The Past Is Preferred: On Nostalgia

By Last Updated: April 5, 2016Views: 3055

This site’s primary function in nostalgia. Oh sure, I have grandiose notions of somehow being relevant and cutting edge and occasionally making what I sometimes refer to as “a point.” But if I’m truly honest the majority of what I write is nostalgia pure and simple. I write creative memoir which is just a way to romanticize my childhood. I attempt critical analysis of old movies and TV shows, which is really just an excuse to watch old movies and TV shows. And even when I talk about current events or new releases or pop culture it is inevitably tinged with references to the past.

Looking back is my default position. My present is firmly rooted in memory. And I have upcoming plans to revisit various aspects of my history making my future a journey into the past as well.

Nostalgia is a comfort. It is a warm blanket pulled from mothballs on a cold night. It is collection of items that makes me smile and whisper, “I remember that.” It is a color-faded photograph with slightly brown and curled edges of a person that vaguely looks like me. It is trinkets an toys in a cardboard box damp with decay. It is an avocado colored refrigerator and a macrame owl that hangs on the wall. It is the crackle of spliced 8mm film and the pop of dust on a needle in a vinyl groove. It is the feel of an old book pulled from a basement shelf and the sound of the crack of its yellowed pages when opened. And it is the smell of must and mildew and dried flowers. It is the memory of adolescent wonder and teenage angst. It is innocence lost and the feeling of being new.

I miss the past. I like to visit there often. The reason for this is simple really.

The future has not happened yet and despite my best efforts I have not been able to influence it. The future remains aggressively unknown. Until it happens the future remains vague, and while fun to speculate from time to time, the future is annoyingly hard to understand.

The present as well is something far too close. The present is continually happening – like now for instance, or now – and it is happening so quickly that it is really hard to appreciate. Did you feel that? That moment that just happened. Did you understand the implications of that moment in time? Me neither. Living in the “now” is a wonderful notion but the present is best appreciated after it has happened.

The past by contrast is a glorious medium to work in. As it has already happened it can be molded to take shape in any way we want it to be. The past is not set in stone but in clay, soft and malleable. And the more time passes the more creative one can get. Nostalgia is a form of art.

I write fiction, and for me the best material to use is my own past. I mine my memory for stories and characters and places and feelings. Some of the best things I have ever written are re-imagined memories. In a way we are all fiction writers. Taking what we remember and shaping it to fit the way things are today helps us to understand where we have been and where we might be going. And adding a little fondness and warmth as well.

But the more sepia toned our memory becomes the more “it was better then” becomes a refrain. the more these kids today just won’t understand. And the past becomes a place where people were smarter, more respectful. There was a civility back then. A golden age of prosperity where we had more than our parents but still understood the value of a dollar. And authority was respected but we could still speak our minds. And people could keep their clothes on to be entertained and didn’t need to use foul language. And music was music for God’s sake, not this incessant pounding with vulgarity dumped all over it.  And why oh why can’t it just be like that again?

The danger of nostalgia is that it becomes a refuge. Because the now is hard and the future is scary the past can become a place to hide. But it is best to remember the past is a nice place to visit but you don’t want to live there.

We cannot let ourselves be fooled into thinking the past was better, because it verifiably wasn’t. There have been advancements in technology and entertainment and simple human interaction that makes the past seem like we were barbaric louts. There are still problems – some truly horrible problems – but I would not want to go back to the way things were 40, 50, even 20 years ago and give up the advancements we have made in invention and how we treat one another.

Keeping that in mind however – and keeping one’s self tethered firmly in today – the past can but fun. As long as we do not glorify it the past can be a wonderful place to visit in stories and dreamscapes. And so I continue my journeys into nostalgia and romanticize and relive what has been.

While at the same time creating new memories that I will someday look back on fondly.

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