from D.C. to New York – a last minute decision because an acquaintance offered us his apartment for the weekend and promised us “Big Fun” and big parties. It was our Sex and the City weekend – just imagine the show and yep, that was us. Throwing party clothes into carryon bags, making sure we would be bejeweled and high-heeled for a big city adventure.

It was cold as shit and because back then it was better to look good than to feel good darling, I didn’t wear a winter coat. Just a navy strapless cocktail dress and sheer wrap. And heels. I looked great walking 40 blocks, my hair big and curly, the only problem was that Kevin thought he could do makeup too and so my eyebrows looked frightening and my lips garish. But the lights in the clubs were dark so that helped things somewhat. I remember Kevin’s friend had so much pancake on he looked like a ghost. I remember my feet hurting and being cold, but I didn’t care. There were no cabs, subways too crowded, but I was in New York baby!

We couldn’t all fit in the one cab we got early on. So Eva in her beehive pompadour lay across us horizontally. We paid the driver $20 extra. Howling with laughter, feet and hands everywhere, the cab driver shaking his head, Eva screaming, "Watch the hair guys, watch the hair!"

First stop? Some club for drinks – but then we went to a loft party – some guy who had helped finance the documentary “Paris is Burning” – I held up a wall and watched Patty Davis act drunk and drape herself all over everyone. And I met Lypsinka – out of drag and looking like a Microsoft nerd in a down vest and jeans. I never would’ve recognized her.

Later we danced in a tight circle at Jackie 60, then eavesdropped on Debbie Harry holding court in the basement. I met Patrick McMullan and Chi Chi Valenti and felt pretty fucking cool since I was a lifetime subscriber to Interview back then. And here I was in Jackie 60! Interview was my guide to life living in little ol’ Richmond, Virginia. I could hardly believe it. It was my own “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” come to life, except better. Because the music was HOUSE.

Glasgow, Scotland - 1995
New Year's here is less of an event than Burns Night (1/25) but it's still pretty nuts. In Edinburgh they do a huge military tattoo in front of Edinburgh castle and pretty much everyone is hyped up on lager. I remember a small flat in Cumbernauld, feeling colder than I could have ever thought possible. We drank a case of Stella Artois that Stewart's brother had brought back cheap from France. Said brother was in Shropshire for the holidays, so we drank his beer. Needless to say he wasn't happy when he got back. I remember fireworks on TV, Deacon Blue on the stereo, cold Stella Artois and chicken pakora to wash it down.

Washington, DC - The Benetton Party - 1994 (?)
My sister, friends and I all drove to Washington from Richmond for the party of the century. The Greek tycoon who owned pretty much every Benetton on the East Coast was holding a thank you/New Year's party for his employees. I was in college, working two jobs, one of them the evening shift at Benetton - folding sweaters and selling sweaters, but constant folding, folding, folding.

This party was incredible, and to this day I wonder how much he spent. An entire office building lobby was set up to look like Rio at Carnivale, and the party came complete with dancers in huge headdresses covered in rhinestones sashaying down a spiral staircase to the music of a steel drum salsa samba rhumba band. I obviously don't know my Latin music, but those guys were great. If you weren't dancing, you were dead. The food was incredible, the desserts were incredible, and the drinks were free. There were miniature musical instruments on five huge Christmas trees and after much champagne, we of course tried to play like the guys on stage. At midnight balloons and confetti fell from the ceiling and I remember all of us looking around stunned, as if to say, "Wow, are we really here?" It felt like Rio. Even today when I think of the top five parties I've ever been to, this one rates right up there. There was nothing cheesy or "New Year's Evey" about it. It was just a great friggin' party.

Chincoteague, Virginia - 2000
My then fiance and I went to Chincoteague for Christmas week - to hike, to drink wine, mainly to rest. Again, it was cold and the beaches were deserted, but we bundled up and hiked around the wetlands, stopping in a Mom and Pop restaurant to dethaw every so often.

The wind felt like a knife across the beach, but the horses, who so often steer clear of the tourists, came right up to us to stare. "Why are you here this time of year you fools?" they seemed to ask. I loved the feeling of the deserted winter beach, no one but us around, drinking from a flask and trying to stay warm.

New Year's Eve found us at the local VFW, guests of the "Year of the Horse Inn" owner, who I guess thought he could make some money out of selling a "Chincoteague New Year" package to tourists. I've discovered he's since sold the B&B and moved elsewhere, but it was a nice little place to stay. We had our own table, party hats and favors, and some really terrible champagne. But the band was good, and the people at our table friendly.

