About The Goodbye Project:
There are so many of us who can’t part with objects because of the sentimental attachment we have to them. You know—the graduation tassels, the barfed-on stuffed animal with the missing eye, the coat your late father bought for you because you begged. So what do you do when it’s time to let go of these beloved items because it’s absolutely necessary?
I’d read someplace that one of the best ways to let go of an object is to know that you have a photo. Sure, you can photograph it before you get rid of it. The Goodbye Project takes the idea a step further: go back and find photos of yourself actually with, using, or wearing that object, and blurb a bit about the memories it invokes.
Why? Everything has a story.
And because of that, the object deserves more than just a hasty trip to the Goodwill or the trash without a second thought.
EPISODE 9: THE JACQUES COUSTEAU BOOK
While I plan on a few episodes about several books and what they mean to me, this one—like Episode 7, about the penguins—merited a separate episode.
I don’t remember how old I was—probably 11 or 12, which would set this story in 1982 or 1983, but we still had the small yellow Subaru, and my parents took me to Mystic Marinelife Aquarium (it’s now called Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration) in Mystic, Connecticut for the day.
It was the first time I had ever been to an aquarium, and I remember plunging through the double-doors (the place looks completely different now) and into the cool darkness that smelled to me like swimming pools and aluminum—a smell I never forgot. I was immersed in a new world—around me, the creatures of the sea, which I’d previously only seen in books. It was the first time I saw a jellyfish, which had stung me in Daytona Beach when I was six. It was the first time I saw a shark up close. It was the first time I saw crabs, sea stars, and dolphins (at the time, Mystic had dolphins). I was awash in magic, and I looked down at the blue carpet under my feet and said to myself, ‘someday, I am going to work here.’
At that time, the way in which you exited the aquarium was through the gift shop. Our parents were not the best in terms of getting us the souvenirs we wanted, but they always got us something small. On that day, though, I just couldn’t be talked into one of those felt pennants or a hat. I wanted pictures of all these wonderful, incredible animals. I wanted something from which I could learn more. I saw this book on the shelf and had to have it.
I’m sure there was some kind of argument in the gift shop, because the book was expensive, but eventually, Dad caved—then gave me the silent treatment all the way home. It was one of those uncomfortable childhood moments when you can feel the tension, when you are terrified to say anything because it might invoke something worse.
Finally, Dad said something to the effect that I was selfish. He was always telling me that as a kid: I was selfish, just like his brother Marty. I do remember, though, at one point, my mother had had enough. She said: “That isn’t your older brother in the back seat, you know. That is your daughter. And she wanted a book instead of a piece of junk that’s going to be tossed aside in a couple of hours, so I suggest you stop, because you’re going to scare her out of learning anything new.”
My mother rarely spoke up in defense of me, but when she did, she meant business—there was no mistaking that or else tone in her voice. Dad clammed up.
I read that book cover to cover several times, and it inspired me to once again dive into Dad’s National Geographic collection (see Episode 5 of The Goodbye Project here: http://wp.me/pIXRs-Ec ). One of the issues had a few articles on the ocean written by Cousteau. I do remember being surprised to see his name (remember, I was 12 at the time).
I was so inspired by Cousteau’s writing I wrote a letter to the National Geographic Society. I’m not even sure what I said—I didn’t keep a copy of the letter, as back then all I had was one of my Dad’s old typewriters and no way to keep a copy unless I typed a duplicate—but I did get a response, and I can infer from its content that I probably gave a compliment on how much I enjoyed the articles.
I did, apparently, take Smith’s advice and wrote to the Cousteau Society. Again, I don’t have a copy of the original letter, but here’s the response. Obviously I asked for an autograph.
Somewhere along the line I discovered that this was a double volume of Cousteau’s series of books, and in 1997, I was lucky enough to find the whole set at a tag sale (which I later cast off—it just didn’t have the pull that this one volume had, so I never read any of them).
As for going to work at Mystic? You bet I did. Despite the two hour and fifteen minute haul, I became an aquarium volunteer for the Fishes & Inverts department (sharks, crabs, etc.) in March of 2002 and logged over a hundred hours up through the middle of 2004. My duties included feeding the octopus (I hated that job—you had to knee yourself over the tank on a 2×6 and watch the beast rise up from the bottom), feeding everybody else, cleaning tanks, water changes, preparing food, monitoring ozone levels, and more. I taught a class in lobster dissection, I got the tip of my finger clipped by a puffer fish (they have sharp beaks, man!), I felt the hum of electricity when I plugged in a wet vac while standing in a pool of water (according to one of the guys there, my initiation to full aquarist included getting bitten, getting electrocuted, and falling in a tank. Well, two out of three ain’t bad, right?), I tripped with a full tray of food. I helped clean out the mort freezer (DO NOT ASK) and I also participated in the stranding unit (you can read more about this in my science paper for Burlington College here: BCScienceEssay2005). Every other Sunday I got up at 5 a.m. so I could make it to work by 7:30 a.m., and every other Sunday I came home sticky with fish guts.
They were some of the most glorious days of my life.
This is the book that started it all. Although I have to say goodbye, I photographed the pages or photos that fascinated me the most.
For more information about volunteering at the Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration, visit here: http://www.mysticaquarium.org/get-involved/volunteer