I have the proverbial “memory of an elephant”. I never forget a face, rarely forget an experience and only occasionally forget a conversation. In my small circle of life I was Google before there was a Google…as in, “Go ask Kara, she’ll remember!”
As I wade deeper into middle age, of course, the once steel-trap quality of my brain has finally met its match and I’ve started having to WRITE THINGS DOWN in order to remember them, which irks me to no end. Not out of vanity, mind you; it’s sheer laziness. Writing stuff down so I remember to do it is just another tedious chore to me, especially having been spoiled by its lack of necessity for so many years.
But when it comes to the past, my mind remains a veritable clown car…not only is there is no end to my capacity to remember endless details and anecdotes, somehow time has transformed them all into something funny, happy or creepy, depending on the clown in question. But I like creepy, see. This metaphor is to say I tend to look at the past through rose-colored glasses. With Groucho Marx eyebrows.
I was recently reading a memorial post the always wonderful Elaine Mansfield had written about her late brother and I was so moved by it; I told her it made me feel happy and sad at the same time. After I said that, it occurred to me that this could be a definition of nostalgia: recollections that bring both joy and a bittersweet touch of pain as well. I think the past fills us with a kind of longing that may not always even be attached to events or other people; I think it is more the memory of our own lost innocence that creates the pang in our hearts.
While I don’t necessarily wish I could go back in time to trick-or-treat in my old neighborhood with my good pals, I do wish I could feel that free and happy and excited about something again. There is a great line in the Judd Apatow film This is 40 where a father, watching his children observes, “I wish I liked ANYTHING as much as my kids like bubbles.” That is the essence of nostalgia to me; remembering a less complicated version of ourselves.
With this in mind I can honestly say that I can feel nostalgic about virtually anything; the first time I read a favorite book, the long commuter train ride into New York City when I was doing a college internship, the first (and second to last) time I ever drank tequila (short story: tequila is no friend of mine). The fact that I used to wear Crocs without shame! The memory doesn’t have to be a “happy” one. It only has to evoke a state of mind that I once had that can never be recaptured in just the same way…a sense of longing for my former self.
This month we asked our writers to look back and share some of these sorts of memories; can we summon another time or place in such a way that a reader who was not there feels nostalgic for it? I think you may be surprised to discover the answer is yes. At least it was for me; but perhaps that is just the cosmic draw of 20/20 hindsight.
Shareen and I hope you enjoy this wonderful month of recollections; maybe you will be inspired to share a few yourselves! That is one of the most important aspects of storytelling to me…the way it triggers us to remember things that may have slipped our minds or just gotten lost in the shuffle of life. How deeply we can conjure a time, so much so that we can even smell the smell of the ocean, or rotting leaves, or baking cookies or the distinctive must of our grandparents’ long-ago sold home.
Novalis wrote, “Philosophy is really nostalgia, the desire to be at home.” Perhaps the desire to be at home is really the best description of nostalgia yet. We hope you feel at home in the stories we share this month.