Inspiration in a Time Capsule

The other day my friend Sarah sent me a fun link about a lost time capsule recently found in Aspen by the crew of National Geographic Channel’s Diggers. The capsule was from the 1983 Aspen International Design Conference and it contained a bit of tech history–Steve Jobs’ mouse from his first LISA computer, along with an eight-track recording of The Moody Blues, a Sears Roebuck catalog, the June 1983 issue of Vogue, a Rubik’s Cube and a six-pack of beer.

Photo of time capsule from the 1983 Aspen International Design Conference

Credit National Geographic Channel

When I read the story, I chuckled out loud and thought, Only in Aspen, as a wave of nostalgia washed over me about the town my husband, Jeffrey Aaronson, and I called home for so many years.

It also reminded me just how much I love time capsules.

In fact, every New Year’s Eve I put my family through the same exercise—creating a written time capsule in which we list all our favorite things and most interesting moments from the year, along with epic world and national events. We often include photos and a few mementos that capture the spirit of our year. Then, so we don’t take ourselves too seriously, we unceremoniously bury it in the junk drawer.

I have to admit, I’ve already unearthed a couple time capsules from five or six years ago, and even in that short time, they already feel historic and full of whimsy. The best part is that I know I never would have remembered some of the things we documented, had we not written them down at the time.

Drawing of the Pearl Chase HouseTime capsules come in all forms—some of the most interesting ones are unintended, arriving out of necessity or happenstance. Being lovers of old houses, Jeffrey and I have bought and sold and renovated several historic Victorians, a Craftsman and even a barn. During those renovations we’ve almost always found interesting items stuffed in the walls—things like newspapers from the 1880s, used as insulation, or historic tools or tidbits buried beneath the foundation. Each time those discoveries  have made us stop and linger, thinking about previous owners and bygone eras.

In some ways being a writer is like creating small time capsules for others to discover, and hopefully enjoy and reflect upon. 

When I wrote Steve & i my hope was to capture the essence of a historic moment in time when the first Apple Computer was created and also show a side of Steve Jobs that most people never knew. In recounting Jeffrey’s story about his friendship with Steve, focusing on the many details, I wanted to share a unique look at this extraordinary person as he navigated through a groundbreaking time in history.

During the writing process, there were definitely times when I felt like I could have been on the crew of Diggers. In fact, a safety helmet might have been wise as we sifted through boxes in our storage unit, which is stuffed from floor to ceiling with old photographic equipment, large crates of art, loads of published pictures, boxes of mementos from around the world and outtake slides from more than three decades of photographic assignments.

We spent hours digging through boxes and pouring over slides, trying not to get too sidetracked as we came across other memories–which wasn’t easy as we were also looking for tearsheets and correspondence related to the chapters I was working on for my other book about Jeffrey’s work in North Korea, Burma and Tibet.

When we unearthed the box containing Jeffrey’s invitation to Steve Jobs’ 30th birthday party, along with a badge to the Apple launch in New York, and several other related items, it immediately took him back to that moment in time when serendipity swirled through Aspen’s high mountain air, creating a spark that ignited an unforgettable friendship.

While I often cringe at our pack rat tendencies and think, We should take the time to clean out that #@!& storage unit some day, with moments like that, I have decided instead to embrace our creative and sentimental souls and think of our storage unit as our giant personal time capsule.

Photo of a time capsule

What about you? Are you nostalgic? Do you like to keep things for posterity? What items would you put in a time capsule to represent your life? Drop me a comment–I’d love to hear from you!

16 thoughts on “Inspiration in a Time Capsule

  1. Becky! That’s so cool — do you really do a family time capsule every New Year’s? What a wonderful tradition! I’m going to do my best to remember that, and start it up with my own family. I have always been enraptured by the idea of time capsules, since we made one with the Girl Scouts that’s buried under a tree in my old town square. So amazing, these glimpses not only into the past, but into our past selves. For we do grow and change, and to have that first-hand account of what mattered to us in the past is a real treasure. What a great post!

    • You’ll have to let me know how your family approaches its time capsule when New Year’s rolls around. I’m sure you’ll have fun with it. They are so great for capturing a small snippet of a time and place–especially when kids are involved.

  2. Becky, I’m super nostalgic. Got it from my mother who saved countless mementos for us. She was obsessive about cutting out newspaper clippings and sending them to us. In fact, recently I came across one in an envelope with some old photos and letters. I was in awe that I found it. A New York Times clipping from February 17, 1964. Any idea what happened during that time? Well, it was three articles all about the very first Beatles’ visit to America, summarizing their nine-day visit from different angles. They even interviewed a sociologist to determine what it meant to our culture that throngs of girls and boys were greeting the band wherever they went. It was fascinating to read, as back then, no one knew how big the Beatles would become. I immediately took it to get framed in museum quality glass in order to preserve it. Although, considering how old the clipping was (50 years old this coming February), it was in marvelous shape.

