I like all very short–form prose: fortune-cookie fortunes, changeable church signs, one-liners, aphorisms, one-panel cartoon captions, comic-strip speech bubbles, jokes on dirty postcards, non sequiturs, and Twitter. Twitter is where I put my idle thoughts to work, kind of. Many of my passing thoughts pass into nothingness when I tweet them, but sometimes they lead to interesting conversations. Last night I had a thought, a sincere one: “Texas is all right, but I could really go for a raspberry lime rickey about now.”
A raspberry lime rickey is a peculiarly New England soft drink: they were everywhere in my Massachusetts childhood. If you’re thirsty for one, nothing else will do. I live in Texas now, where nobody has ever heard of them. Then I realized that I don’t love raspberry lime rickeys, it was just a wave of homesickness disguised as a particular thirst. I added other things I miss about Massachusetts: the ocean, candlepin bowling, fond rudeness, 18th century things, and certain people.
Then I asked what other people far from home missed.
People answered immediately and touchingly. Lots of people missed regional food: Tastykakes, something called “Lebanon bologna.” Philadelphians fell into reveries about soft pretzels. But more people missed things that can’t be fit into care packages: birdsong, landscapes, knowing which direction you were headed because the ocean was on your left, weather, seasons, ineffable smells. The tweets had the specificity and emotion of pop songs: some you could dance to and some you could cry to. I follow a lot of writers, but even so I was knocked out by the beauty of the images: The thrown newspaper in a driveway snow divot. Flat overcast light on the Pacific. The back-to-school smell of the ketchup factory. Old brick sidewalks warped by roots and having the whole world at eye level.
Previously I would have said that nostalgia can never be experienced secondhand, but it turns out Twitter is the perfect delivery system for other people’s nostalgia: each tweet was a little pressurized jolt of somebody else’s longing for something lost.
Some people missed other human beings (mothers alive and dead, friends, lost loves, the occasional father), but the most commonly cited living entities by far were fireflies. Well, of course. There’s nothing like them: each appearance of a firefly is newly thrilling, but also an encore performance of every other firefly’s glow you’ve ever attended. Would they mean so much if they flew around switched on? No, it’s the way they blink on, then disappear, then turn back on. It’s their absence that makes them beautiful.
@elizmccracken Winter things. Lake Michigan with ice dunes and tundra, floes. The thrown newspaper in a driveway snow divot. Skyline steam.— Phil Hanrahan (@hanrahanNY) January 19, 2016
@elizmccracken Fog & foghorns. Flat overcast light on the Pacific. The smell of eucalyptus. Better food.— John Boldrick (@ProleArtThreat) January 19, 2016
@elizmccracken The back-to-school smell of the ketchup factory.— Rhian Ellis (@rhianmellis) January 19, 2016
@elizmccracken Driving through Austin after midnight, windows rolled down to thin out the summer air, headed nowhere in particular.— Curtis Edmonds (@Curtis_Edmonds) January 19, 2016
@elizmccracken the local accents. When I hear a Jersey/philly accent I rush toward the person. It's scary to watch— Becky Spratford (@RAforAll) January 19, 2016
@elizmccracken The smell of freshwater seaweed; the creak of a pier; sweet corn and funnel cakes; seeing all the stars.— Michele Host (@michelehost) January 19, 2016
@elizmccracken How in NYC you can walk the same block every morning—and each time it's a different place and yet each time it's still home.— Allison Lynn (@allisondlynn) January 19, 2016
@elizmccracken Boston: seasons, the T, takeout, walking everywhere, the Coolidge, the Booksmith. NC: family, the state fair, Bojangles.— Amy (@mossyair) January 19, 2016
@elizmccracken Walks in the woods, walks on soft ground, stars, quiet, reading by the fire, trees galore, good old New England stuff.— Sarah Larson (@asarahlarson) January 19, 2016
@elizmccracken the gentle clang of halyard against mast, the sky as seen from the roof of my childhood home, someone else planning dinner— Kerry McHugh (@kerryamchugh) January 19, 2016
@elizmccracken BBQ from Dawg's, with thick cornbread to sop up the sauce. Sweating glasses of sweet tea on the back deck, cicadas singing.— Monique (@prussianblonde) January 19, 2016
@elizmccracken I miss old brick sidewalks warped by roots and having the whole world at eye level.— Gaetan Sgro (@GaetanSgro) January 19, 2016
@elizmccracken Drinking coffee with my late mother, watching the birds flocking to her feeders & talking with her in my mother-tongue.— Gregory Norminton (@GDRNorminton) January 19, 2016
@elizmccracken I miss people walking fast and having spatial awareness to the point of being uptight. And being mean to people as affection.— car0line (@TwistedColossus) January 19, 2016