Nostalgia: escapism vs narrative

I’ve expressed my disgust with nostalgia repeatedly and I’ve  often talked about the sense of life-narrative I carry and assume we all do.

The early meaning of nostalgia is pain of the heart, close to what we’d call bitter sweet. From there it became whimsical and then it became escapism.

From there childish escapism mutated further to become brightly coloured candy shop kitsch but that’s outside the current point.

I do feel a yearning for nostalgia, I walk through my old neighborhood and try to look at exactly the same things I looked at eleven years ago, not in the hope of feeling exactly the same but to feel a value in the difference between now and then.

And what I’m scared of finding is a meaninglessness in that difference.

We all hope we’re getting wiser as we age. But what if I’m so wise now that who I used to be is meaningless? Living in the present is a popular virtue but what if you acknowledged that your childhood was meaningless? Amnesiacs live in the moment and they don’t seem too stoked. Why? No sense of narrative to give the moment meaning.

The other, current sense of nostalgia is escapism, aspiring to be amnesiac. To emerse yourself in childish things as much as possible (and while drunk and high) to block out any feeling that moment you are living in matters, as an attempt to go back, even for a few minutes.

And if you acknowledge that you can’t go back yet still feel a whimsical tugging in your heart that’s classical nostalgia.

Strange how years get stream lined down to one feeling. Anyone who’s spent too much time with a friend and had things go sour only to declare it the best summer ever a few years later knows what I’m talking about.

I probably never had a bad time at the Seanachie. In a few years of drinking there, a few years of working there, and then a few years of drinking there again. Yet going there again I feel no whimsy, no nostalgia, no sweet and not even any bitter. Just amnesia. The staff has all changed a hundred times and anyone who remembers me is also not remembered there. That’s to be expected. What’s sad is that I feel no connection anymore, something that over time felt so good and so bad now feels glaringly indistinguishable, even when the view from the barstool is exactly the same.

The question is: have I changed so much that I’ve alienated my narrative sense of self or have I simply not changed and feel morose at the lack of growth?

If we only measure growth by the esteem of others than that isn’t growth, that’s performance. If we only measure growth by feelings of positive change than that’s not growth that’s delusion.

And if we view the past as part of our story that’s good nostalgia, but if we view the past as a place to retreat to, then we’re not growing, we’re just aging in secret.


Singer/songwriter, jerk.

Posted in Pop Culture, Pragmatism
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