    • Monica, I love your story. What a find! And what a wonderful way to remember your mother and be reminded of how much she loved you. So great. I can only imagine how interesting your time capsule will be!

  3. Funny that you should write this post in autumn — the most nostalgic of seasons. The old Coke bottles unearthed during a recent clean-up on my property were not something intentionally left years and years ago (before we lived here) — and yet they do speak to a time and place long gone. What would I leave in a time capsule? –my first portable typewriter (Olympia) would seem to be appropriate, as a reminder of a time when I so enjoyed crumpling papers and throwing them across the room. I think I”d also include a pin I once bought — that looks like an elephant animal cracker.( I’d bought a bunch for friends of mine — different animals :-) And I’d have to include random post-it notes from my daughter in pre-electronic days that I tucked away in the hope of one day being caught by surprise. Of course, photos photos photos.

    • Autumn does always make me feel nostalgic, now that you mention it. Even though the seasons never change drastically here, most of the significant changes in my life have always occurred during autumn.

      Your time capsule completely captures your spirit, which makes me smile–from the typewriter to the post-its. And of course, photos. :-)

  4. I am nostalgic. I tend to remember the dates of important incidents. I have a lot of “stuff” collected over the years. I, too, used to look at it as junk I really needed to get rid of. But what a wonderful way to connect with memories, when you hold something from childhood or look through old family photos! What I need to do, though, is organize what I have so I can lay my hands on it when I need it. :-)

    Great post, Becky! I love your writing and am always glad when you post.

    • Tina, it’s always so great to hear from you. Glad to know I’m not alone in my sentimentality. I agree, organizing our ‘time capsules’ would make them even more enjoyable. I think the challenging part for creative types is to stopping long enough to do it, or making it a priority over creating something new.

  5. Becky, loved this post. Heard about the LISA mouse in passing on NPR, but didn’t get the whole story. Can’t believe I haven’t thought of creating a time capsule before. I’m completely entranced with the idea. Think I might have to do a post about it, too. :)

  6. Great post. Tangible things are a wonderful reminder of events that happened long ago, but of course, trying to hang on to every little thing is impossible. I like your idea of a time-capsule–especially the tradition that it invokes. Perhaps writing (and blogging) has become a way for us to remember the good and difficult times of our lives without all the clutter. It’s forever available in that limitless cyber-scrap book for us to refer to when we feel nostalgic. Of course, a storage shed is good, too.

    • Jessica, I agree a blog is kind of like a cyber-scrapbook/time capsule. Won’t it be interesting to see how all this is viewed generations from now?

  7. I just bought a book yesterday called The Happiness Project: One-Sentence Journal for Mothers (A Five-Year Record) by Gretchen Rubin. The quotes at the top of each page don’t amount to much–you could probably make your own with a blank book–but it’s bright and cheery yellow and turquoise colored. Today’s entry from my 9-year-old as we played piggy back: “Mom, you’re almost as wide as my horse at horse camp.” I loved the idea of recording one sentence each day for a five-year time capsule.

    • I liked The Happiness Project so I bet the journal is fun. Great idea to record one sentence each day. With your little firecracker, I’m sure you’d create a treasure trove of doozies! Love her most recent one. The life of a mom–what an adventure!

  8. Welcome back Becky. I suppose having lost all personal possession in my early twenties I was rendered an unsentimental detachment to objects, but of course I have exceptions. I get as nostalgic as the next person when it comes to looking back at my children’s lives especially through photos and have squirreled away a few keepsakes for them. Sweaters and mittens knitted by my dear mother-in-law who is lost to dementia now and a doll buggy that she and they played with as children. Tea cups from my own Grandmother’s collection as well as my sister-in-law’s. My inclination would be to add particular books that trigger memories of my girls. The Cats of Mrs Calamari, Burnt Toast on Davenport Street, Skippy John Jones and anything by Robert Munsch.

    • Thanks, Lynne. Nice to reconnect! I have many friends like you who have have little sentimental attachment to objects. I wish you would all rub off on me! I go through waves in which I say, “Out with the old and in with the new” or just “Out with the old,” but as you can see from this post, I lean toward the sentimental. Your time capsule sounds delightful on many, many levels! Thanks for sharing.

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