We got totally trashed - I remember going in the bathroom and catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror - New Year's tiara, Mardi Gras beads, plastic champagne flute and a noisemaker all in my hands, purse tucked up under my arm. I cracked up laughing. I looked totally ridiculous and it was fantastic.

Las Vegas - 2002
My husband and I came to Vegas for the first time for some much needed R&R. I always thought we'd "do Vegas" one time and be done with it, but it's so much fun we've been back three more times. Anyway, we chose Christmas week for our first trip, rather than travel to every relative and their mother to visit. Just because we don't have kids, doesn't mean that we're the ones "obligated" to do the visiting. We deserve a great Christmas break too.

I'm digressing again. This trip was fantastic. The food here is fantastic, the gambling and drinking are great, and there is so much to see and do it's like Disney for grownups.

For New Year's we decided to go "Old Vegas" and see Wayne Newton live at the Riviera. Old school Vegas with Old School Wayne. They shut down The Strip and turn it into a giant pedestrian walkway. So while everyone is walking downtown to see the fireworks, we're walking uptown, toward the older casinos to see Wayne. I remember people calling out, "You're going the wrong way!" Yeah, whatever dude, I come from Pittsburgh, land of fireworks.

As we walked, we passed every type of humanity. It was crazier than Times Square. Old people, young kids, teenagers, you name it. This one guy had a plastic glass around his neck that was as tall as he was. One huge daiquiri. When we asked him what it was, he replied, "The best $30 I've ever spent. This here is 100 ounces of happiness." Yeah, and if you drop it, you won't lose any, because it was hanging around his neck on a rope! Truly bizarre, Vegas genius.

We also saw doomsdayers - people in white robes with big signs that said, "The End is Near!" For some reason, I kept thinking of Stephen King's book, "The Stand". Hmmmmm.....isn't Las Vegas the city in that book where "The Dude" appears? I felt for a moment like I was living the book.

Wayne was awesome, but his fans were even better. I didn't bring a camera because I didn't want to carry a purse, and I regret it. We saw an old guy in a brown velvet tuxedo with a ruffled shirt and the most perfectly coiffed combover I've ever witnessed. His date had on a baby-blue evening gown and a tower of black, high hair. Hair so tall and coiled it put Madame de Pompadour to shame. It was better than a David Lynch movie.

You just know this couple spent hours getting duded up and set for their big night out. They sat in the front row and of course Wayne bent down during his show and gave her a kiss. She giggled and blushed like a schoolgirl, and I just howled with laughter. You go girl! In all your finery getting a piece of Wayne!

We saw a guy actually get thrown out of the casino like in the movies and the hubby witnessed a chick pulling a "Britney" because she was too drunk to walk, but that couple was definitely the highlight. As we slowly made our way back downtown, among the literally THOUSANDS of messy drunks (amateurs!) and discarded horns and beads, I kept wishing we'd just stayed at the Riviera. I wanted to soak up more of its "Wayne-ness" and sit and watch the Riviera and its goings on. Not as pretty, not as sanitized, way more interesting. While other people were watching fireworks and Ashanti shaking her booty in front of the Venetian, we got to see some of the real Las Vegas. I mean how much more Vegas can you get? New Year's with Wayne at the Riviera, the same place my parents had stayed in 1973. It was awesome.

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Wednesday, December 27, 2006


I suppose every family has their own embarrassing stories to tell about past Christmases. Or embarrassing relatives, or embarrassing things said after too much eggnog. And maybe not even so much embarrassing – or, okay, embarrassing at the time, but now on reflection, it’s just friggin’ hysterical. Which is why stories like these are often told and retold over and over and over again. It becomes a yearly tradition in and of itself.

One of mine involves my grandpa John. Okay, several involve my grandpa John, because of his penchant for eggnog – more nog than egg, the nog being Jim Beam. Falling into the Christmas tree and knocking it over comes to mind – or holding up one of his grandkids and My Nana hated his love for Jim, and the scolding and yelling involving his holiday cheer continue to remain fond memories – Oh, there she goes again – and there HE goes again. He eventually resorted to hiding his treasure throughout the house – as a teenager I’d try and locate it for obvious reasons. Once I found a pint bottle hidden in the toilet tank – nice and cool from the water. I was completely surprised and had to cover my mouth or else give myself away by howling with laughter. I had some of course – it was a new bottle after all and I didn’t think he’d mind.

Anyway, one of the Christmas traditions we had at Nana’s was that after stuffing our faces, we’d retire to the living room and talk into the wee hours. Often it was the only time we as a family saw each other that entire year so we’d share, reminisce, tell dirty jokes, then laugh some more.

