Top 10 lists of remembered joy

While mindlessly surfing social media the other day, I stumbled across a “10 best TV shows of all time” thread. I love lists and so enjoyed wandering through other people’s lists.

Then I decided to give it a whirl. These are the 10 shows I thought of before my brain started thinking “shows that I SHOULD put on the list” as opposed to the first ones that sprang to mind.

Foyle’s War
Breaking Bad
Eli Stone
Buffy The Vampire Slayer
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Hill Street Blues

(There are multiple programs called Jericho; the one I meant is the one about a small town in the aftermath of a nuclear war.)

Lists like this are conversation-starters. The next time I think about best TV shows of all time, I’ll probably have a whole different list. Except Firefly. Firefly will top every list I compile.

My favorite movie list isn’t as fluid. I even have my Top 10 specifically ranked.

  1. It’s A Wonderful Life
  2. The Wizard of Oz
  3. Casablanca
  4. E.T. The Extra-terrestrial
  5. Arrival
  6. Serenity
  7. To Kill A Mockingbird
  8. Raiders of the Lost Ark
  9. ummm …

OK, it gets a little fuzzier after the top eight. (There are multiple movies called Serenity; since Firefly is my favorite TV show, you can make an educated guess as to which Serenity I’m talking about.) Movies that have made my personal top 10 include Field of Dreams, Dances With Wolves, Singin’ In The Rain, A Christmas Story, Joyeaux Noel, The Lives Of Others, Metropolis, The Empire Strikes Back, John Carter

Let’s see what happens when I try to think of 10 favorite books …

Nineteen Eighty-Four
Dandelion Wine
The Scarlet Letter
True Grit
The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress
To Kill A Mockingbird

It gets hard after that, because I have loved so many books. And notice I didn’t number them.

I could bore you all day with this. My favorite albums, songs, comic book stories, order of the Star Wars movies, bands, singer-songwriters, old-time radio, silent movies (Have you ever seen The Wind? OMG) …

In the end, the appeal of lists is that they recall moments of joy and discovery and love, each item bringing back a memory of a time well had.

The longer the list, the greater the recognition of how much joy life offers to each of us.

A snooty snob who enjoys the tawdry

I opened my old college textbook The Literature of England at random yesterday morning and found “This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison,” Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem composed in his garden under a lime tree while his visiting friends took a walk in the nearby countryside. He had to stay behind, having been sidelined when his wife accidentally spilled boiling milk on his foot. (Ow-ow-ow!)

Before that, I took a brief stab at “Troilus and Criseyde,” and what a surprise, 45-plus years of not reading Middle English has rendered Chaucer’s brilliant quasi-epic poem essentially unreadable to me. I do know that reading it was one of the surprise delights of my education, but I would need to be re-educated to re-experience the joy — although perhaps that would be a more worthwhile venture than the three episodes of The Blacklist that I viewed the night before.

(Somewhere in the last few days, I read a reference that a society constantly exposed to tawdry crap aimed at the lowest common denominator becomes tawdry and low and full of crap. It was written more elegantly than that, but it was a good point. There are delights in the old stuff more subtle than a gun to the face.)

I don’t mean to be a snooty snob, but I do like a turn of phrase. Discovering Coleridge’s poem was another reminder of the thousands of undiscovered treasures waiting within reach on the shelves in this little room. OK, many of them I have indeed discovered and decided to save (Bradbury, Doc Savage, Hawthorne), but so many pages are as yet untapped, and the old treasures are fun to revisit.

Notice when I reach for examples, I pick Hawthorne (everyone knows he’s a classic, although he’s not necessarily many people’s “favorite” classic author), Bradbury (becoming a classic but not considered so until well into his career), and Doc Savage (not “literature”).

I do seem to have a unique perspective on what constitutes good reading. I enjoy enjoying stuff that’s off the beaten track. I like that about being in this skin.

Shelves of buried treasure

(Written at the end of an enjoyable early-morning hour spent reading old poems, reflecting on the thousands of pages of buried treasure on the shelves in my room, and writing in my journal.)

