Saturday, November 8, 2008

Boy's (still) Life

If you are new to my blog, you should know that we explore a theme each month (called the "Monthly Special") and encourage people to participate and link back their results. This month's theme is "still life."

We were cleaning out the garage today (a Sisyphean task if ever there was one) and we came across boxes of personal memorabilia. We sorted through, weeded out, and then re-boxed our souvenirs. A few objects immediately took me back to my childhood room in Oregon. Proust called the phenomenon of sudden recollection la mémoire involontaire—a sudden and vivid memory that cannot be summoned at will, but that hits with full force the moment a certain sense is activated. In his case, it was the smell and taste of tea with madeleines. In mine, it was the "Men From Planet Earth" tile that sat in my windowsill since 1969.

I know nothing of its origins. Did space-age enthusiasm drive my parents to buy it right after the Apollo 11 landing? Did they ever wonder if I might dream of becoming an astronaut? (I didn't. I wanted to be a baker.) Even as a child, I was ambivalent about the aesthetic merit of the tile. But I never moved it. My room went through changes (including a very funky space-age theme—a testament to indulgent parenting) and the tile remained. And so, due to all those years of seeing it, the tile has soaked in my childhood. Strangely, it gives it back as much as any scrapbook.

I couldn't just put it back in the box. I took it, along with a little totem pole from a childhood visit to an Indian reservation, a compass and match holder (matches still inside) from bygone days of scouting, and I made a still life. Rather than photograph against a blank wall, I found a photo I took of Max (age 4—the same age I was when we moved from Berlin to Oregon) and used it as backdrop. All my childhood photo albums were lost when we moved here from Seattle, so he's the closest thing to a photo of myself that I can get—and he's wearing a hat I used to wear in Germany.

Do you have objects that create Proustian moments of involuntary memory for you? Do you have a box full of memories? Try creating your own still life, post it, and link back to the November Monthly Special.