I REUNITED THIS WEEK on Facebook with some of the people I used to work with at my last restaurant job in the late ’80s. It got me thinking about nostalgia and memories, how we change over time, and how we stay the same.
I was reminded that I used to run geography and 1970s music trivia contests out of the busser station on slow nights; so, you see, I really haven’t changed much at all. Thinking that I might still have the evidence of that era somewhere in my basement, I (obsessively, you might say) went looking for it.
And I found it: a file folder labeled “Obsessive Projects.” I kid you not. It contained not only the trivia sheets challenging my coworkers to name, for example, all the #1 songs of the 1970s from A to Z (a different letter each night) or songs named for cars, planets, days of the week, and so on, but also documentation of other fascinatingly obsessive projects, some of which I had forgotten about.
I had alphabetized the 64 Crayola crayons, apricot to yellow-orange (that was easy); measured and ranked San Francisco’s 100 longest streets; ranked the top singles artists of the 1970s using my very own point system (England Dan and John Ford Coley were #100, with 321 points); and meticulously tallied the population of every time zone in the world (the smallest being Pitcairn Island’s 57; those controversial survivors of the Bounty mutineers have since joined a more popular time zone). Keep in mind this was before the Internet.
There’s a lot more in that folder, but I think you get the idea. I look back fondly on the strange person with a typewriter I was back then, a little relieved that I am no longer quite so crazy, and wonder how I ever found the time. Or, more to the point, why I didn’t spend my time doing something else.
You know I wonder about time all the time: how to spend it well, how to not waste it, how to enjoy down time on the one hand and not succumb to the laziness of busyness on the other, while keeping mindful of what a precious, unique thing our human life is. (You never know when you’re going to get another one.) It’s a balancing act I’m still trying to work out, and having more free time these days has brought the question into sharper focus.
And so, I recognize the odd person who filled the obsessive projects folder half a lifetime ago. I like him, but I’m a little scared of him as well. As fun as it can be to look in wonder at the evidence of my obsessive projects, I don’t want to go back there, harboring a fear of the balance tipping too far in the direction of trivia. I don’t think it’ll happen. Life is far too precious, and I know it.