a sentimental longing or wistful affection for a period in the past.
“I was overcome with acute nostalgia for my days at university”
synonyms: wistfulness, longing/yearning/pining for the past, regret, regretfulness, reminiscence, remembrance, recollection, homesickness, sentimentality
“there is a nostalgia for traditional values”
I have a pretty messed up relationship with Nostalgia.
I don’t just mean the ‘classic’ nostalgic ideas, like the different sweets I used to eat as a kid or Barbie memorabilia (I had some bloody great Barbie jeans) or the Spice Girls era, though all of those set off all kinds of warm, fuzzy feelings in my tummy… but I mean full blown, addicted-to-the-past, yearning to relive past moments and the ideal outcomes I used to dream about within those moments, Nostalgia. The love I felt for people, before they broke my heart. The major highs I’ve floated on in past jobs, before the contracts came to an end. The safety and security I felt living back at my family home, before I exposed myself to being an independent, self-sufficient human two hundred miles away.
I’ve found that past midnight, and before the ungodly hour of 7am, is primetime for a nostalgic episode.
I’ve spent days on end stewing over writing this essay, lost for words. The minute the clock strikes midnight, and I actually decide it’s time I try and catch some sleep, it’s like my brain kicks into overdrive and instantaneously declares ‘NOW is the time I shall reminisce! Bring on the memories, good and bad. LET ME HAVE ‘EM’. (Around about this time is the time I start to regret my decision to have a cup of tea at 10:45pm.)
Similarly, my brain likes to do this whenever I have an early rise. I’m talking about those mornings that you’ve upped and left the house before the majority of the human race has snoozed their alarm for the first time. Those mornings when the sun has barely rose, the sky is the palest of blues. You’re the first person to breathe in that day’s fresh, crisp air and it feels so uncontaminated… clean. The streets resemble that of an apocalyptic themed movie, not a single soul in sight. Deathly quiet. Peaceful.
And I feel all weirdly cosy and comforted, wrapped up in my big coat with a woolly hat and my hands tucked into my pockets. But, in the same respect, I feel on edge. Uneasy. Because I start to think about little moments in time that I’ve felt this exact feeling before. Where was I when I last felt like that? Was it when I awoke pre-5am in Sydney, Australia, for my early flight to Melbourne or when I similarly hopped out of bed at 7am to go for a brisk morning walk around Manly with my Mam and Uncle? Or was it way back when I was younger and I’d have to shoot out of bed super early to go on our annual family trip to Flamingoland? Like a usual dose of deja-vu multiplied by 100.
Visiting places I’ve frequented in the past, with particular people or at a particular eventful time in my life, brings back all the vibes too. In particular, one of the biggest triggers is Saltburn-by-the-Sea. The sea, the breeze, the sand, the ice-creams… BOOM, achey achey heart.
Music is also a massive nostalgia trigger for me. I have a strong emotional connection to music. Whenever I feel remotely emotional, I hop onto Spotify and jam out some tunes to fit whatever mood I’m in. It’s probably the one thing I’d say really feeds my soul and fills me up.
Different songs, artists, albums are all attached to memories and places and feelings. Whenever I play specific pieces of music, I am transported back into the moment I’ve connected that piece to, in the past.
For example, whenever I listen to the Lianne La Havas – Blood album, I’m instantly transported back to the time I walked through the backstreets of Kyoto, Japan. Completely alone, as it poured with rain. I remember how quiet it was but how safe I felt. Taking in the old Japanese teahouses with their lanterns hanging outside. The track Green and Gold, in particular, I find comfort in.
Any of Alabama Shakes’ stuff makes me think of coming up with lyrics whilst taking a shower. Don’t ask me why, I haven’t the foggiest idea.
The Grease Megamix running straight into Wham! – Wake Me Up Before You Go Go reminds me of making up dance routines in my living room as a kid, as they both followed each other on the compilation CD I used to play religiously.
The Fray – Over My Head (Cable Car) reminds me of the glorious MySpace era and Secondary School.
All of the above reminds me of how powerful music can be and how it has the ability to affect us emotionally. How good is music, really? It has the ability to provide relief and to heal. Why any government would want to cut Arts funding to seriously affect the production of such a powerful, healing art form, ESPECIALLY in the type of world we live in and with what’s going on today, is BEYOND me. But that’s a whole different ball game…
I’m used to taking great comfort in that warm, fuzzy feeling but lately, my thoughts have shifted. Maybe I’m a little too cozy living in memories? As a result, am I not living in the present? Am I missing new, precious moments right now by longing to be back where I was 5 years ago? Do I choose to love the past because the present has become more difficult to comprehend and deal with, when our world seems to be going through a political global crisis right now? I’m pretty damn lucky that I have such great memories that I’d want to relive all over again, I guess, but I often feel so stuck and unable to move forward and is that because I’m just so obsessed with them?
This thought actually came to head when I watched La La Land for the first time, a film that exhumes Nostalgia. The colour-grading, for one, is filled with splashes of pastel hues, there are countless beautiful sunrises and sunsets, then that edgy argument scene that tinges all of that with a feeling of dread and uncertainty. I came out of that cinema bewildered and a blubbering mess because I related that much (what a d*ckhead ey).
Then I listened to an interview from the Golden Globes (I think?), just after Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling had swiped their awards, in the press conference room. Damien Chazelle, the director, made a comment that really struck a chord.
‘Nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake is not a place to live, you should honour the past but actually find a way to push that forward, whether it’s in how you love or how you make movies or how you make any art.’
And like that, everything made sense. I just knew that the next step for me was to break out and start living in the now. So often, I’ve read quotes and had conversations about living in the present and all that jazz, but it took this for me to have the realisation of what that truly meant. To have such beautiful past events as part of my history is completely a blessing and being reminiscent and sentimental once in a while isn’t a crime. But I have now come to realise that by living in my past, and not dealing with the present, I’m taking 12 steps back and 0 forward. And that’s no way to live when life on earth is so damn short. We must continue to keep moving forward, even when shit gets hard. As the late, great Abraham Lincoln once said:
‘I walk slowly but never backward.’
I love your musings, Jess – I find the things you say going round and round in my head. So what do I think about nostalgia?
The mind is a strange thing. It has the ability to filter our memories over time so that we only really remember the good stuff, the happy experiences and feelings. This is what makes nostalgia so powerful. We always think that those days were the best, the sun was always shining, the birds were always singing. They weren’t, of course, but that doesn’t matter really.
What matters is that we are all shaped by our life to date, what we’ve done, and the people we’ve known.
So there’s nothing wrong with enjoying nostalgia, because we are enjoying our life up till now. Use it to shape the future, to help make decisions.
Use it and you won’t lose it!