Birthday Present

2 November, 2020 at 10:47 pm (clerical, dear diary, music)

As I left my apartment this morning, I put my weekly lunch materials — diet iced tea, cold cuts, cheddar cheese, jalapeño wraps, peanut-butter crackers, and raspberry fruit bars — into a reusable shopping bag I got a few years ago. I got it at the Institute for Contemporary Art in Boston during an event with Emily Haines. That had been my second time seeing Haines perform, and my second time ponying up for a VIP experience.

The Things You Own; They Own YouThere had been a podcast I’d listened to at some point in 2015 that had detailed an investigator’s attendance at a VIP event with Britney Spears in order to be able to ask her a question. The strangeness of the description of the event — of paying money to be part of an assembly line in order to claim that one had a “personal” experience with a celebrity — was compellingly absurd. So when an offer from Ticketmaster came to upgrade my ordinary Metric tickets to a VIP experience, I felt like I owed it to the spirit of random adventure to do so, even though I had no idea what that entailed. Because while I’d been listening to the band since discovering “Poster of a Girl” via an mp3 blog aggregator (ah, a younger internet…), they hadn’t been a band I could claim I “knew” with any real strength. In fact, an illness had kept me from attending a previous concert I’d hoped would help establish that expertise. However, found myself enamored of the essential stupidity of going to an intimate meet-and-greet session with a band I basically didn’t know.

And, well, it was brilliant. The band were welcoming and heartfelt, and we unexpectedly got to go up on stage and sing along with a song, and I felt alive and thrilled, and the whole show ranks somewhere in the top five concerts I’ve ever attended. And I decided that, as a result of how thrilling the whole experience had been, that I was going to unironically take advantage of any and every VIP opportunity that Metric provided thereafter, to chase that dragon and try to recapture that thrill.

Metric sing "Dreams So Real" in the basement of The Orpheum in Boston.

Haines’ appearance at the Boston ICA was the next available opportunity, and since VIP access always comes with attendant merch, I left that show with the memory of breathlessly close seats and the aforementioned canvas bag that warned me that, “All the things I own, they own me.” I’ve had this bag in high rotation since I moved into a new apartment at the beginning of the summer, as I’d recently shouldered the weight of shifting my possessions across town, and of finding volunteers during Covid to huff and puff in proximity to each other while humping those possessions up and down stairs. Packing, moving, and unpacking had put a serious physical strain on me, and while I had returned to a degree of equilibrium, anxiety over maintaining work to maintain rent to not have to endure that physical gauntlet again any time soon remained. As I grew accustomed to my new digs, I wanted to remind myself not to get too comfortable, too entrenched, as my possessions were a future labor that would have their reckoning.

Another item I was carrying out the door was a flash drive I’ve had for something close to ten years. Originally containing an album of collaborations between Vienna Teng and Alex Wong (and some bonus videos), this has been an oddly prized possession. I’ve mislaid it a few times, and always managed to find it underneath a car seat on in the pocket of a seasonal coat whose time has come back ’round. I carry it, not just because it’s oddly useful to have a flash drive on one’s person, and not just because it causes a degree of comment that “of course” I’m the sort of person that has a USB drive that’s wrapped in wood. Mostly it’s because I have the memory of going to see Teng and and Wong in concert at Club Passim and standing in the alley of Palmer Street and realizing I had it in my pocket and I could go back inside and get them to sign it. I stood there in my coat and breathed in the Cambridge air and decided to wait until next time. And in the subsequent decade that time has never happened: I’ve seen her on StageIt multiple times, but that was the last time in person. So I need to keep carrying it, keep keeping it on me so that when the next opportunity presents itself, I’m ready.

Wooden USB drive for Vienna Teng and Alex Wong's album The Moment Always VanishingAs I headed out the door, taking my keys out of my pocket, the drive flew across the room as the magnetic cover grabbed my keyring and used it to slingshot itself to an unknown orbit. I found it, returned it to my pocket, with the stray thought that this was probably going to happen again, and I readlly should switch the drive to a safer pocket where the the temptation of magnetism wouldn’t be apparent.

Obviously, when I took my keys out of my pocket at the end of the day and dropped them in the copper bowl for all of my pocket miscellany and the drive wasn’t there, I knew instantly what had happened. What I didn’t know was where it had happened. I’d run several errands that afternoon between work and home, getting in and out of the car at least three times. At which point had I taken out my keys with a particular flourish and flung my memento into the chill New England wilderness? And what was the chance that it would still be there if I went back?

I’d lived in my previous location for fourteen years, so much of my April and May shelter-in-place was spent learning how to find a new apartment, and June was spent with two tasks: firstly, finding a new place amidst the heaps of scam listings in the haystack of Craigslist and Facebook, and secondly, inventorying everything I owned so that I knew what to get rid of, what to keep, and just how much effort (and how many boxes) would be required to do the latter. Moving, unpacking, and subsequent recovery were a large part of July, and then August was spent wrestling with how to return safely to work. All of these preoccupations were in part why this blog has maintained its traditional silence during a time when people were grabbing the internet with both hands to stay safe and feel connected. I did spend a little time expanding the scope of the previous summer’s experiment with podcasting from a Monty Python-specific venture to a larger investigation of golden-anniversary comedies, and researching, recording, and editing those expanded episodes was very helpful in distracting me from more global and specific concerns.

So I was updating a website, just not this one. And the inherent jealousy of that distinction has eventually brought me crawling back. For the ownership, upkeep, and feeling of responsibility to a blog is a digital, virtual millstone not unlike those manifested by the other possessions one accrues. Just because the blog doesn’t weigh anything in my palm, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t weigh me down. When I see how long it’s been since my last entry, I feel pressure to perform and to have performed, to have provided something to an illusory audience. To justify the annual hosting costs. It’s not just the things we own that own us, but also the things we lease and the things we pay to access. Much like the man-hours I put into playing Avengers Academy, much like the disappointment in realizing a film I’d meant to watch has suddenly disappeared from a given streaming service, we twist ourselves into meeting the requirements of serving these inanimate masters. I’d carefully maintained — well, if you can call irregularly misplacing something “careful maintenance” — that flash drive, and then it’d slipped from me like the One Ring looking for a more advantageous master. Did it own me sufficiently that I was going to go back out into the November damp and wander around parking lots with a flashlight, hoping against hope that it’d be someplace? Did I owe my nostalgia enough to literally go through the stages of trying to get to acceptance that it was gone, and it wasn’t that big of a deal, and it’d be okay?

According to my Blogger profile, I created my account twenty years ago yesterday. Before it was part of Google, I’d joined its little self-publishing empire to cast my voice to the wind. Much like I can vividly remember standing in the alleyway looking back into the windows of Club Passim, I can remember sitting in a weirdly large empty room as part of my first full-time post-college job as a development assistant for a capital campaign and killing time by signing up for Blogger. I can feel the vast hollows of the room around me as I realized I had nothing to say. (I don’t know how to reconcile these memories and that profile with the fact that my earliest entry on the ‘blog is from nineteen months earlier. Maybe Blogger has always allowed post-dating?) I still don’t really have anything of value to say, but even while personal blogging is seemingly decreasing in our social media landscape, I will show up again, every so often, because as much as this is My Blog, it also Owns Me. And, as such, I have an obligation to perform its demands. The fact that it’s a WordPress account now doesn’t really change anything.

Oh, and the flash drive was in the second parking lot I checked. It only took forty minutes of driving and wandering and checking lost property boxes and scanning the ground and alternating between despair and resignation. I’m amazed I saw it in the frisculating dusklight. But it’s back now. It’s still mine, my own. My precious…

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