Moving Beyond that Aesthetic: Getting to the Roots of Nostalgia and Thoughts About the Future
The aesthetic of the young writer sitting in a windowsill, looking down at the ever-busy city of New York and dreaming of the stories they’ll pen someday is well established. Right now I’m trying to be that writer, but the unfortunate reality is that I forgot to open the blinds, this angle hurts my back, and I’ve been awake for the past 22 hours and during that time drank most of a 2-liter of diet coke all by my handsome self.
I’ve gotta say, out of the windowsill and back on my slightly stiff, but still reasonably accommodating dorm mattress is much better.
I should preface that no one has forced me to be awake for the past 22 hours, I’m just having trouble sleeping on my own. Also, you know, the diet coke is keeping me wired. I think that if I put the computer down and really made a concentrated effort at trying to fall asleep I just might manage it, but what’s the fun in that, eh?
I know, I know, I’m going to burn myself out before I have barely started. A regular Knight of Wands I am, aren’t I? But that’s not the future I want for myself. Not the future I desire to see. Rarely, though, do we get the futures we want to see, or even the ones that we deserve. We get the ones that we get, and it’s as simple as that.
When I was younger, growing up in Framingham, I had big windows, in both of the condos we lived in. I used to sit in the window, sliding my small child’s body on the ledge in the way that only a child could with any sense of real comfort, and I would stare at the world outside.
The first condo we lived in, the first place I remember calling home, was a basement apartment, and the windows were at ground level. So if I sat in my window I could see the ground outside. It was like sitting on the grass, looking out at the world at the same level as the bunnies and the squirrels and the wild cats. By wildcats I don’t mean actual wildcats of course, I just mean the stray cats, and the outdoor cats. Sometimes these various animals would harass our indoor cats, one of whom used to be an outdoor cat and resented his newly minted imprisonment.
Our second condo, I had a bedroom on the second floor. So when I sat in this window my domain was much larger as I looked out on the world below. We lived on the edge of a block of houses, and my bedroom was a corner of an outside wall. This meant it was a bit colder in the winter, but most of all it meant that rather than having a window that oversaw either of the courtyards, my window looked out on the path between them, another block of buildings, and the parking lot.
A liminal space.
I could always see when someone was approaching the house from what seemed like the most natural angle because it was the direction from which we most often approached the house ourselves. The quickest path between my house and the library, the nearby park, and all three of the schools I attended while living there included the pavement beneath my bedroom window. I deeply miss that house, and it was a true home in the most embracing sense of the word. But when I left it for the last time it was utterly empty, with new carpets and white walls, each room feeling smaller without my memories tethered and filling it, ready for a new family to make it their own. That place that I hold so close to my heart now exists only in my mind.
Nostalgia is a funny thing. It can take us places we have loved, and it can take us places we have never been, as we remember a past that never was, holding nostalgia for a time that never really existed. We look to the past for how to change the future, but things aren’t always what they seem, and they didn’t always happen the way we remember. The event itself is often not as important as how you remember it. Intention begets action, and action begets both emotion and memory, but it all gets muddled in the meantime.
When I was younger, so was the internet, and even now we aren’t exactly sure what shape it’s taking and what direction it’s going in. The rules aren’t set in stone, for all that there are rules, as the online world becomes more regulated and less dynamic.
There is something about newness, the fresh burst of creativity that comes with a kind of camaraderie and also disorganization. As a project or an organization comes together and becomes more efficient, more streamlined, it also loses some of its magic. I’ve noticed this many times, in many places. I think that organization and regulation are in some aspects good things, because they allow for comprehensive inclusion. At the same time, there is a spark that is dimmed when something that was new and dynamic becomes restricted by people coming in and deciding that it needs to become a polished and complete thing. Often, in trying to make sure that nothing slips through the cracks, some things get sealed in or out on the wrong side.
But who is to say that things are wrong? Just because something doesn’t fit in with my vision for it, doesn’t mean that it’s bad. Still, the disappointment lingers in my mouth. I can’t help but wonder what potential has been subsumed by making sure that everything is just so.
Since there are probably people trying to guess at what I’m exactly talking about, I want to head those people off at the pass by saying that I’m not talking about any one event or community or organization. I’m picking apart what I’ve learned from experiences with dozens of places that I have encountered over my lifetime, and the gestalt is more than I want or can explain with detail.
The crux of what I’m trying to get at here is that life is nebulous, and often escapes categorization. We try to put things in neat little boxes, and for me it least it seems as though every time I break out of one it is only to realize that I’m still confined, just in a box that happens to be a little bit roomier. Maybe that metaphor got away from me, but like I said, life is nebulous, and ephemeral, and even though we can never fully catch our memories it is in the nature of humanity to reach further and farther and grasp at what is just beyond our reach. How we remember is just as important as what we remember, and what actions we take based on those memories are what form the basis of our characters. Success and failure build on one another to create and influence both who we are and who we want to be.
Everyone wants validation; the most confident person in the world still appreciates being told that they are doing well. Validation is encouragement that allows us to pull the shards of ourselves together into the best version of ourselves. What I mean by validation is not unmoored congratulation or compliment. It’s not about having something to prove to someone else; it’s about being told that the path we have chosen and that we believe in is one that others also believe in.
Sometimes external validation is lacking, sometimes the outside world rejects who we know ourselves to be, despite convictions we might hold dear. And when the outside world rejects us? That can really, really hurt. When there is a nostalgia for a time that erases us? That can burn. Nostalgia is a double edged sword, which can be used for the good or the bad, depending on which side of the blade you’re on. Ambiguity is the name of the game these days, in a world which has gone mad with a simultaneous need for nuance and a desperate wish by many for simplicity. The simple truth is unfortunate in that there is no such thing as a simple truth. As I keep repeating, life is nebulous. Life is mixed up and complicated, and never just one thing. It sounds pedantic and it’s a platitude but it’s true to say that hate is easy and love is hard.
Well, I’ve never been afraid of a challenge.