I’ve been thinking about Nostalgia a lot lately. Perhaps because I was afflicted with a bad case of it for a brief moment recently. I spent a few months in Istanbul - the city I grew up in, away from Maastricht - the city I have built my life in over the last 6 years. Looking through old notebooks from high school, filled with angst, passion and at times cringey teenage thoughts I felt the oh so familiar tickle of nostalgia. Not necessarily for the times themselves - being a teenager is a horrendous ordeal - but for the wide eyed wonder I saw the world through. Every thought was a revelation, every feeling was groundbreaking. Disillusionment hadn’t set in and made a cosy little den in the back of my mind quite yet. I, alongside every other politically charged 16 year old, was going to save the world. But somewhere over the last decade I’ve decided I won't be saving the world. My overly pessimistic view told me the world is unsaveable. And perhaps humankind is not worthy of saving at all. I seem to have come full circle in my affinity for angst yet somehow lacking the idealism. Looking back at a teenage version of myself I admire her for her gumption. I admire her fight and her sense of justice. I think I have a lot to learn from her.
My teenage self was not only an idealist but also a hopeless romantic. I was effectively indoctrinated by the Disney inflicted farce that one true love would solve all of life’s problems. I believed, like many others, that my purpose was to love and be loved. I longed for a love story of my own. It was an unattainable promise hidden somewhere in the future - if I was lucky. Now, in my mid-twenties with a couple of love stories fading into the distance as warm memories, my teenage longing has transfigured into a bittersweet nostalgia. Over the years those love stories shifted from being a promise of the future to a memory of the past. I look back on past lovers with appreciation. But I long for the intensity my teenage self viewed the world though. There’s much magic in the eyes of a teenager looking ahead at adventures to come. Every experience is novel. As the capacity for novelty becomes narrower I look back on a version of myself who only saw possibility ahead. And I remind myself that one day, possibly very soon, I will feel nostalgic for the life I lead now.
The Imprints We Leave…
I am writing this article sitting in the garden of my dear friend's childhood home. I have been in this garden a handful of times over the years. First, when I was 19 with a broken heart. A few months later with a broken ankle. Twice for Christmas dinner when I couldn’t make it home to my family. Today, with a mild hangover after a particularly boozy barbecue with her family. I see this garden in snapshots, like a town you pass through on the train. Last time I saw it it was freezing cold. This afternoon is sunny, a soft breeze rattles the leaves on the trees that surround us. Every so often the windchimes produce a serene melody. It's such a background noise that no one else seems to notice it. Perhaps they are used to it. I wonder if Lidde - my friend - would feel nostalgia if she hears windchimes in a different context. I wonder if they carry warmth for her the same way snails on wet cobblestones remind me of my childhood on the Mediterranean. In Maastricht they pop out after the rain. Back home they would come out after the sprinklers turned off on hot summer days.
We are just a collection of memories and associations. Moss and lavender will always remind me of my mum. Sunflowers and artichokes will remind me of one of my best friends. Lucky Strike blues will remind me of Jake from university. I know there are people who are reminded of me when they see frogs. [brief intermission to say that a squirrel just ran across the garden, I thought that was important to report]. I relish these little nostalgias and carrying traces of people around with us. The imprints we leave on one another and the stories they tell.
An old friend recently visited the city. He hadn’t been back in a couple of years. Just long enough to reminisce about our time at university and to remind each other of the versions of ourselves lost to the passing of time. No longer existent but the building blocks of what stands now. I listened to his song - metaphorically through his words, but also a literal one - there was a line:
“And we can’t relive these first years
When we go gray
And one day I know
One of us will have to go away”
We feel the preemption of nostalgia for the present when the present is good. “This too shall pass” they say. Your joy as well as your sorrow. The acknowledgement that even the best of times, even the happiest versions of ourselves are fleeting is a sour one. But it's a fact we must come to terms with in order to not let it sully our experience of the now. You cannot let mourning to distract, only to elevate. Because love, happiness, joy faced with the inevitability of loss is all the more precious.
Through our conversation, we existed in a pocket of time - in an echo of a shared past. The people we keep are a window into the lives we’ve lived and the people we once were, as we are to them. We share our nostalgia as we share our past. I’ve lived many lives in this city. I have been many people. Some I’m proud of, some I look back on with little recognition. All parts of she who persists. There are many mini personal monuments on these streets. My first address as an adult; the apartment I fell in love in for the first time; the park bench I scraped a drunk friend off of in my first year; the kebab shop that sustained me through university -shoutout to Siraj from McDönerbox-; the nightshop that supplied the wine and condoms. The house that nourished some of the most influential relationships of my life. The window I fell out of when I broke that aforementioned ankle -long story-. Inconsequential spaces to many. Everyday streets for everyday people. Everyday streets that hold endless stories.
I’ve come to realise that uncertainty and fear of the future causes us to glance over our shoulder to the familiar for comfort. But we end up living in a reality that no longer exists, or one that never existed in the first place. Despite its bittersweet beauty, nostalgia can often be misleading. I found myself thinking back to an old work place with much more fondness than the sentiments I held when I left. Most likely due to my fear of working somewhere new, with unfamiliar people and undiscovered rules and dynamics to navigate. [A large magpie just waddled over to the windchimes]. The past gives us experience, we owe who we are to our past. But there are times we must remember that we don't owe it much more than that. You don't owe your past time or regret - with the exception of cases where we’ve wronged someone or we need to make amends, dwelling is not much more than an exercise in futility.
Sometimes you have to let your past go. Let the things you've loved and lost fade into the distance as warm memories. Because the longer you hold onto the past the more sour it gets. Your nostalgia transfigures into resentment. We resent the past for leaving us. For not still being the way of things. Reflect on why something isn't in your life anymore. A job, a lover, a friend. Odds are, there was a good reason that you have since become blind to due to the thick fog of longing. And sometimes things simply fade. Arguably the harder flavour of nostalgia to get out of one's mouth. In either case, dwelling and longing are slippery acts. It is easy to fall into the trap of bitterness.
On the flip side of the nostalgia for what we once loved and lost, exists a time we wave off with good riddance. The anti-nostalgia. The times we look back on and wonder how we survived with our [relative] sanity. So I will not write these words about the past with a feigned universal fondness. Not all memories carry warmth. Not all memories we wish to return to. Yet some still manage to bring upon the dull ache of nostalgia. I read an anecdote by a woman who has made fitness her career - a very successful one at that. Looking back, she realised that she initially started going to the gym after an ex-partner body shamed her and would constantly compare her to other women. He was overall an undeniably toxic dude. Yet she still thanked him. Though her motivations to start the gym came from a place of externally inflicted insecurities, she reshaped her mentality. Reflecting on the past, she sees what she was blind to at the time: the guy is a prick. He would have no space in her life now, but she can see that that phase in her life was necessary to bring her where she is now. I suppose the past is complex, you don’t have to have one particular feeling toward it. You can embrace its multifaceted nature. A miracle of memory is its subjectivity. The same events, the same past is recalled entirely differently by different people, different times, different perspectives. Let the impressionability of your memory work for you. I -try to- return to the past with clarity of mind and strength of spine, even when the past scares me.
[...a raven glided over head]