Digital illustration of the author with portraits of her family in thought bubbles with art-related symbols such as film reel, books, music notes, and a paint palette.
Design by Sara Fang.

My sister does this thing where she creates playlists for every season of her life. In part, it’s a way to keep track of all the music she came across over a given period of time so she can listen to all the songs easily, but every once in a while, she’ll go back to a playlist after some time and listen to it, almost as if she’s trying to embody that time of her life again. She’ll tell you that “2019: Winter” was a productive time in her life (full of One Direction songs and a few musicals thrown in for good measure) and that “2020: Summer” reminds her of quarantine, complete with songs from “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” and a good number of Big Time Rush ones as well.

It’s something like this that reminds me of how art can bring us back to moments in time, to varying periods in our own lives. When I think of “Avengers: Endgame,” for instance, I’m immediately transported to that April 25, 2019 evening show (the first show of the night), being in a crowd with so many other Marvel fans. People cheered and screamed and cried, and when I think about that movie or rewatch it, I’m reminded of that experience. Or when I listen to Taylor Swift’s evermore album, I remember that moment of waking up to her Instagram post and the wintry season that followed, with an album that encapsulated the seasonal vibes.

But what I’m most nostalgic about, most happy to remember, are those few pieces of art that instinctively, almost viscerally, remind me of certain people in my life. There are a ton, of course, but every so often there’s a specific song or a TV show or a book that, whenever I come back to it, I think of my family members. It’s proof that art is so naturally entangled, intertwined, in our everyday lives and the people that make us up. 

Father-Daughter Book Club: That time my dad dared me to read “War and Peace”

My dad started reading Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” one day, and I couldn’t tell you why. I’m not sure where it came from or who inspired it or anything like that, but all I know is that he started reading it, and once he finished it, he told me I couldn’t call myself an English major without reading this piece of renowned literature. (That always made me roll my eyes because the book was originally in Russian, but that’s not the point of this story.)

I told him I wasn’t eager to read a book that was, from my understanding, boring and sad and long. He just shrugged in response, before turning back to me and saying something to the effect of “I guess you can’t do it.”

That, of course, felt like a challenge.

And so, I succumbed. Not only did I agree to read it, but I told him that I would read it faster than he did.

And I did. Ten days later, I victoriously walked back up to him and shared my success. Never mind that I didn’t like the book or feel that my status as an English major would have been in danger if I hadn’t read it … He dared me to read it, so I did.

And now, when I think about “War and Peace,” I’m reminded of my father. 

I don’t focus on the book itself or the trying time I had reading it (I measured out the pages and made myself read about a hundred a day, powering through even when the book literally put me to sleep.) I don’t think about the plot — I’m not even sure I remember all that much that occurred. 

I think about his look of surprise and pride when I completed it and the conversations we had about it afterward. I remember the sense of accomplishment that I felt. I remember the feeling of satisfaction at having met his challenge head-on.

And, of course, I remember him looking back at me and saying “I guess you have to read ‘Anna Karenina’ next, now.”

I did read it, of course, because I felt challenged once again. How did I feel about it? Let’s just say Tolstoy isn’t for me.

“The Kitchen” and Our Kitchen: Food Network, my mom and me

I think it started a few Ramadans ago, when I was really young — maybe still in elementary school. 

For some reason, when we were fasting, my mom would watch Food Network shows. My sister always lamented, asking why she would torture herself at looking at food when we were still hours away from being able to eat, but I kind of understood. I would sit beside my mom and watch with her, feeling this weird sense of living vicariously through the chefs when they were eating, even though I had to wait until sunset to eat myself.

And from there, our relationship with cooking shows just grew. I loved watching “The Next Food Network Star” with her and making guesses at which contestant would come out on top. “Chopped” was another favorite, where we would judge the competitors harshly, even though we probably couldn’t do what they were doing. Quarantine was full of days and days spent on the sofa watching “The Great British Baking Show,” rolling our eyes at Paul Hollywood and making notes of all the things we wanted to bake ourselves.

And we did bake together — a lot. I don’t have much patience for cooking because there’s so much instinct and guesswork required, but I love the focus and meticulousness that baking requires. My mom and I would try various scone recipes, spend days baking different cookies and hunting for the perfect cake recipes.

All of this was, of course, supplemented by further Food Network watching — let’s call it research. One of our favorites to watch is “The Kitchen,” where some of Food Network’s best chefs come together almost like they’re on a talk show, chatting about recipes and working together to cook them for the expectant audience.

There’s this sense of hominess and coziness that radiates from the show, and that’s why we love it so much. We like to joke that the chefs are almost our friends, for how often we spend time watching them. 

It’s one of those shows that I couldn’t watch without thinking about my mom and something that would feel weird to watch without her. All those days spent bonding over cooking shows and baking together feel like undeniable evidence of our similarities, our relationship, and I feel nostalgic about it even when we’re still in the moment, on the sofa together, watching yet another episode.

