* floating

* blindness

* morning naps

* confidently communicating in nonsense

* chewing Lincoln Logs

* building Lincoln Logs

* peeing with pants down around ankles

* concern over no other persons’ well-being but my own

* bedroom

* thumbsucking

* anti-thumbsucking ointment on thumb

* wearing a bullwhip made from leather shoelaces

* believing in Santa Claus

* believing in the Muppets

* believing everything parents said

* believing that Jesus might show up

* closing eyes when washing hair

* insomnia before the first day of school

* cursive

* little erections during the Oscar telecast

* marriage proposal to girl with purple tights on bus

* action figures

* a copy of Playboy Magazine shared, on a monitored rotation, among several friends

* carrying backpack with both straps over shoulders

* Trapper Keepers

* imagining a kiss

* a taste for Pixie Stix

* a taste for army games

* a taste for U2

* incredulity at anyone’s ability to control fast, cumbersome pieces of machinery

* church shoes

* mathematics

* curfews

* home

* imagining sex

* the cello

* Strawberry Hill Boone’s Farm Wine

* indifference to coffee

* indifference to pot

* indifference to time running out

* crushes

* studio art

* assuming words just poured out of me, brilliant and perfectly formed, onto the page

* tape decks

* pre-planned naked events

* isolated utopias

* fear of living in a big city

* nonchalance about money

* Pennsylvania schwag

* invincibility of parents

* invincibility of shrug and grin

* invincibility behind the wheel

* a 1992 white Volkswagen Fox

* dazzling visions of Tinseltown

* seeing a visit to Billy Wilder’s gravesite as a quasi-religious gesture

* having people notice when you do something right

* assuming the world would end any day now

* viewing life as a series of unedited film clips

* dismissing Bob Dylan

* quoting Bob Dylan

* listening to non-bootleg versions of Idiot Wind

* wondering if maybe everyone and everything in the world was just an intricately-crafted illusion that I was destined to find a way to smash through

* thinking I was some kind of genius

* thinking I was some kind of idiot

* thinking I should try to write like William Faulkner

* or John Fante

* thinking loneliness was fine

* seeing a woman engaged to another man as a roadblock

* pining

* stewing

* jogging

* counting irony as an emotion

* a really good job

* English as the only language I’d ever need

* compatriotism

* clothes with the names of pro sports teams on them

* refusal to argue

* delusions of France

* not speaking unless I knew the right and exact phrase

* contraception

* doubt about sterility

* doubt about what would ever become of me

* having nothing to lose

* idle weekends

* uninterrupted nights

* sterilizing the bottles

* all other activities except writing during the morning naps

* explaining to the French why Americans cut food with their forks

* explaining to Americans why there is veal snout on the menu

* trying to correctly pronounce the “ou” sound

* any remnants of being a smooth talker

* keeping a numbered list of every movie ever watched

* keeping a mental list of lifetime highlight moments that somehow one day could go on a reel

* unbending movie opinions

* fixed-rate loans

* being able to dry all tears every time

* riding waterslides solo

* group emails

* 20/20 vision

* eating over half the pizza

* thinking I could be as charming as my wife in social situations

* delusions of America

* peace on earth

* viewing growth as linear

* viewing anything as linear

* insomnia before daughters’ first day of school

* not understanding how to fit legs into purple tights

* fudging a cursive “r”

* needing more affirmation from my parents than my parents needed from me

* seeing home as somewhere else

* believing I could stay away from prayer

* believing I could stop looking for signs

* believing I could stop worrying

* believing in Inspector Clouseau

* believing in David Lynch

* believing I could join a online literary community and not give it too much of my time

* believing in the finality of the end of a story

* believing I could put everything into this list

* reliving that which I supposedly left behind

* smaller magic

* larger lies

* slouching



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NATHANIEL MISSILDINE lives in Dijon, France with his wife and two daughters. He is the author of the 2012 travel memoir SAVE FOR FIREFLIES as well as a recently completed novel. Online writings, by turns comical and puzzling, are on display over at nathanielmissildine.com.

32 responses to “What I Gave Up”

  1. Zara Potts says:

    I love this.
    Love its chronological order and the way things repeat in different forms.
    It runs like a movie projector – every sentence a full frame. Lovely stuff!

  2. Gloria says:

    This is wonderful, Nathan. Like Zara, I’m impressed as all hell by its chronological order. And it’s so comprehensive. It goes nicely along with this one:

    assuming words just poured out of me, brilliant and perfectly formed, onto the page

    Also, what are church shoes?

  3. J.S.B says:

    I agree. I don’t know why this seems so filmic, but it does. Maybe the way the images flow, both connected and disconnected. I like the believing section, and also the bit about U2! Oh, and counting irony as an emotion. Great!

  4. Greg Olear says:

    This is great. Or formidable, as they say over there. A story in list form — hard to achieve.

    I especially like that, thinking back on it, it’s about halfway between things you’d want to give up (I do not miss bottle sterilization) and things you wouldn’t.

    • Yes, I tried to balance it out between things I miss and things I don’t. Because I sometimes still feel bereft without a Trapper Keeper, but the bottle sterilization – or more accurately being told everything within twenty feet of the baby needs to be sterilized like it’s open-heart surgery – not so much.

      Thanks for your kind comment.

      • Greg Olear says:

        One of the mommies at Back to School Night was carrying a Trapper Keeper folder. I’m so glad they still make them.

        On a related topic, I myself still haven’t given up dismissing Bob Dylan (who is, in my limited experience, just as big if not bigger in Europe than he he stateside).

  5. Simon Smithson says:

    Nathaniel! As usual, a piece from you is not what I expect, and yet, perfect in its unexpectedness.

    Merci, m’sieu.

  6. Two things stand out to me as needing remedied immediately: You must believe in Inspector Clouseau, and you must build things with Lincoln Logs.

    Great list! I love how it evolves and tells its own story. Clever, clever.

    • Yes, I mostly had to give up Clouseau because I had watched him so much. He’s probably responsible for helping me with my accent. Lincoln Logs, on the other hand, got replaced at my house with unicorn dreamcastles.

      Thanks for your nice comment, Cynthia.

  7. Mary Richert says:

    oh my god. breaking my damned heart here. and also cracking me up, which is the best way for a heart to go, I think.

  8. Joe Daly says:

    Brilliant. As Zara noted, the chronological order gives it the whole narrative feel.

    Well done, Nat.

  9. Judy Prince says:

    Wonderful, Nat.

    “* insomnia before the first day of school”

    “* insomnia before my daughter’s first day of school”

    (How time changes us.) 😉

    “* chewing Lincoln Logs”

    “* little erections during the Oscar telecast”

    “* believing I could join a online literary community and not give it too much of my time”

    “* not understanding how to fit legs into purple tights”

    “* fudging a cursive “r”

  10. Marni Grossman says:

    It’s funny. We think of “giving up” as a negative. But this list is proof positive that that’s only partly true.

  11. Anti thumb-sucking ointment. Yeah, we’re going through that right now. Great list. My mother used to paint Tabasco on my sister’s thumb. I also really liked “believing in David Lynch” which is something that I don’t do, but am amazed by in others.

  12. Nathaniel Missildine says:

    Yes, I’ll always keep that soft spot for Lynch, just like an occasional pang of longing for Pixie Stix. Good luck with the thumb wars. I wonder if Tabasco might have actually encouraged me. Thanks for commenting, Sean.

  13. Really enjoyed the visceral pull here, Nathaniel. But you should never stop believing in Inspector Clouseau. (Insert smiley face emoticon here.)

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