One year, John had had too much nog (imagine that), and so excused himself to go upstairs. A *long* while later, my Dad excused himself to use the downstairs facilities. Before he turned on the light, he heard a loud snore, one to raise the dead. He stared up at the ceiling, shaking his head, muttered, “Damn John…” and turned on the light.

Shortly thereafter he returned to the living room, but didn’t sit down. He remained there silent, until one of us asked, “What is it?”

He replied, “We’re gonna need a couple-a pillows.”

“Huh?” we all responded.

He repeated, “We’re gonna need a couple-a pillows.”

When we still looked perplexed, he added, “John’s asleep in the bathtub.”

And we howled with laughter. So much laughter I know the whole neighborhood heard it. My whole body shook and tears ran down my face. My stomach hurt from the force of it like I’d been punched. It was the best laugh I’ve had before or since. To this day if there’s a problem, I’ll look at my family and say, “We’re gonna need a couple-a pillows,” and the laughter returns.

Now am I retelling this to laugh at my own relative’s expense? Hell no. I don’t write about this to pull any skeletons out, and I certainly don’t judge liquor-related antics, I’ve got too many of my own to do that. It’s not my place to tell tales out of school and maybe people will yell at me for airing laundry better left hidden. My family certainly will. I write about it because I remember it and because dammit, I admire him for his Jim Beam love. Hell, I love it too. He is unapologetic, he’s nonjudgmental, he’s loud and uncouth and who gives a shit. I’m that way too. Good for you John.

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Tuesday, December 26, 2006


Every Christmas I put up my lights. I don't go overboard mind you, but I put up a few. I wrap my stairpost in blue and green ropes, hang colored lights from each window - *colored* lights, not the white ones. Too plain. I throw some colored net lights on the bushes and string a few more blue and white and whatever else is left over from my porch.

I miss the days when all the lights had color and they were big. They had heft. I'm not sure who decided that tiny white lights hung from every window looked like icicles or snow, but they don't. They're just boring.

As a child, that was always my favorite part of Christmas - the lights. Back then you didn't have every estate and park and suburb draping themselves all over and synchronizing the lights to music, and then charging $5 admission (all going to charity of course). The lights were fewer and far between, and that made them seem more special.

The weekend before Christmas we'd always do what I now call our "Whirlwind Tour" of the state, covering about 500 miles and hitting both grandparents' houses in two days. We'd drive back roads (less traffic) and often late into the night. Everyone would be asleep except Dad and me. I'd be looking for lights.

The stretch along Route 17 was good for this. Often the lights would appear as you went up a hill, a little oasis in dark sea. Twinkling, screaming, "I'm here!" We'd drive closer and I'd stare, not wanting to miss a minute. Sometimes it would just be a string or two, thrown over the bushes or winding itself around a tree. But sometimes you'd see a light-up nativity or a reindeer or Santa. The old plastic figures that lit from within, nothing inflatable here. And these little tableau were so far from the road, so you'd have to really keep your eyes peeled - blink and you will surely miss it. And all the lights would be multicolored - like a carnival in the desert.

That was the best part of those long Christmas trips. I remember the car being so cold, to me the entire world was cold and dark. The only sound would be the car and Dad slapping his cheeks to keep himself awake. But then every so often a little pond of lights would appear across the pasture of a farmhouse on some back road somewhere and it would make you smile. It's Christmas!

One display stood out from the rest - so much so that I would beg Dad to take Route 1 home instead of I-95. The car would climb this certain hill just after Massaponax and it was like the whole world exploded. The entire house was outlined in lights, nativity in the yard, Santa, Frosty, everyone was there.

That's the one great house I remember. Now those kinds of displays were everywhere. But as far as I know, at least in that part of Virginia, that was the first. And the best.

One last thing, whatever happend to the candle lights that everyone used to put in their windows? You know, the plastic plug-in kind? Some of them even "flickered" like they were real. I haven't seen one of those in years. I was always impressed by those who had a candle or candle "pyramid" in every window in their house, even the sides and back. Now that's dedication...

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Sunday, December 24, 2006


Christmas Eve at our house always meant one thing - oysters. We couldn't afford oysters at any other time of the year and so the jar would always be brought out Christmas Eve. A big ol' mayonnaise jar full, like one of those jars you use for putting up jelly or okra - whose name escapes me at the moment.

