nostalgia n. a longing, usually sentimental, to experience again some real or imagined former pleasure
That’s Webster’s definition of nostalgia and I think it’s a good one. Surely we all experience nostalgia from time to time? What do you do with it?
My artist friend Deb warns strongly against it as creative fuel. “I just never go there,” she says, shaking her head, wrinkling her nose as though it smells, using words like “icky” “sticky” “syrupy” to describe the work it would likely produce.
Hey. Guilty as charged here. I once researched a piece for a major Standardbred (harness racing) trade journal on a man I adored. Now this man was prone to nostalgia himself, drawing me into an office dusty with memorabilia from the good old days, regaling me with tales of when he stood on a soap box, wrote odds on a chalk board, took in and paid out bets by hand! The piece I sent in came back obliterated in red markings and had to be completely re-written. From a more objective point of view.
After the Brexit vote, I came across a quote about nostalgia that left me high for a couple of days. The National Post said, “When the so-called Brexiteers talk about ‘taking Britain back’, everyone knows what they mean. As A.A. Gill, the Scottish writer for The Times of London, put it: ‘They mean back from Johnny Foreigner, back from the brink, back from the future,’ he wrote. ‘It’s snorting a line of the most pernicious and debilitating Little English drug, nostalgia.’”
Ah. “snorting a line of the most pernicious and debilitating” drug! Gawd. I love it! “Pernicious” means destructive and “to debilitate” means to weaken, by the way. I’ve made it a lifelong habit to never trust anyone without a vice. So, I would say, take your destructive, weakening hit of espresso, Glenlivet, Marlboro, just don’t take too many, okay?
And Gill calls it the “Little English” drug. Are the English prone to nostalgia? I have English roots – Hartley is an English name – so it must be in my blood to dwell fondly on the past while resisting the press of the future.
Note how Webster’s describes this longing as for “some real or imagined former pleasure”. But what is real? In earlier blogs Zwhipping Through Time and What Is Time we question reality and find it a hard thing to pin down. We’re all constantly experiencing life through the lens of our own experience to date, but also the sensory capabilities of our own body – some of us have heightened hearing, extra senses like synesthesia, or extra vision, say like that for auras. (I wish I had something exotic like that, but no. I just got the gene that makes cilantro smell like stinky socks.) Reality is personal and as you’re savouring hit(s) of nostalgia you’ll most likely drift into “imagined former pleasure” territory which, let’s face it, is pure fantasy. The evening sky in France was never as pink as a renaissance painting. George’s cheeseburgers were never that scrumptious. And that first kiss? Well . . .
Life isn’t static. There is what we might judge the opposite of pleasure: dark skies, burnt offerings, disagreements. Events which, in comparison, might paint the former pleasure even more pleasurable. What is wrong, though, with recalling an idyllic sunset? A mouth-watering taste sensation? A blissful kiss? A noble England, even?
Nothing. Just don’t over-believe. And don’t get stuck. Addicted. Take a hit and move along, because the future is always pressing. As noted in We Are One, globalization is here to stay, so there is no way of “taking Britain back”. Thankfully, as R. Michael Warren wrote in Saturday’s paper, “As the dust settles after the United Kingdom’s referendum vote in favour of leaving the European Union, there have emerged strong legal, economic and political reasons to believe it won’t happen.”
The good old days may be gone, but today? A potential good new day beckons.