The Profoundly Crushing Futility of Nostalgia

I have a story to tell.

When I was in my sophomore year of high school, so 19 years ago, on a rainy Sunday afternoon my mom and I drove an hour to go to the movies in Russellville, Arkansas with her sister. I remember everything about walking into that theater. I remember the Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 poster outside. I remember the giant banner for Dungeons and Dragons. I remember the 102 Dalmatians poster. I remember the cool interior of that theater and by cool I mean oddly cold and off with marble and dark lighting. I remember the stadium seating. What we saw was almost immaterial. That experience marked me so hard, even factoring in that three years later I would start weekly visits the the theater when I went to college in that town. That’s the trip I remember.

And nobody gives a damn about hearing that story. It’s the most meaningless story on earth. I went to see Meet the Parents at a theater I hadn’t been to before. Who cares? It shouldn’t be some halcyon story!

But it is because that’s the hell of nostalgia. Yes, I’m taking a moment to interrogate one of the most normal and even healthy impulses that humans live with. Have I written on this before? Probably. But I’m struggling with it this morning and I want to examine why exactly.

You have to understand that nostalgia is inevitable. We have times in our lives we’re glad we lived through. Particularly in stressful times, nostalgia is like a sheath letting us bask in that feeling. We relive those feelings and they nourish us when we can’t be nourished by the outside world. It’s a lovely feeling.

It’s useless though. It’s one of those experiences that should be a plus but it winds up becoming profoundly frustrating. Because it lives inside us and that does nothing to make us feel better eventually.

See part of the human experience is the desperate flailing to connect with others. And when we want to discuss our memories, we’re met with something disturbing. We encounter silence. Because is anyone truly that interested in hearing the happy times of others? And when we hit that silence, intended or not, our memories lose value.

It shouldn’t be this way. Not in any way. We shouldn’t rely on others for our lives to feel important. Our lives matter because they made us us. And we should be able to accept that our history isn’t going to impact others the way that it impacts us because it happened to us.

However there’s a concept I read about that put me in the mind to write this. My generation doesn’t have hobbies anymore. We’ve turned our hobbies into work such as earning revenue for making videos on youtube or the rise of Etsy. It’s particularly difficult when your hobby is writing, one which has been outright scorned if not done for money.

I don’t write fiction well. I tried a screenplay this season. I’m so unhappy with it I don’t want to look at it. I write nonfiction pretty great though. So I could theoretically write all of these things out. And I did. There’s a book on Amazon. But I didn’t do the happy times justice in the book because I knew nobody cared. I hit the high points and moved on.

I’m still carrying around this impulse to talk. But I’ve been led to believe by society that if I can’t make it of some value to others I should shut the hell up. I’m wasting my time. I need to not waste it for others.

There’s no denying the other factor. I want to know my life experiences mattered. I’m wrestling hard with violent depression and self doubt. I feel like I don’t add anything to the world. And I only seem to get personal validation by sharing stories about either my severe mental health issues or my traumatic childhood. (My review writing is justly seen but is highly impersonal.) Anything I write celebrating my past like my Huntsville piece might as well not exist.

So I’m living with this need to be heard and a message I’m getting from society that frighteningly reinforces that my pain gives me value. The things that actually give me strength are discarded.

And I don’t think I’m alone in wrestling with this. I think this is something we cope with as a society. We’re ignored when we’re happy and that doubles when it comes to our pasts. We require our histories to be filled with graphic pain. And I wish that wasn’t so. I wonder how much of depression is drawn from this overwhelming need as a society to ache to be heard.

This entry can’t by its nature reach a conclusion. Only a statement of truth. The year 2000 becoming 20 years ago has to inspire a giant wave of nostalgia. It was such a hyped year followed by a startlingly unimportant reality. I’m forever fixated on that disconnect just as I’m fixated on the slowly building depression I fought that year which hit an apex in the spring of 2001.

I want to talk. I probably will talk. And nobody will give a good god damn. And that has to be ok, like it or not. Because these memories aren’t going away.

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