Anyway, we'd eat them every which way - fried, raw, in soup. As a kid, I liked fried best because my dad did them perfectly - just a little breading, not tough, then dipped in cocktail sauce. The more daring of the family would eat them raw - always on a saltine cracker with a drop of lemon juice, then a drop of tabasco. Down the hatch. The kids would scream, "Ewwwwww!" every time Dad ate one of those nasty, slimy things.

Now, of course, I love them. Raw. I've never had them fried again where they were as good as Dad made them. They always end up greasy and tough. I guess memory colors things - they may have tasted like crap back then but I always thought they were perfect. Now I eat them raw - and just raw, not with anything. The best oysters taste like the sea, just a little brine, and they're not fishy, or slimy, or gross. They taste like the ocean. And are perfect with white wine or champagne.

And these days I eat them whenever I can get them fresh - not just on Christmas Eve. And not from a jar either. But I do miss the moment when that jar would come out, because then you would know that Santa was almost here. It must be Christmas Eve because we were having oysters for dinner, yum.

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Monday, December 11, 2006

Cheese Balls.

My mother used to work three jobs at Christmas just so she could buy us extra presents to put under the tree. She had her regular job with Henrico County in Richmond – the Bulky Wase Department. That used to crack me up, my mother worked for the bulky waste department, snicker snicker.

Then just after Thanksgiving she would go work second shift at Ukrop’s grocery in their bakery, icing cakes and making doughnuts I supposed. I was never sure exactly what she did only that she came home very late, looking tired.

Her third job was painting pocketbooks. In the late 70’s the preppy look was in and so were those wooden handle Pappagallo purses. The body of the purse was cloth and the handles were made of wood and clacked together when you closed the purse. The purse body was interchangeable – all you had to do was unbutton it and slip on a new cover. You could have Kelly green to match your espadrilles or red for Christmas, or yellow to match your Izod shirt.

She painted things on the purses to sell at a boutique in the chi-chi West End of Richmond – The Picket Fence. Things like lady bugs and sunflowers, and I remember helping her paint a frog holding a slice of watermelon. Navy blue purse, green frog, red watermelon. The frog was holding up the watermelon slice as if he was Hamlet examining that skull of his friend. Mom would stencil the design, paint it in, and later some preppy lady who lunches would buy it for way too much money.

Anyway, by working three jobs she ensured my sister and I would trot down the stairs on Christmas morning to find the Toys ‘R Us store underneath our tree. During the year we often went without, but at Christmas it was sensory overload – so many toys you didn’t know where to look first. We’d snap our heads around like birds wondering which shiny object to pick up first.

Mom used to go insane with the holiday food as well. I remember waking up at 3am – whenever I wake up in the middle of the night I never look at a clock, it just seems to be 3am to me. Anyway, I would hear her downstairs, cooking, baking, stirring. Smells of gingerbread, sharp, warm, a tangy smell would waft up the stairs – probably what woke me up in the first place. The clanking and clanging of baking sheets being scraped across oven racks. The whirr of the blender blending butter and sugar into a creamy mess. Soft curses being uttered every so often.

Once I slumped down the stairs to tell her to quiet down because the noise was keeping me awake. Yeah, I was a spoiled little shit. But what I found stopped me in my tracks. The dining room and kitchen were a shambles. In my mind it was the middle of the night and so the house must be quiet and empty, every teacup in its place, the table wiped, counters clean, room dark. But here it was bright as day and every surface was either covered in flour or dusted in sugar. Chairs were askew. There were platters and baking sheets on every surface. And everywhere you looked – cookies! Cheese! Food everywhere! My little girl mind was floored. Cookies? Can I have one?

We lived in a 1960’s split-level, so our kitchen and dining room weren’t connected, but there was a long “pass through”. You could sit in the dining room and watch people cooking in the kitchen and hand off any dishes that needed to be put on the table.

Except on this night if you attempted to sit and watch you’d either have your hind end covered in batter or you’d be run over by the tornado that was my mother. It was as if she had taken 5 Vivarin – she was moving so fast it was a blur. I stood there wiping sleep out of my eyes and watched. One minute she was rolling out homemade gingerbread and painstakingly cutting them into men-shapes and giving them eyes and shirt buttons with tiny red-hots, and the next minute she was mixing 4 kinds of cheese and spices for her special homemade cheese balls. No Hickory Farms for this chick, all her stuff was homemade.

In my mind’s eye I see myself hiding on the stair, enveloping myself in the sight before me. The heat coming from the oven is inviting as are the smells of cheddar, Worcestershire sauce, and the warm zing of gingerbread. I want to sneak a cookie really badly but don’t dare. Every cookie is accounted for.

