Archive for July 22nd, 2013

Meaningful distraction

July 22, 2013

Older Daughter’s trip to Coney Island yesterday put me in mind of Alvy Singer’s monologue at the beginning of “Annie Hall,” when he reminisced (admittedly in slight exaggeration) about his ancestral home under the coaster tracks.

Memory’s a tricky thing. That’s a euphemistic way of saying it’s often unreliable. But we also know that it is capable of storehousing the images, incidents, attitudes, and emotions that can make a life seem worth living. It fuels our nostalgia, which research shows to be therapeutic when taken in small doses. “It brings to mind cherished experiences that assure us we are valued people who have meaningful lives. Some of our research shows that people who regularly engage in nostalgia are better at coping with concerns about death.

Concerns about death, of course, are central to just about all of Woody Allen’s films. They’re also what the brilliant Maira Kalman tries to reconcile with a cultivated, unpretentious optimism. Maria Popova rightly keeps coming back to her.

The day contains many ups and downs. But the point is that you are alive. So you might as well do something that brings pleasure, joy, humour. Also, I walk a lot and listen to a lot of music. Always good things to do[Kalman @dawn]

That’s the answer to young Alvy’s protest that, given the universe’s inevitable expansion and ultimate doom, there’s no point in doing homework. For one thing, homework provides what Kalman calls “meaningful distraction.” What’s meaningful? “It’s love and work. What else could it be?” 

What else? How about memory? Kalman may have forgotten, she’s also reading Proust.

As Dr. Flicker told Alvy, and as Arlo knows too: we’ve got to enjoy ourselves while we can. Whatever else Mr. Ferlinghetti may have meant, that’s the true Coney Island of the Mind.

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