In his book On Writing, Stephen King suggests that reading is a form of mind reading married to time travel – that we are reading words offered from the past, and getting a mental image of a place or people we’ve never seen.
I agree with this idea, but I have to add that music often powers a trip through time, as well. Today, for example, I re-visited 1976.
Imagine a school cafeteria in Golden, Colorado. It is autumn, and it is the 70’s so the children are wearing a lot of earth tones – orange, green, red, gold. My six-year-old self is there, in the scene, between the Chinese girl with the fluffy pigtails (Her name is Yvonne, and she has those rubber bands with the beads on the ends that loop around each other – rubber bands for the rubber band impaired), and the boy wearing a Superman t-shirt (His name is Ben, and his mother lives with our pre-school teacher, and once, when we were having a sleepover, he showed his penis to Heather and me. We thought it was funny looking.)
Anyway, I’m between Yvonne (We called her Ping-Ping, because her middle name was Ping) and Ben (Ray, our pre-school teacher, his mother’s lover, an all-around groovous guy, called him Jamin, and I vowed that if I ever had a son, I would name him either Benjamin or Christopher but call him Jamin or Topher – all these years later, I’m married to a Christopher, but I call him Fuzzy. He isn’t the Topher type.) I’m wearing a gold turtleneck and denim overalls with five pockets and lots of metal rivets and my favorite red ked sneakers, and my hair is in braids, and the teacher, who is not my teacher, but is Ben’s (we’re in different first grades)is playing a guitar, and teaching us this song:
Happiness runs in a circular motion
Thought is like a little boat upon the sea.
Everybody is a part of everything anyway,
You can have everything if you let yourself be.
It’s 1976 and we’re learning Donovan songs in school, and next we’ll either sing something by John Denver or Cat Stevens, probably “Morning Has Broken,” because what could be more adorable than a room full of six-year-olds singing about Eden? The teacher, whose name I don’t remember, but might be Mr. Williams, or not, has curly blonde hair, and later that year he’ll come to school dressed as a scarecrow (for Halloween), and for some reason the tufts of straw poking out at wrists and ankles will FREAK ME OUT, because even at six – especially at six – I have an overactive imagination.
That was the year that my friend Terry Bailey, who had a really small gold bike to match her golden hair, and I decided that we were telepathic because we always came to school with our hair the same way. If I had braids, she had braids. If she had a single high ponytail, like Pebbles or Jeannie, I had a single high ponytail. It couldn’t possibly be that our mothers were busy working women and had a limited amount of time to DO little girls’ hair, and so rotated between ponytails (in pairs), braids (in pairs) and high ponytails (or single braids). Clearly, we were sending each other messages. This power was enhanced by the ingestion of liverwurst, which everyone else thought was gross, but we both liked, though we liked Ben’s mother’s peanut-butter-and-honey-in-a-pita better.
I spent about twenty minutes in 1976 today, because that old Donovan song was used in a commercial. Then I returned to the here-and-now of 2005 and wondered if we had any clue that we were singing Donovan songs when we were six, or if any of us even knew who Donovan was.
The problem with this sort of time travel, is that it’s not like flying the Enterprise around the sun, or turning a magical hourglass. It’s uncontrollable travel in short bursts, when you least expect it. Music takes you back randomly, to your own memories, your own experiences, but on the fringes you can hear the whispers of other people, as they share the journey with you, but end in a different place. With reading, the trip is more stable. The destination is fixed.
Either way, these internal explorations are food for thought, sources of smiles, causes of wistful tears, and conversation starters, and after visiting 1976 today, I’m left wondering, when will I travel again, and what will my destination be?