On International Women’s Day last week, I watched a short video about L.M. Montgomery that was released by Heritage Canada. “What do I like?” it began, the actor speaking as though she were Montgomery. “I like open fires, moonlit nights. Chatty letters, rainy days. I like day-dreaming.” The script immediately impressed me as being essayistic.
I discovered that it was comprised entirely of excerpts from Montgomery’s journals. I looked up this “I like” list that appears at the beginning of the script, and quickly found the 1920 entry in which she made a list of more than 60 items of her “likes”
She was responding to John Ruskin’s essay “Traffic” in which he writes that, “Taste is not only a part and an index of morality; it is the ONLY morality. . . . Tell me what you like and I’ll tell you what you are.” So Montgomery decided to write her own list of “likes.” It includes, “I like a snack at bedtime,” “I like housekeeping–I do!” and “I like—or liked in pre-prohibitions days—Miss Oxtoby’s dandelion wine.” What does this list reveal about her? Difficult to be definitive, but still, it gives us a snapshot of her personality.
It reminded me of the incredibly effective opening of the film Amélie, in which we are likewise given not only the likes but also dislikes of her parents:
“Amélie’s father . . . doesn’t like noticing people laughing at his sandals; [or] coming out of the water with his swimming suit sticking to his body. [He] likes to tear big pieces of wallpaper off the walls; to line up his shoes and polish them with great care; to empty his toolbox, clean it thoroughly, and, finally, put everything away carefully.”
“Amélie’s mother . . . doesn’t like to have her fingers all wrinkled by hot water. She doesn’t like it when somebody she doesn’t like touches her; [or] to have the marks of the sheets on her cheek in the morning. She likes the outfits of the ice-skaters on TV; to shine the flooring; to empty her handbag, clean it thoroughly, and, finally, put everything away carefully.”
These idiosyncratic snapshots give us immediate insights into their characters, while at the same time allows us to recognize ourselves in them. At least, that was my experience. One film critic at The Guardian wrote that “a terrific voiceover . . . introduces us to Amelie’s parents and gives us a hilarious run-down of their likes and dislikes, a bravura piece of comedy which is worth the price of admission.”
Whether serious or comic, the technique of listing likes (or dislikes, as the case may be) proves to be particularly effective as a snapshot of character.
Who knows what conclusions you may draw from me, but I’ve decided to try my own little list of everyday likes and dislikes. Enjoy!
On Everyday Likes and Dislikes
I like the look of well-organized groceries on the conveyer belt, boxes impeccably packed, produce placed first, all heading their way to the cashier (who I secretly hope will admire my selection of fruits, vegetables, and sales).
I like bagging my groceries myself, and dislike — feel irritated — when this is done for me, and insist on packing my own eggs into the cloth bag that fits them just right.
I don’t like having an odd number of eggs in the carton at any time, except in the midst of cracking them into the bowl; it bothers me so much that I will use an extra egg in cooking (like when I made omelets last week) just to even them out again.
I like buying eggs from the farmer’s market best. Two trays at a time, which equals five dozen. These, I like placing carefully into five cartons, and will stack them in my fridge (it doesn’t bother me to have an odd number of cartons, only odd number of eggs in the cartons)
I like to get in and out of the farmer’s market in a half hour or less, so I only have to pay 50c for parking – the cheapest in the city.
I like getting gas at a good price (who doesn’t?).
I like to cycle, rather than drive, when I can help it. But when you buy two trays of eggs, it’s difficult to cycle with them, though I have successfully carried them home in my panniers, once.
I dislike pumping up my bike tires, but every time I do, I’m immediately glad I did.
I dislike making phone calls.
I dislike handling raw meat, but I do it anyway, buying “Mega Format” packs of medium ground beef when it goes on sale, and then (squeamishly!) repackaging this into smaller quantities in freezer bags to store beyond its “best before date.”
I like eating chocolate chips raw from the bag (rarely do they find their way into cookies).
I dislike the sticky, exhausting mess of canning, but I do it, too, nearly every fall. I like seeing all the jars — of jam and applesauce, and peach salsa and whatever else — lined up too much to not do it.(When I’m simply given these as gifts that someone else has canned, I feel like I’ve cheated.
I dislike washing dishes, unless it’s my teacups. Or else, I like it if I’m lost in some writerly train of thought which I can record later.
I dislike the interlibrary loan system at my local library, so slow, and sometimes the books don’t come at all. But it’s at no extra cost, so there is that, other than the taxes I pay, of course.
I like paying my taxes. I don’t know why. But I like going into city hall to do it. Perhaps I like feeling squared up, and having done my part to help pay for the library, which I like, too.
I like the front dust jacket flap of How to Write A Sentence by Stanley Fish, a book I borrowed from the library (not ILL). It says, “Some appreciate fine art; others appreciate fine wines. Stanley Fish appreciates fine sentences.” I like fine sentences, too, though I find I don’t write them very often.
I like finding fireflies in the backyard.
I like cutting the grass, raking the leaves, and shoveling snow.
I like reading books, especially the old cloth covered ones by L.M. Montgomery.
I like purple.
I like asking questions.
Question: What are some of your likes and/or dislikes?