The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘adolescence’

Collector’s Item

October 24, 2016 | by

What was the Princess Diana Beanie Baby?

In the midnineties, my older sisters and I collected Ty Beanie Babies, as most of our peer group did. When I think of Beanie Babies, I think of the piles. Big piles saturated with every color and texture of fuzz, dotted with shiny black eyes and noses. They had a nice weight to them, too, a little heavier than stuffed animals. The pile became a classic image in the Beanie Baby mythos: the collector buried in Beanies. My sisters kept their collections (numbering several dozen) safely stowed in the pockets of over-the-door shoe organizers with plastic tag protectors and careful inventory lists, while I played with mine, ripping their tags off with abandon and allowing them, despite their Ty-brand prestige, to mingle with my other stuffed animals and dolls. Not that I had any objection to them as a commodity: I enjoyed collecting them, too, lining up at Pink’s or Hallmark—the two local authorized Beanie dealers in my New Jersey town—in anticipation of new releases. I read the trade rag, Mary Beth’s Beanie World. I called my local McDonald’s answering machine to hear which Teeny Beanies they were offering with Happy Meals. I searched in vain for rare, highly sought-after defective Beanies: a Spot with no spot, an albino elephant. 

Today the Internet, with its relentless nostalgia mill, won’t let us forget how worthless our Beanie Babies have become. “Remember When Everyone Was Going to Re-sell Their Beanie Babies and Become Millionaires?” a piece on E! asked. I can’t help but feel vindicated by articles like these. My sisters were convinced that their Ty collections would be worth a lot of money someday; they had to be protected. But: a toy you don’t play with? It sounded dumb. It sounded dumb because it was dumb, and I somehow got that right—this at a time when I was wrong about many, many things. This at a time when I thought that Titanic was the most culturally important, most pornographic, longest movie ever made. (I had not actually seen Titanic, but I knew from my own careful taping that you could fit six hours of video on a VHS tape, and Titanic took up two tapes, so it had to be, like, twelve hours long.)

Still, I can’t escape some weird feeling about Beanie Babies: about the bizarre hysteria they generated and the prescience with which they foresaw the Internet as a vast archive for our personal ephemera and its emotional baggage. Read More »

How to Keep a Journal

July 15, 2016 | by

A history of the discipline, and of myself.

Samuel F. B. Morse,Susan Walker Morse (The Muse) (detail), 73 3/4 x 57 5/8,  1945.

Samuel F. B. Morse, Susan Walker Morse (The Muse) (detail), 73 3/4 x 57 5/8, 1945.

A few months after I turned sixteen, I began to keep a journal. I labeled it VOLUME I and titled it Journal of the 16th Summer of Alyssa Jean Pelish—anticipating posterity, if only in the form of my older self. I wrote in this journal daily, diligently, the only way I knew how. I had no models beyond the very general Protestant work ethic it is possible to glean from children’s picture books and Saturday morning cartoons and after-school reruns, which taught me that you win approval by, say, training your horse every single day, or, once you have planted a seed, by never ceasing to pull up the weeds and sprinkle water over the ground. Unstinting repetition was, therefore, my MO. Read More »

Via Activa

July 12, 2016 | by

When physical fitness meets the literary life.

From a poster for the Works Progress Administration’s Recreation Project, ca. 1936.

Young people are a mess. They eat the crappiest fast food, make a point of drinking only to excess, barely sleep, indulge in all sorts of chemicals—and yet, given even a modicum of activity, their bodies bounce back with all the manic exuberance of a Super Ball in a many-angled room. Growing up, I made a thorough test of this proposition. Through high school and college, I neither participated in team sports (unless you count the bong-hit team) nor pursued any type of systematic exercise, and in fact I don’t recall anyone ever suggesting that doing so might be beneficial. What kept me from the obesity that has become epidemic among children today was a fast metabolism and sporadic bursts of movement: I was an avid skier, over the fifteen-odd days a year that skiing was possible for a kid growing up in Maryland; and on occasion I’d play tennis, go hiking, or ride my bicycle. Read More »

In Flight

May 19, 2016 | by

Photo: NARA.

On a plane, I sat between an aging nerd and a teenage boy. The nerd informed us both with contemptuous superiority that we’d be told to put our bags up in the bin and then, when we were, said, “I told you.” He spent the rest of the flight playing chess on his tablet and reading A Clash of Kings. The teen read Sartre’s Critique of Dialectical Reason. Read More »

A Maker of Mirrors

April 29, 2016 | by

Richard Fariña’s Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me turns fifty.

Mimi and Richard Fariña, at the Newport Folk Festival in July 1965. Photo: David Gahr

I am gazing, as I write, at a black-and-white photograph of Richard Fariña with his wife, Mimi (née Baez) Fariña, taken backstage at the Newport Folk Festival nine months before his death—fifty years ago this week—at the age of twenty-nine. To call the photo romantic would be an understatement. Mimi, her face a dark flower offered to an invisible sun, appears to be literally bursting out of her flip-flops as she executes some twirling, Isadora Duncan-y ballet step; while Richard, swarthy and black-haired, his eyes fondly delta’d (the Ray-Bans in his hand having apparently proven useless against all this brightness), looks like he can’t quite believe his luck, to have aligned his future with this lovely, exuberant sprite, a princess in folk’s royal family. He’s having a pretty good run of it for a guy who plays the dulcimer. And technically he doesn’t even play it that well. Read More »


April 12, 2016 | by

From the cover of a seventies edition of Fifteen.

Beverly Cleary has turned one hundred. And while there’s no shortage of well-deserved and lovely tributes out there, I wanted to take a moment to talk about one of my favorite of her books: Fifteen, a YA novel published in 1956. Like all of Cleary’s work, it combines gentle observational humor with a genuine understanding of young people. And like the rest of her oeuvre, it holds up, even decades down the line. Read More »