When I was in high school, I’d take the bus home from school. Three buses, really, and about half the time only two and walking the rest of the way home because the third bus liked to just not come at all sometimes. Californian suburbs have never been utopias of mass transit. But I’d get home and pop Return of the Jedi into the VCR. Depending on schedules, sometimes I’d watch half an hour of it in the background while I started homework, sometimes the whole thing right through. I still have those old VHS tapes in a box, a box set of the original trilogy from the early nineties. Return of the Jedi will barely play though, even if I still had a VCR hooked up to a television. The tape’s just about been worn through in places.
When you’re a kid, you don’t re-watch or re-read things all that often. When you do, it’s because it’s a favorite, it’s something that you have just about memorized through repeated watchings. I didn’t just have the dialog memorized in Return of the Jedi, I had every bit of alien speech, droid beeping, and sound effects fully embedded in my subconscious. But that’s the thing, the idea of re-consuming media that isn’t a favorite is sort of a strange idea for a kid. Because they’ve only been consuming the stuff for a few years anyway. Everything is still fresh in the back of their minds.
So the stuff that does stick, does so violently, because they’re the first things to do so. There’s no personal gut knowledge that there is more to watch or read, even if we know it in our minds, so when we’re young, we glom onto those things and obsess over them. The first movie you love, the first book you love, they take up permanent residence in your mind for the rest of your life, just like your first kiss. And like that first electric touch of strawberry lips, at the time it’s unbelievable and incomparable to anything in your previous experience, so you keep trying to recreate it over and over again. It’s why half the time the first person you fall head over heels in love with is a laughably bad match for you from your older perspective, and it’s why we hold special places in our hearts for the first books and movies to touch us that same way.
But as I find myself coasting into the something part of my thirties, that’s changed. Oh it’s not that my memory’s going or some such, but that there is so much more in there, and so many more years between viewings and readings, that re-consumption becomes more frequent, and not just limited to all time greats.
I started watching Eureka from the beginning on Netflix a few days ago. I watched the first three seasons when it first aired, then lost track of it once grad school established different plans for my time. I remember broad parts of the show, the basic gist of the characters and their arcs, but almost nothing about the details of episodes, just hints, ghosts of emotional response. And that was only about six years ago, but when you’re fourteen, six years ago was before you were reading or watching the same things, so there is no well of re-watching to return to.
On the other hand, I have almost no need to re-watch Battlestar Galactica, though it finished its run around the same time I stopped watching Eureka.
The great shows and books and films embed themselves in an unforgettable way. And while we can re-consume them, it will never again be for the first time, because they are indelibly printed in our subconscious. The lesser bits of art though, they’re fair game because of the way they fade. Eureka was never in the same ballpark as Battlestar Galactica, but by virtue of that it can be picked back up. You cannot re-watch the Bloody Sock game in which the Red Sox did the impossible over and over again, not with any regularity. Because the tension if firmly mapped in the fan’s mind already. But if you want to listen to a game just for the background noise, the ebb and flow of pitches and flyballs, then what does it matter if it’s a game you happened to listen to last July as well. It will have faded, and you can listen again with fresh ears. There’s a sweet spot in what we enjoy, of things that move with the same rhythm as our hearts, that we can revisit repeatedly because we’re not waiting for the finish, but feeling the trip down the lane.
The little joys that fade in their specifics are a well we can return to over and over again, because they are the journey without destination.
Steven Lloyd Wilson is a hopeless romantic and the last scion of Norse warriors and the forbidden elder gods. His novel, ramblings, and assorted fictions coalesce at www.burningviolin.com. You can email him here and order his novel here.