My nostalgia obsession: standing in for my lost past.

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I’m a nostalgia junkie.  I’m nostalgic about the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s.  I can’t decide what my favorite decade of those four is.  They were all pretty awesome in their own ways.   Hell, I think I’m even beginning to drum up a little nostalgia for the ’00s (what do we call that decade anyway?) even though it pretty much sucked (will it suck as much in 20 years when it seems a lot less recent?)   I’ve even been known to get nostalgic over decades I didn’t even live through–the ’20s, ’40s and ’50s come to mind.

I don’t know if some people are more prone to be drawn to nostalgia than others. Maybe it’s something that happens to you when you get older, but I know plenty of twentysomethings who are REALLY into the ’90s, which if they remember any of it at all, they only remember it from the viewpoint of a very young child.   Most twentysomethings were BORN in the ’90s, for heaven’s sake.   But compared to today?  The ’90s seem innocent, even quaint.   Maybe they’re pining for that last breath of societal innocence before all hell broke loose after 9/11 which coincided with the massive shipping of good jobs overseas while those here became increasingly uncaring about their workers.  Making things worse was the complete loss of any sense of privacy due to new technologies that made it possible for anyone who wished to spy on you or find out things about you you’d rather no one know.

Some cynics who look askance at those of us drawn to nostalgia think it means we’re depressed or unhappy and must always escape to the past to cope with present life.     I don’t think that’s true, and let’s be honest, the past WAS better than the present.   At least for those of us in our second half of life, in the past not only was everything better, WE were better, at least physically.  We were still young and attractive and healthy and the future seemed filled with endless possibilities.   The older you get, the more your options seem to narrow.  The more you find that age discrimination is a very real problem.

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Time seems to speed up the older you get.   The gap between say, 1974 and 1994 seems like an eternity, while the same gap between 1996 and 2016 seems like a blip.   The strange thing is, even Millennials are saying time is speeding up for them too.   Like us oldsters, they also think of hardly any time passing since Y2K when it’s actually been 16 years.

One possibility is that things really haven’t changed that much since 2000–or 1996 for that matter–and that’s what makes it seem like time isn’t moving.   Or at least not the popular culture and the way people dress.  The outer trappings may have changed very little, but if you look deeper, there have been massive changes in technology and the overall way we live.   In 1996, the Internet was brand new, so new most people weren’t online yet.   Being online was nothing like being online today.   It was an entirely different experience, and a lot more exciting for being so new, even if what was available online was limited and not all that interesting.   In 1996, hardly anyone had a cell phone, no one sent texts, there were no GPS devices; Facebook, Twitter and all other social media we take for granted did not yet exist.  People still used Usenet and Telnet (DOS based) chat and gaming rooms.  You had to get off the Internet to use the house phone.

Connecting with my younger self.

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I think for me, my attraction to nostalgia is a way of attempting to connect to my past, so I can connect with my younger child-self.   Raised in a fractured, dysfunctional family that constantly moved, where nothing was permanent, where people shun and disown each other and don’t speak to each other for years, where family pictures–even entire photo albums and lovingly drawn child-portraits–are thrown away as if they’re nothing more than out of date newspaper circulars; where old toys, magazines, books, and records were callously given to The Salvation Army because it was just “clutter,” where the past had no meaning or sacredness, where reminiscing is haughtily dismissed as “wallowing.”

Unlike in normal families, where an adult child can often count on returning to their childhood room while visiting the home they were raised in, where their old toys and photos are lovingly kept stored away but can easily be retrieved for reminiscing, my past was as temporary as the homes we lived in, something to be forgotten and tossed out with the trash.    I might as well have been a foster child.

I have exactly 15 photos of myself as a child and teenager that I managed to salvage.  Right, just 15.  (I have a few more of me in my 20s).   At one time there were probably hundreds of pictures, since I remember my dad took pictures any opportunity he had, but neither of my parents have any idea what happened to them.   None of my toys, books, schoolwork, awards, or records were saved; what I didn’t take with me got given or thrown away.  A very large pastel portrait drawn of me at age 6 has somehow been “lost.”  Really?  I wonder about that.  How does a family “lose” such a large object that once meant so much that it hung over the mantel in the living room?

