Nostalgia Isn’t What It Used To Be

It’s been a bit of a day for nostalgia. It started even before I woke up, when I was dreaming about an argument that could have marked the end of Claire and I’s relationship, if it weren’t for the fact that it didn’t even slighly represent the actual circumstances of our seperation (I’ll spare you all the details). I was woken by a phone call from a company with whom I used to deal. Later, I caught up with an old friend via instant messanger, in what was probably my only delibrate act of nostalgia of the day. Finally, while working this evening on a techy project that’s been part of my life for about the last eight years, the random number generator in my MP3 playing software decided all of its own accord that what I’d really like to listen to is the same music I was listening to when I first started on the project.

Did I not get the memo that this is National Nostalgia Day, or something? Is everything conspiring around me, or is this all a coincidence?

The thing I’ve learned about nostalgia is that it’s generally best left as it is: a collection of figments in your mind. Some are accurate, some mis-remembered, and all are seen through glasses tinted with the colour of hindsight. And that’s great: that’s exactly how your brain is supposed to experience times past. If you’re an optimist, like me, it’s easy to pick out your favourite memories and pretend that your life gone by was all as great as your happiest moments. If you’re a pessimist, well: you probably do the same thing, but compare those great memories to how awful things are right now (and you’re wrong, but I can’t just tell you that and give you a more rational worldview, just as your cynicism won’t “fix” me, either).

That’s inevitable, of course: think back to the moment in your life at which you felt the most content that you ever have – at least that comes right to your mind. Unless your time on the planet has been a continuous curve of improvement, with no ups-and-downs, then there’s something remarkable about that moment: it’s not right now. Well duh, of course it isn’t. The most elementary mathematics would indicate that of all of the experiences in your life, there has to be some kind of regression toward the mean going on: what you’re experiencing now should, on average, be representative of your life so far even before you factor in the Von Restoroff effect and other cognitive biases.

But I digress. My point was this: I would love to be able to finish what I’m working on and go play a game of Chez Geek in the Ship & Castle with folks like Bryn and Kit and Liz and Strokey Adam, just like I did over six and a half years ago. But that’s not my life nowadays. And while I can get all doe-eyed about how awesome the Ship & Castle used to be before they gutted it and made it look like a trendy wine bar (apologies to those of you for whom this is the news being broken of its demise), or I can pine for the days that those friends – now long-gone – used to all live a stone’s throw away from me, but that’s not the full story. I don’t miss being even poorer than I am now, I don’t miss having to juggle my academic life with holding down a job, and a certainly don’t miss being quite so arrogant as I was back then (for those of you who’ve only recently met me; think of me now, only more so).

Nostalgia is like alcohol: it’s great in moderation, but if you get too much of it, or you become dependent upon it, then you’re liable to get stuck and not be able to move on. And I think that’s the message I should be taking away from this morning’s dream.

(and now, in a somewhat ironic and roundabout way, I’d better stop writing so I can go and play board games with the current Aber crew, as part of a tradition that started with Chez Geek in the Ship & Castle, all those years ago…)