Day 447, June 7, 2021

Archival Lessons

Tonight's soundtrack: Joni Mitchell, London, 1983

My father has been digitizing an entire era of slide carousels from the late 1970s. It is marvelous to see these images again, like unearthing one's own archives. I am lucky that he has such determination and perseverance. I can only imagine how many boxes of slides he has stacked up in the back of a closet. 

Family trip to Prince Edward Island, I think?

Back then, whenever he returned from a symphony tour every guest to the household would get treated to a slide show in the darkened living room. I particularly remember the images from the trip to China. My father and his friends posing in Mao jackets and standing atop the Great Wall. I got to retrace some of those steps years later on a conference to help foster the development of community colleges in China. 

I particularly remember a boat ride on the Li River where I spent time talking with one of the guides, whose name in Chinese was Cloudy. I played her the Simon and Garfunkel song, "Cloudy" on my iPod. The mountains on the river were like stylized representations of what we had seen painted on scrolls in the museums. When we arrived back at the dock it had started to rain and all the street vendors were covering their booths and wares with large transparent sheets of plastic and as Cloudy skipped away up the street in the rain, a big gust came in off the river and lifted all the sheets of plastic where they weren't tacked or clamped down and it looked like the street was filled with billowing jelly fish.

Looking at my father's slides, I'm struck by how skinny I was in 1977. And how tight the shirts were, even on the kids. I remember my brother's comfort animal, a soft Big Bird with round plastic eyes, and how he used to cling to a cloth diaper that he had adopted and sucked on the corners (I'm not sure he managed to pick that object, but I do remember the soft comforting feeling of a cloth diaper). 

I also remember an airplane flight to California, maybe Disney Land/World, the one out there. I don't remember anything about the destination, but I remember the girl I sat beside, another symphony member's daughter, and I think those were the pre-pubescent vestiges of a first crush. Oh, that innocent feeling of being smitten by someone and every moment being one that you do not want to let go.

Listening to Joni Mitchell is like that, it evokes similar feelings. "A Case of You" evokes the unrequited high school crush I had on a friend who sang in a little trio we had. I was like an awestruck puppy dog willing to follow her anywhere... but I think she had her eyes set elsewhere. Isn't that the case for most high school crushes?

Funny how thinking of the past evokes a sense of longing, a tenderness for our frailties. It was a time when I was less jaded and felt everything with the nuance of an elephant in a china shop. 

It is also that as the restrictions of the pandemic are being lifted and we are venturing out more, I am feeling older, more appreciative of little things. I loved watching my friend's daughter celebrating her graduation with a couple of friends over the weekend. That time and era seem further away than anything that is left to come. They were young and lithe and excited and retreated into the darkness to talk about teenage things around a fire pit.

I'm also feeling a little more fragile. Part of that is a resurfacing neck crick that has been lingering for the past month or so. But also, this weekend, my neighbor Jimmer came by with his Bobcat and resurfaced my driveway. In the process I had to dismantle the wood side steps into the house. I felt ineffectual, like Superman wearing a kryptonite necklace. Eventually, a hot and sweaty hour later, with the help of the Bobcat's bucket, we'd pulled the steps apart and I was left with a jumble of bits and pieces studded with rusty nails. Eventually I'll incorporate them into reinforcement for the chicken coop and maybe another raised bed garden.

Also, the other week I read that a poor fellow wrecked his motorcycle on Cave Hill Road and passed away. That's the road I've been enjoying barreling down hitting speeds as high as 42 mph on my bicycle. It seems silly that it has taken hearing about someone's death to second guess the wisdom of riding so fast with only a Styrofoam helmet as protection. Suddenly, it seems not so important to tuck into an aerodynamic crouch. A slower, gentler glide will be just as fulfilling. 

So, maybe this is part of getting older, literally slowing down a little and seeking out things like, the best strawberry shortcake in Western Mass (my favorite strawberry shortcake of all time was from a little saloon/restaurant in Kalispell, Montana), or trying to remember to have another Rhubarb Burger at the Black Cow Burger Bar in Turners Falls (up there as one of the best burger experiences of all time). I've also gotten a little chubbier than my 1977 self. Maybe some of that will fall away once I am walking to my office and to meetings across campus, and riding my bike to work more regularly. 

I imagine I'm older than Joni Mitchell was in 1983. It is marvelous how she can evoke a timeless sense of a lived life. I yearn to live a life like a Joni Mitchell song. 

Take care and be well,


Check out my cool dad in Paris!

From Our Friends:

From UMass Amherst:

Radical Empathy: Finding a Path to Bridging Racial Divides

June 15 • Virtual event

Register now »

From the Five College Center for East Asian Studies:

Ties that Bind: Women’s Empowerment in Early 20th Century Korea, Aug. 12, 1-3pm ET. What role did Christian missionaries and the Christian church play in the empowerment of Korean women in the early 20th century? This is the essential question which will be discussed in this 2-hour virtual workshop led by Lee-Ellen Strawn. Details and registration.

From the UMass Asian and Asian American Studies Certificate Program: 

The Asian & Asian American Studies Certificate Program at UMass Amherst has just released a Statement in Solidarity with Palestine, viewable at:


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