She always made at least 8-10 different kinds, maybe 6 dozen of each? How many cookies is that? Buttery Russian teacakes, gingerbread men, Yo-Yo’s. What are Yo-Yo’s? Two cookies filled with apricot jam to resemble a yo-yo, and very yummy. My favorite? The peanut butter and chocolate cookies. I don’t think they had a special name. Just “Those yummy Hershey kiss thangs you make every year Nan!” Peanut butter dough wrapped around a Hershey kiss, rolled in powdered sugar. Holy crap are they good! I bit into a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup cookie at Barnes & Noble once, and I was transported to 1973. Almost as good, but not quite. Something about biting into a melty Hershey kiss while powdered sugar poofs on your shirt and peanut buttery goodness get all mixed into the equation is just indescribable.

She’d make all of these cookies – not one of them from a box or easy to assemble – then present them as gifts in a tree-shaped glass cookie jar. Each cookie hand-selected and put in the jar and tied with a ribbon. So meticulous and “just so”. But why? Who was all this effort for? You know kids don’t know the difference, that roll of Pillsbury dough from the refrigerator case tastes just as good as long as chocolate is involved.

Lately I wonder more and more what all that extra effort was for. What was she trying to prove? Or was she just creating memories? She certainly created one for me. Every Christmas when I attempt to recreate even a small portion of what she did, I remember. But see, I also remember her being tired all of the time. Every minute of the day she was tired. When I needed to talk, she was too tired. So this is a memory too. Makes you think some.

This year I’m attempting her Russian teacakes. As I stood last night covered in powdered sugar, pulling yet another cookie sheet out of the oven and burning my wrist, I actually looked to the sky and yelled, “How in the hell did you do this every year?” And I swear I could hear her giggling. Good-naturedly of course, but giggling. But also ready to envelope me in a flour-caked hug, comforting away my need to prove anything to anybody. Love you Momma.

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Just This.

So I haven’t written in a while. It seems every time I sit to do so, think up a subject, I decide it’s not worth it. Who cares what I had for lunch or my thoughts on the latest crisis in Iraq? I still haven’t even decided whether blogs are a blessing or a curse. I love that they are immediately “out there” and maybe it’s encouraging more people to write more often. But the day-to-day entries just seem like some kind of navel-inspecting exercise, utterly pointless. I guess most writing is to some extent. I’m probably overanalyzing - I usually do.

In any case, I’ve decided to change the purpose of this blog. It may only matter to me because even though I have hits on epizoodiks, I don’t know that anyone is actually reading. This blog, drum roll please, will now be a place to record memories – and yes, I can hear the collective groan rising up. Who needs another memoir, right?

I find that I do. Lately, I look in the mirror and see myself, actually see my face. It’s older. I’m older. I’m really older. It’s not that it’s a bad thing, just something I’ve noticed. I see wrinkles where there were none, stuff is sagging, bags are growing. I see experience too, and I see lots of memories. Stuff I’m holding onto, holding in myself, in my body. It’s all over my face.

I want to let it go finally. Lately I’ve been deepening my yoga and meditation practices and I’m constantly being reminded that the past and future don’t exist, only this moment in time. I’ve always believed that but I think my heart may just now be learning it. Brooding on the past, brooding on the future, they seem real and so you hold onto them the best you can. The brooding is real. But the past and future themselves are not.

I remember a Buddhist priest who had “Just This” written on the inside of her belt as a reminder. I love that – I got it immediately. Just this.

I hold onto the past a lot. Remember it, analyze it, relive it. Over and over again. Maybe by writing about it I can finally let it go, make it some physical act like throwing bad habits written onto a piece of paper into a bonfire for the new year. Or maybe it’s a futile exercise. But I feel the need to do it. I need to let go of some things and make my life a little lighter. Lighten up some of the dark circles I see under my eyes. Quit holding onto what can’t be held.

It’s because I’m forgetting things too. Stuff I used to know so vividly is going away – I can’t recall things people tell me or things that I *know* happened. It’s scary to lose your memories. I suppose by writing them down I’ll feel somewhat better. At least there’s a written record, right? Other people have assuaged their fear this way as well. I know that. Now I need to as well.

Are memories all we have? Are we just a composite of our past experiences? What we remember is not necessarily what *exactly* happened. I’m not the first to explore this, nor will I be the last. I’m just one of the masses here, trying to make sense of all this ephemera I’ve been holding close like a precious memento. I’ve been decluttering my house, now it’s time to declutter my mind.

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