Well, that was a rough start to 2021.
One week in, we have already had a Nazi terrorist attack on the Capitol in Washington, D.C. My mom is a full bore QAnon Nazi, I haven’t spoken to her in over a year now, and I just don’t see much hope for them. I got too much on my own plate to have to try and reason with people who have made plugging their ears and saying “lalalala” a permanent state of mind. And this is about as much time as I’ll be spending on this topic here. I have certainly ranted my fair share in other corners of social media since Thursday. Check out this week’s playlist, and I’ll jump right into my wondering.
I’ve been thinking a lot about nostalgia in the last few months. I supposed a pandemic will do that to you. One period of my life I have conflicted nostalgia about is my college years. I was homeschooled growing up; I’m talking K through 12th grade. I’ll probably talk more about that in a later post, but needless to say, college was a significant turning point in my life. After living literally in a house in the middle of the woods where “going into town” was a big trip each, I was thrown smack dab into the middle of Nashville, Tennessee. Now, I was still at a Christian university with mandatory Bible classes and a daily chapel, but I managed to endure all of that and come out okay on the other side.
I hated summer break because that meant going back home to where my parents were, and being around them was terrible. They had an extremely toxic relationship for most of my childhood, and they finally got divorced just a few years ago. I was lucky that my maternal grandmother left me a trust fund of a decent size, so I could get my bachelor’s degree with no debt accrued. Yes, I was a trust fund baby, sort of. My master’s degree, on the other hand…yeah, that debt will be with me for a while. Because of this money, I decided to just take classes during the summer and stay on campus. I never had a roommate during those summers, which were excellent, it ended up being a time of deep solitude, and I probably read more books than I ever had before. I didn’t have a television, and my laptop broke one summer. I didn’t get a personal laptop again for about six years.
One thing I loved to do with the meager bit of coin I made working in the campus call center asking alumni for contributions was to walk to the movie theater a mile and a half from my dorm to watch films by myself. During those summers, I did that a lot while also making the slightly less one-mile hike to the public library to pick up books. Eventually, I bought a dual VHS/DVD player and an old television from a friend, so building up my knowledge of movies became a part of those library trips. I’d say I always enjoyed movies, but it wasn’t until those college years that I fell in love with them.
I have crystal clear memories of seeing certain movies during those times. I remember seeing The Royal Tenenbaums the first day back on campus with my friends Brent and Clint, and a friend of Clint’s who really didn’t like the movie. We grabbed food at the Chili’s in the mall food court where the theater was, and because of time, I wrapped some of the more portable food in napkins and snuck it into the theater. I look back at that as something I’d never do now but also with bemusement. Around the same time, Amelie came out and thought that movie was one of the best things I’d ever seen. I didn’t have the cinematic history in my head to understand its connections to other pieces of French film. I took my mandatory language class that following summer, choosing French because I’d dabbled a bit while being homeschooled. Amelie came out on DVD during that time, and I bought it, watched it without subtitles, and almost understood what everyone was saying.
There’s something about being in a city alone when you are young that feels so lonely and so amazing. It’s such a hard thing to convey in words, something that is such a potent emotion I can recall and feel at-will but then have difficulty expressing. There are certain scents and pieces of music that will put me back there almost immediately. I suspect many people have this same experience with very formative times and places in their past; it’s why the lure of nostalgia can be so strong. It’s tied to some of our deepest emotions, and that can affect our thinking in ways beyond rationale.
But I also dread the idea of ever going back to living in a dorm and dealing with the college lifestyle. My wife has been such a crucial part of my development into becoming a confident person. I still have a way to go in that regard but having her in life, my life has made me realize my value to such a massive degree. I will have nightmares now that I live in a dorm or live at home with my parents, she is somewhere far away, and I can’t reach her on the phone. The dread in these terrible dreams is so palpable, and I think they have been more frequent during the last year with all of the uncertainty in the world. The nights these insidious dreams creep into my end usually end in me waking up and clinging to her, just to remind myself she’s still there.
I also have to think of how nostalgia is a form of violence for people that aren’t white dudes like me. Black people in America have to navigate a minefield with nostalgia. While my twenties are filled mostly with quiet, lonely summers and the rest of the year in academia, Black men particularly can share my same memories and have unnecessary encounters with law enforcement sprinkled in there. I never once feared having a cop pull over and harass me as I walked to the movie theater or library. I was a white guy in a very white monied area of town. I “fit in” from a surface level perspective. My immediate friend group was most undoubtedly white; it was a private Christian university, so the financial bar to get in was criminally high. Black students and I attended class and worked with some of them, but I look back on how I should have made more of an effort to just hang out and get to know them better. I’m confident they didn’t suffer from not having my company, though, as I was a ball of neuroses and insecurities for a lot of that time.
Right now, I have a peculiar relationship with time. All that seems to exist is today and the past. The future feels like a ship lost in the fog, surrounded at every side by impenetrable haze. Every morning wake up is a rolling of the dice to see what random shit happens. My personal belief is that we are in a period of rapid decline. I saw someone theorizing that the United States is about to enter its own version of the Years of Lead. That was a period from the late 1960s to the late 1980s where Italy was stuck in constant socio-political turmoil. Governments rose and collapse, assassinations seemed to happen every week. Far-right terrorism was rampant, and the response from the far-Left often took innocent lives as well. I could see that or something like The Troubles in Northern Ireland becoming a reality for Americans sooner than we realize. My own state of Tennessee was recently the site of a Christmas Day suicide bombing that the media seems to have all but forgotten about.
I don’t know where we are headed, but I understand the need for people to fall back on memories of what they perceive as a simpler time. I would caution you to be critical when you look back and see the past for its flaws. Our memories often scrub away the unpleasant details to protect us from trauma but confronting how we were wrong and wronged is an essential part of human development. Learn from the past, so we don’t have to relive those mistakes.