Ah, the familiar pang of knowing I have but a few minutes left before I must dive into the quotidian. And here’s a hungry dog to help me start the transition.

Exploring the piles of treasure is entertaining and instructive. “You need to get out more,” they say, but, see here, we need to get in more, too. Look what I’ve found in here just this morning, after all.

Just write anything until you write something

There are a number of things you can do with a blank piece of paper, or a blank screen.

You can stare at it.

You can write on it.

You can draw on it.

(You can also make paper airplanes and origami, but for purposes of this post, we’ll stick with things that involve writing implements.)

Staring at it is the least productive option. Staring usually involves mental paralysis, perhaps even fear that you or I will have nothing worthwhile to say.

And you know how I sabotaged the process just then?

By tossing in that innocuous-sounding word “worthwhile.”

Because if you’re all balled up because you can’t think of ANYTHING to say, you just threw up a second roadblock by saying it not only has to be ANYTHING, it has to be WORTHWHILE.

If you’re in a place where you want to write/create something and you just feel stuck, the best thing to do is just anything. Write something, even if you end up writing, “I can’t think of anything to write!” Because then you’ve successfully written seven words. Now write the next sentence. Then, write the next sentence after that. You’ve already written something, and if you keep writing, at some point you may even find yourself writing something worthwhile.

But under no circumstances can you keep staring at a blank screen until you give up. Just write anything until you accidentally write something.

This post is an example of how this works.

I was staring at a blank screen, wondering I would share for this blog this morning. My mind was almost as blank as the screen.

So …

I wrote, “There are a number of things you can do with a blank piece of paper, or a blank screen.”

And the rest followed.

The winnable struggle against depression and depression

It’s interesting: We use the same word — depression — to describe a paralyzing melancholy and general economic collapse.

I imagine it’s safe to say one leads to the other and back.

Some say the cure for an economic depression is to have the government spend our way out of it. That, of course, ignores the fact that the government usually has spent our way into it.

Some say the cure for clinical depression is the right medication. I agree that when a chemical imbalance has caused the depression, a chemical tweak can improve things.

But what if your depression is caused by a depression — the depression (paralyzing melancholy), for example, of a restaurant owner forced out of business by a government who ordered her to close because it didn’t trust her to keep her customers safe from disease (thus causing an economic depression)?

Interestingly, this kind of deep sadness (the externally-generated kind, not the chemical kind) has the same treatment as the economic kind:

Resistance. Action.

Sometimes doing something to resist the emotional paralysis — resisting inertia and taking action, almost any action — can break the spell of sadness ever so slightly, and “ever so slightly” can be enough, for now at least.

And sometimes resisting an unjust law — or an unjust executive order — can lift an economic depression ever so slightly. Perhaps the injustice was the last straw that crushed a struggling business, but that was only the end of that dream.

Other dreams will come. They always do. There is no shortage of dreams in the universe, and not even the soldiers of totalitarianism can stop them all.

It’s hard to see this when both forms of depression weigh you down. But resist, and act, and slowly you will begin to dream again.

Keep a pad and a pen by your bed

Yes, this was the truth. I finally knew what to do.

I was so sure. It was a brilliant insight.

I brimmed with confidence. First thing in the morning, I would get started. This time, nothing could stop me.

And when I woke, all I could remember was the certainty.

I had no clue what insight had made me so certain, so confident.

How many cures for cancer have been lost because someone said, “I’m sure I’ll remember in the morning,” turned over, and went back to sleep?

Grant me the serenity

Now, see, this is why it’s not a good idea to look at the glowing screen first thing in the morning.

I walk out with Willow to see to her morning constitutional, and it’s a beautiful morning, so quiet and still that the rooster’s crowing a half-mile away is clear as day, and the reverberations from a hunter’s shot way in the distance can be heard to the last echo.

No wind, and therefore no crashing waves from the bay below us, no traffic on the highway — quiet stillness pervades.

I come inside and peek at social media, and crash! One of my acquaintances is bragging about how he confronted a store manager for not forcing his customers to wear masks. And that’s just the beginning. Anger, fear, resentment and shaming pervade.

Outdoors, I found refuge from the storm. Isn’t that just how life can be?

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