Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Nostalgia's patient

My name's Polly, and I am a sufferer of nostalgia.

There, I said it. I wonder, placed within a supportive, hand-holding sort of environment, how many of us would also confess to this. Most people, I would predict.

You may think 'sufferer- that's a litle bit strong isn't it?  Well, if we were to be all learned about it (which we are, momentarily, forgive me) nostalgia in fact comes comes from the greek words 'nostos' and 'algus,' meaning 'return' and 'suffering.' The very word itself, therefore, makes no pretence that feeling nostalgic is always an easy ride.

This, in many ways, might seem odd. When I  first think of nostalgia, I picture sepia-tainted images, knitted jumpers, smiles and cosy fires. Why this is, I'm not sure, as I don't remember my life ever being particularly sepia-coloured, or having much access to a log fire. (Knitted jumpers, however, tick!). I guess this is very much the 'concept' of nostalgia as our culture has moulded it.

A manufactured, consumer-focused nostalgia is currently everywhere.Our lives can be solely constructed of  retro, vintage, antique, second-hand, 'not-really-vintage-but-kinda-look-like-we-are' clothes and things, (oh the things), if we choose. We can spend our days baking, drinking tea and handmaking everything- lovely! And I genuinely mean that- these things are wonderful, and I can't help but think to myself  'gosh- everything was so much nicer and more wholesome in the past- I wish it were like that now.'

And then I realise, wait- you were not even alive during this era you feel so attached to. You are recreating days you have never lived and sentimentalising a time you don't, really, know much about. Nostalgia only focuses on the good times, forgetting to mention all the less lovely, or at least, non-uber cool, things that happened. That is exactly why, compared with the present, which funnily enough I know very well in all its ups and downs, seems so much better.

At the same time, we can all feel deeply nostalgic for times we actually have lived, days passed, emanating only with the happy memories we have carefully attached, and often modified, to them.We all, at some point,  pine for the past, people, situations, places and long to return to them. The future can bring hope, but also uncertainty and fear. The present is too fleeting to ever capture. And the past, though it may contain regret, well, the past is safe. It has gone, and we survived it. It is, therefore, ours to remember as we choose to.

I wonder, through cherishing something so unreliable- our memories- or indeed eras that we have never even lived through, are our perceptions of the present consequently worse. The present day is falling victim to a comparison with an unreality? Longing for something we can never have again only makes the present more painful surely.

Maybe that's a little morbid. Perhaps nostalgia is becoming so integrated to our present that is now part of it,  in fact.. Let's also not forget the simple enjoyment we gain recreating all things old-school.  As we 'play' at being something or somewhere else, we return  to childhood in a way...yet another form of this nostalgia lark.

I sometimes wonder how people will look back at our present in the future. Will they, too, doubt their own era and cherish our own which we currently seek to escape? What would they recreate though- our love of nostalgia?  It could be a new era in which nostalgia pines for nostalgia itself.


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