Girl Power: How “Kim Possible” shaped me and my sister

I’ll be honest. There were a lot of things I could have picked that remind me of my sister. We’re only three years apart, so when it came to our childhood, we were pretty much always together — watching the same movies, tuning in to the same Disney Channel shows, reading the same books. And since we’ve gotten older, that’s only increased. Most of our conversations revolve around the media we’re consuming and how we feel about it. 

But, in many ways, it would have felt disingenuous to pick anything besides “Kim Possible.” 

Just recently, my sister and I were talking about how this show was probably what set us on the path toward feminism. That may sound ridiculous, but when we first watched it, we were at that formative age where art begins to mold you, and seeing Kim (Christy Carlson Romano, “Even Stevens”) as this cool, competent, awesome character was pivotal for us. She was this girl who could save the day and herself and her friends, and when you’re young girls watching a TV show, what more could you really ask for?

I’m not even ashamed to admit that we come back to “Kim Possible” all the time, even now. In fact, I think it was probably one of the first few shows we watched once Disney+ launched.

There are those episodes that we remember so much we could quote them — primarily ones that we had on DVD when we were kids and would watch in the back of our mom’s car. We call back to those popular catchphrases all the time — “what’s the sitch?”, “so not the drama” and “booyah,” to name a few. Even Kim’s twin brothers’ secret language saying was something we would often say to each other.

It’s rare to be able to come back to a show like that. Remembering some episodes but having no idea what others were about, because it’s been so many years since you’ve last seen it. It’s kind of amazing to be able to watch those episodes again like it’s the first time, and even when we watch older episodes again and again, there are new things that we notice. Things that went over our heads when we were younger. 

I almost feel like Kim grew up with us, and continues to grow up with us. Not because she actually does — she’s in high school throughout the entirety of the show, and we are sadly now much older than that — but because her capabilities and demeanor and attitude are things we still try to embody. 

She was probably the first female character that we ever really admired, the first one we tried to be like. And I don’t think that will ever stop. We may not be facing evil masterminds trying to take over the world (or, in Drakken’s (John DiMaggio, “Futurama”) case, evil guys who think they’re masterminds but really wouldn’t be anywhere without their sidekicks), but her values still stand. We’ll still hold on to what she’s taught us as we get older. 

That being said, my sister’s phone case looks like the Kimmunicator, and her text tone is the same as Kim’s, so maybe we haven’t really grown up at all.

The Only Thing I Like About Justin Bieber: “Baby” and my baby brother

“Baby” came out in 2010, right after my brother turned two. It stayed pretty popular though, so by the time he was really talking, the song was still pretty constantly played on the radio and on Disney Channel. 

I don’t remember why, exactly, but for some reason, my brother just really liked the song. When he was maybe three years old, with chubby cheeks and teeth still growing in, he would sing it all the time. Sing probably isn’t even the right word — he performed

There are numerous videos that we have of him performing this song, eyes closed and face scrunched up because he was living it. He was serious about it. And it was, quite literally, the cutest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.

As he got older, he didn’t care for it as much — probably because we loved to remind him of it and show him videos, and he was probably mortified. That didn’t stop us from continuing to play it around him or make him learn it on the piano. Actually, for whatever reason, my sister and I made him lip-sync it for us — complete with a dance routine — just a couple of years ago, over quarantine. Instead of a cute three-year-old, it was a surly teenager, but it was still so fun to watch. (My sister and I also made a special appearance, rapping in the vein of Ludacris, and we killed it, just in case anyone was wondering.)

I don’t often hear “Baby” on the radio anymore, considering it’s been more than a decade since it’s been released, but whenever it comes up on shuffle randomly, I think about my brother. He’s not even a baby anymore, but that song so aggressively reminds me of the time when he was a baby that it makes me miss that time of my life, of his life. 

There are songs that my brother likes much more now. He’s at the age where he’s acquiring his own music taste, accumulating the songs he likes and actually chooses to listen to, instead of being ‘forced’ to listen to mine and my sister’s music. And even though he likes other artists now — Queen, Michael Jackson, the oldies that I’m not even sure how he discovered — it’s always going to be “Baby” that reminds me of him. 

Art, memories, family: A conclusion

Things change with time, so I’m sure that I’ll continue to discover art that reminds me of the people in my life, but in some ways, these few things are pieces of art that I’ll always hold with me because of my family members. I may not love “War and Peace” and maybe I’m a tad too old for “Kim Possible,” but it doesn’t matter because the memories of experiencing these pieces of art are interwoven with the memories of experiencing them with my family members.

It’s a really amazing thing, to be able to open a book or flick the TV on or play a song and be immediately, instinctively, reminded of the people you love. And it’s even more wonderful to know that that will never stop or change. 

Daily Arts Writer Sabriya Imami can be reached at