So, you see, my connections to my past are extremely sparse.  Besides those 15 photos and a few odds and ends (a newspaper article about me and a few other kids in a “silly hat contest” when I was about 6, a few letters from summer camp ’71 addressed to my parents, a mimeographed day camp newsletter in which I remember being so excited to be a “published author” because they published a single sentence I wrote about an arts and crafts project I had done; a single framed lithograph of my zodiac sign I’ve had since I was 12; and bizarrely, a sterling silver and mother of pearl baby rattle given to my mother by someone when I was born), I have nothing from my distant past, no tangible reminders of my early years.   I’ve noticed since I’ve been in therapy having more desire to have these long-lost things, I think because having these visual reminders would help me remember key events and bring them into the present for me so they can be worked on.  Maybe that’s another way my family sabotaged me–by making my journey to wellness more difficult by eradicating anything I could connect to my past.

I often look at nostalgia sites, reading about music, fashion, news events, old ads, and popular culture from when I was young or younger.   Lately, I’ve been doing it more frequently than I ever have.    I don’t think it’s really because things today are so much worse or because I’m getting old; I think my fascination is my attempt to find an alternative route to connect with myself at an earlier age. In lieu of being able to do this through personal mementos and old family photos, I have to resort to public nostalgia sites and old TV and music videos.   It’s still lots of fun though, even if the presence of useful triggers that could be used in my therapy are missing.

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5 thoughts on “My nostalgia obsession: standing in for my lost past.

  1. A flash flood in 1972 destroyed most of my childhood memorabilia, along with nearly all our family photographs. Our family of seven lived in a tiny two-bedroom house with tiny closets and almost no storage space, so anything that was not being used all the time tended to end up in the basement, either on shelves or in cardboard boxes. When a torrential downpour one summer night filled the basement with about sixty inches of muddy water, everything down there was destroyed. I have only a few photographs that survived because they were framed and hung on walls upstairs. There is one black and white family photo taken when I was a baby, one photo of my sister and my mother and me standing in the garden, taken when I was four or five, and one of my baby brother and me taken when I was about five or six.

    Other than the photographs, about all I have is my mother’s diamond ring (my dad gave it to me after mom died), an antique writing desk and antique lamp table from my paternal grandmother, and an old chiming clock (the kind you have to wind up once a week) from my maternal grandmother. The clock stopped working and I need to find someone who knows how to repair clocks that are more than a century old!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh Bluebird, I’m sorry you lost all those priceless things in that flood. 😦 Sounds like where I lived years ago, in the western portion of Jersey City, right next to Newark Bay, a real swampland if you ever saw one. Plus the bay in those days often caught on fire (from the pollution).
      That clock sounds really cool! I hope you can find someone to get it working and that it’s not too expensive.
      I have a “puffy fruit” glass-shaded lamp (painted on the inside of the glass) that is probably a reproduction of the earlier puffy lamps from the 20s and 30s, but is still probably from at least the 1950s. The cord is all messed up though, so I can’t use it. I have to find someone who can repair lamps so I can use it again.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You definitely should get it repaired. There are people around who do that kind of stuff, but as usual, the trick is finding them.

        I used to have a few other odds and ends — mostly knickknacks and other purely decorative things — from various relatives long deceased, but it seems that almost nothing breakable survived all the moves that took place when I was in my twenties. One thing I did have when I moved to Wisconsin but don’t any longer was an oriental rug that my dad had bought for me when I was a kid. I really liked it, both for its own sake (it was really pretty) and because it represented my dad when he was at his best. As you know, my relationship with my dad was mostly a disaster; but he did have his kind and generous moments, and the time he bought that rug for me was one of them… so it had sentimental value in addition to being pretty and useful. Sadly, about two and a half years ago the lower level of our house (where all the bedrooms are) was destroyed in a sewer backup. The wall-to-wall carpeting, rugs, and anything else that was on the floor when it occurred was ruined. Floods seem to be my lot in life.

        Liked by 1 person

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