Something Good #56: Amygdalar Earworms
When discussing Citizen Kane—something he did often—Roger Ebert liked to return to a scene in the film that affected him deeply:
The best speech in Kane. My favorite is delivered by Mr. Bernstein (Everett Sloane), when he is talking about the magic of memory with the inquiring reporter: “A fellow will remember a lot of things you wouldn't think he'd remember. You take me. One day, back in 1896, I was crossing over to Jersey on the ferry, and as we pulled out, there was another ferry pulling in, and on it there was a girl waiting to get off. A white dress she had on. She was carrying a white parasol. I only saw her for one second. She didn't see me at all, but I'll bet a month hasn't gone by since, that I haven't thought of that girl.”
I think we all have memories like this. Fleeting, materially insignificant moments that nonetheless just become permanently, sometimes mysteriously, lodged in your brain. Some, like the one from Kane, are romantic and ephemeral, while others just have the memory equivalent of a melodic hook—amygdalar earworms.
One of my favourite things about doing Sad YouTube was finding this specific kind of memory.
(I am clearly hung up on the idea of a privileged moment suspended eternally in time.)
Of course I have my own. Here are a few that stick out:
Toronto, the early ‘90s. I am waiting for a friend outside either the Hyland or Hollywood cinemas (two great old palaces that lingered almost to the millennium’s end). A strange man sidles up to me, steps very deliberately on my foot, grins, and scurries away.
Montreal, the late ‘90s. I am returning to the McGill campus after spending the afternoon wasting time at a friend’s house. As we climb the stairs that lead to the Arts building by the Milton gate, a girl walks by us with the most beatific, glorious smile on her face. It is the purest vision of happiness I have ever seen up to that point, and possible since. I am the only one of our little group to notice. I have spent a lot of time since that day wondering what she was so happy about.
Visiting a tea shop in Flushing, New York in the late 2000s with my friend Liz, a woman explains the sensations and subtleties of the tea she sells so evocatively that it threatens to envelope my soul. (I have very little memory of the specifics save for her description of a tea meant to produce an inner warmth during the winter months.)
At a supermarket in Cape Cod in the summer of 2015, an exchange that my friend Ryan and I have with a teenage boy named Mitchell running the cash. This one is the most elusive; whenever Ryan and I try to describe the moment it slips through our fingers like a fading dream. My best guess is we were trying to make this “Mitchell” laugh but failed so decisively that our brains have blocked the memory out of shame. (How did we even know his name?) And yet I think about it all the time.
I am curious: what are your earworm-memories? These should not be moments of great importance or humiliation. They should not be in any way pivotal—we’re not talking about time you met your soulmate, the birth of your first child, etc. But you should think about them at least once a month, if not more. Leave them in the comments below or reply to this email; I’ll publish some (with your kind permission) in an upcoming issue.
This week’s #nojacketsrequired comes courtesy of friend-of-the-newsletter Quinn Slobodian. As a badminton fan and (very) occasional player, I plan on checking it out. What a gorgeous embossed cover, too, to be found beneath that jacket.
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