Justin Duke

2003 and things

It’s hard to believe that 2003 was a decade ago, right? That the difference between 2003 and now is the same as the difference between 1985 and 1995? I’m occupied with this bizarre, dissonant fact.

Death Cab For Cutie, a band that I’m kind of into, released a ten-year anniversary issue of Transatlanticism, their most important album. Pitchfork’s Ian Cohen wrote a retrospective review, which I found reflective and evocative:

I mean, I can bust out a map and point out the mountain passes of Virginia’s I-64 that I’d brave after skipping early classes or talk about the resonance of “Title and Registration” in relation to the November day in 2003 I spent getting my automotive legal documents in order or how I first heard the title track on the way to a college reunion, for crying out loud. Serendipity, for sure—but few records open themselves up to forge those kind of moments, to be a formative emotional and listening experience, pushing you to feel what you’re thinking (to flip a line from “Lightness”), daring to be universal enough to allow you to see yourself in it.

I’ve got a (rather faulty) memory that treats the passage of time like a raging river more than a discrete set of events plotted by year, as if on graph paper. It’s hard for me to think back to precisely ten weeks ago, let alone ten years. But art and media has something of a steadying effect on me: like Ian, I can listen to The Decemberist’s On the Bus Mall and remember walking to British Literature or Frightened Rabbit’s Keep Yourself Warm and think of a last-minute drive to their DC show. These things become set music for a certain stage of your life and stay there, waiting to be coaxed out.


I got forwarded an email containing a friend’s attempt at a computer diary (sorry, Annabel) from 2002. It’s funny at a basic level – a personal version of @YourAwayMessage but I think there’s a deeper irony in the offline nature of having a .doc version of your seventh grade self. That’s something we lose as we move more and more online. Our parents and grandparents coveted photo albums that they could idly leaf through in later years; we put those photos on Instagram, trading away substance and endurance for the ability to trade likes and append hashtags.

What happens when we forget our Instagram password? What happens when we forget we used to use Instagram? The Internet has no dusty attic to rummage through years after the fact – there is no way to find a once-forgotten cardboard box and delight ourselves with the past.

I (and I’m sure you) have seen trendy billboards and graphic tees adorned with minimalist messages, like Collect memories not things and other cliches about living life with two eyes open.

But I think things – old ticket stubs, chipped glassware, that tie you wore to formal, the pillows your mom made for your new apartment – get a bad rap. They stick around longer than your memories; they act as brief windows into your former self, like watching a rerun of your former life – one of the older seasons which you don’t remember quite as well as you wished.

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© 2017 Justin Duke • All rights reserved • I hope you have a nice day.