Sunday, October 23, 2011

Mini Me

In early September, I left my wallet and my iPod nano on a flight home from California. In my defense, I had been seated in a row with twin eighteen-month-olds, and after six hours of enduring their squirming and squealing (and being grateful that I was not their endlessly patient mother) -- not to mention having been away from New York for three weeks, one of them inadvertently thanks to Hurricane Irene -- I was desperate to get off the plane, back to my apartment, back to my real life; and I practically ran out of the row without checking the area around my feet. I discovered the wallet was missing when I took a taxi home to Brooklyn, reached into my bag to pay the driver, and could not; the iPod news sunk in a day or two later, when I wanted to go for a run and realized I'd have to do it sans tunes. The airline was no help at all; both items seemed to have disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle beneath the seat in front of me. And while the missing wallet was an annoyance -- a few dollars cash, several cards to replace or cancel -- my lost nano was a real absence, a friend and companion with whom I had faithfully passed the hours, now missing from my life for good.

But after a week or so, I remembered: I still had an iPod -- my old mini. I had been given the little pink brick for Christmas 2004 (you can see what I wrote about it soon after here -- one of the very first entries on this blog), and it had been my primary music source for almost four years, till my thirtieth birthday in 2008, when it was replaced with the nano. So I dug it out that night and plugged it into an iPod dock to play while I was cooking dinner, just letting it sing out whatever I had last listened to four years ago. . . .

And a Dixie Chicks shuffle came on: "Wide Open Spaces," which I took as a personal anthem after moving to New York (a slightly ironic anthem for this city, obviously); "Cowboy Take Me Away," a love song that always almost overwhelms me with its longing -- not so much for the cowboy, but for the real wide open spaces of the plains, and the simultaneous freedom and anchorage they promise; "Long Way Round," which became another anthem for me as I moved into my late twenties, experienced the standard difficulties, and tried to keep going. I hadn't listened to the Chicks very much in the years since I moved in with James, so it was a pleasure to find I could still yowl along with most of the lyrics, and that the ladies held up just as well as they always had. When I went running the next weekend with the mini, I clicked on my 2007 Running playlist, featuring Kelly Clarkson! And Liz Phair! And other people I'd listened to obsessively, but not for four years! Every song took me back to a specific place or person -- a mixtape exchanged here, a secret hotel-room boogie there.

I realized then that what I had discovered with the mini was a whole time capsule of my life in a certain four-year period, more powerful than any photo album because it had been more present with me every day. The "Moulin Rouge" soundtrack played as I washed dishes. Patty Griffin sang "Peter Pan" in the darkness as I learned to let go. Stevie Wonder reminded me of all the joy in the world, and the "Theme from Shaft" got me down the unshaded West Side Highway on the thankless final miles of the New York City half-marathon. I could even regard John Mayer with amusement as a feckless youthful peccadillo. (I still like the Goo Goo Dolls, dammit, but the only thing about Mr. Mayer that has improved with our ages is his guitar playing.) Those years took me through the development of my own identity as an editor, the start of this blog and my website, work on Harry Potter 6 & 7, several breakups and more confusion, the beginning of the relationship I'm still in today, all the thinking about plot and character and publishing that led to my book this past March. . . . My self solidifying into myself, altogether, in the course of a few good and tumultuous years.

So while I've thought about cleaning out the mini to add all my new music since 2008, I think I'm going to leave it alone and buy a new nano or Shuffle, preserving the late-twentysomething Cheryl in its AAC files. Its name has always been Nutmeg of Consolation, after the wonderful Patrick O'Brian novel, but if I could rename it at this juncture, I'd call it Rosemary for remembrance. . . . Pray, love, remember.


  1. Ah, Cheryl. I had that very same mini, with a black lace skin I bought in Paris. Not only that, but my home desktop two computers ago was called The Nutmeg of Consolation.
    What a lovely, tender story. Thank you.

  2. that is a very nice post! i really liked it! think the style you used is very approrpiate! thank you for your efforts!

  3. Those are my favorite Chicks songs, and they're both still on my running/ writing playlists. (And GooGoo Dolls- great road trip music, no?)

  4. Interesting post. I couldn't read it all because my daughter asked me something important before I could read it.

  5. I think my title tells the who;e story. My granddaughter uses this iPod daily.