The Siren Song of Nostalgia
Hey, have you met my friend Nostalgia? She’s the one over there at the corner of the pool; the one with the pretty face and that sultry voice. She likes to swim, and if you’re feeling kind of blue—hell, even if you’re feeling pretty great—she’ll invite you in for a dip. She’s pretty persuasive, so if she starts talking to you, I hope you’ve got swim trunks on.
She’ll tell you how awesome the water is, over and over again. Be careful though. She can hold her breath for a really long time, and if you get too wrapped up in her underwater tea party, you might just drown.
Sure it’s tempting to partake of another portion of sea-cucumber sandwiches sitting on the bottom. She makes the best sandwiches. Just make sure to come up for air once in a while.
Actually, Nostalgia and I had a run-in the other night that reminded me I prefer her at a distance.
It was the oddest thing. I was in the home stretch of the work day, sometime after nine at night, and it was horribly slow. A lone swimmer occupied the pool, moving up and down the lane nearest the wall with a clumsy, heavy freestyle stroke that left a lot of water on the deck.
My coworker put on a playlist over the pool speakers. He does this from time to time—usually some sort of cool (temperature) sounding electronic music that helps guide us to the finish line—and it’s nice. Sometimes I recognize the tracks he plays, and other times I don’t, but this night. . .
A track started by the now-obscure duo Télépopmusik. You may remember their track Breathe from a popular car commercial circa 2004. That’s how I got into them, anyways. This wasn’t that song, and the particular track isn’t important, just the fact that I hadn’t heard it in who knows how many years—maybe not since I was new to Boston over a decade ago.
Sitting in my lifeguard chair I glimpsed her out of the corner of my eye, over there at the edge of the pool.
She was speaking, and though I couldn’t hear her, I could read her lips. “Come over here, Gregory. I want to talk to you. Look, I’ve got sea-cucumber sandwiches!”
How could I resist? By the time I climbed down from the chair and planted my feet on the tiled deck, I was twenty-one years old again.
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Revenge is better with a side of bacon. . .
The World Was My Oyster
I sat down at the edge of the pool beside her and let my feet fall into the water. She placed her hand on my knee and smiled with the light of a million happy memories. “Remember?” She asked. “Remember how great it was when all of this was fresh and new?”
I sighed and closed my eyes (a terrible thing to do while lifeguarding) and I did remember!
First I pictured my sunny bedroom—the one with the windows that faced north and east—where I watched more than a few sunrises over the ocean. That house was on Jones Hill in Dorchester, up high enough that I could easily see the ocean a scant third of a mile away. I thought about how creative I’d been there; I wrote so much music, started my first blog, and generally lived the romantic life of a starving artist.
I thought about how I’d pined for love. I didn’t like being single, but hadn’t I relished the thrill of possibility every time I talked to a stranger online? Hadn’t I enjoyed playing the role of the hopeless romantic?
Nostalgia removed her hand from my knee and slid into the water. “Come on in,” she said. “A little deeper.”
I recalled the simplicity of those days. I was too poor to go out very often, so I spent my evenings and days off laying in bed with an audiobook, watching the light as it moved across the walls. Oh, the worlds I visited between those four walls!
There were evenings spent in the cupola looking out at the city a few miles to the north, dreaming of its possibilities as the lights of the skyscrapers glittered like stars. On those nights I could be anything and everything I wanted to be. My biggest worry was paying my meager rent on time, and whether the love-interest-of-the-week would return my call.
“Come on in,” she said. “The water is so nice!”
Why not? I thought. Life today was so much more complicated. Back then I didn’t have to think about things like the mortgage or paying homeowner’s insurance. I gave no thought to retirement accounts. There was no Twitter or Facebook or smart phones or author platforms to build. I had little concern for politics. Things were simple. They were easy. They were. . . better?
“Let’s go!” Nostalgia said. “What are you waiting for? Dive in!”
A Cold Dose of Reality
A slosh and a slap preceded the unpleasant sensation of cold water across my face. The clumsy freestyler, still the sole occupant of the pool, was swimming just in front of me now, letting his heavy arms fall into the water. With each stroke, a spray of icy water leaped from the pool onto the deck. I was hit again—nearly soaked now—and suddenly freed from my reverie.
The Télépopmusik track was over now, and Nostalgia was nowhere to be seen. She’d gone under without me.
As I stood up again and headed back to my lifeguard chair, I laughed to myself. What foolish thoughts—to think things had been better back then. I climbed back into my chair and smiled. I am happier now than I’ve ever been, and how dare she even tempt me to think that isn’t true!
The truth is, I’ll always look back on those early days in Boston fondly. I was so inspired. Everything was new, and not just the geography. I’m glad to have felt that constant heartache. I’ll always treasure the music I wrote. I wouldn’t trade those sunrises or my days staring at the ceiling for anything, but actually? . .
Life really sucked back then! I was constantly alone and lonely. Paying rent on time was an actual struggle. I was poor, and never ate well enough. Even if I’d had money, I couldn’t go out because I lost my ID somewhere and it took nine months to reestablish my identity. I was living in a nice part of a not-so-nice part of town. To make ends meet I had four part-time jobs that rarely added up to full-time employment. And sure, I was creatively prolific, but it didn’t matter because I had nowhere to share the music I was creating.
Were things actually simpler? I don’t think so. I think the struggles were just different.
Contrast all of that with today, and there is really no comparison. I love my husband and I love being married. I’ve got two awesome cats, a beautiful hundred-year-old condo that we own, a fantastic low-stress job with amazing benefits, a solid, enduring group of friends. . . I could go on, but you get the point.
And now my creative endeavors are finding an audience. I’m connecting with a community of people that like what I have to say, and I’m loving their words in return. All of this reminds me. . .
Nostalgia is just a siren singing a sweet song
No matter what, even if things were better at some other time, the present is always going to be the best time to be alive. In large part, this is because the present is all we have to work with. We can’t go back, and furthermore, we shouldn’t. If we’re unhappy with our current circumstances, we have the power to change them. The thing we can’t do, however, is drown in the misleading glories of our past.
I think a small portion of Nostalgia and her sea-cucumber sandwiches can be a good thing—it can motivate us to reconnect with the things we’ve loved and maybe lost. For instance, I think I’m going to get out the piano later tonight and write a little music. But a little Nostalgia goes a long way.
She’s a siren, after all. Remember to come up for air.
How about your thoughts? Do you get lost going down memory lane? Do you pine for the good old days, or are you content with the here and now? I’d love to know in the comments below.
Thank you as always for reading,