Thursday, May 16, 2013


You reach for a box of old photos or a journal on the top shelf of the closet or high up in a cabinet where things are stored.  The object of your search is there and available.  But as as you remove it, something hidden on top of it dislodges, tumbles, catches you on top of the head.

Congratulations.  You've described nostalgia.

Think of nostalgia as a form of homesickness, of affectionate regard for a past time or place, or person, or even many persons.  Trouble is, with the warmth of memory comes the bittersweetness of distance, remove, perhaps even regret, spreading out before you like a cup of coffee spilled on your morning newspaper.

Nostalgia is sentimentality personified, a journey down the memory road to a past you miss while, at the same time, understand is irretrievable.  You cannot recall the last time you've been back to Virginia City, Nevada although there is enough nostalgia to have caused you to dream of being there at least twice this year.  The fact of writing this could even trigger another such dream, where the place is as romantic in setting as you felt it to be when you were a more regular visitor.

You know why you do not return.  Thanks to pictures on its web site, augmenting the inexorable movement of time, you know not to expect anything resembling what it was, nor can you expect to recognize persons whom you know there.  The Virginia Citians you'd see, should you go, would be a new generation, a generation of others.  You'd be another tourist to them.  A deadly chemistry would find its way into conversations.  Rituals would not conjure the same atmosphere much less the results of old times.

Nostalgia is correctly used as a state of being or condition experienced most often by humans.  If you were to humanize it, speak in terms of what it wants, you'd be committing a tort called the pathetic fallacy.  Doing this, you observe how nostalgia wants you focused on the good old days, the rituals you performed or witnessed being performed then, with individuals you were with at the time.

Nostalgia wants to make you yearn for past times, allows you do do so, then yanks the table cloth from under the dishes with a deft, wicked snap, leaving you with a sense of loss, both of a particular time and its accouterments and of the overall passage of time.

The memorable poet, William Carlos Williams, wrote any number of memorable poems, but one in particular results for you because of those three opening lines before the payoff:

so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white

So much depends on where and who you were when you first experienced nostalgia.  You were barely into double digits of age and you were homesick for California, filled with nostalgia for it and the places you'd come to know even though you did not at the time understand why the places meant so much to you.  You'd have nightmares in which you were somehow unable to leave Florida.

Your nostalgia was for being outside on the street in Los Angeles, where the season was close to what it is now, and you were with friends, with no clue that you'd soon grow apart from most of them.  Your definition of friend was different than it has become over the years.  The big draw was the way twilight seemed to hang on the evening and conversation, such as it was, flickered like dreams so reaching and exquisite that they were painful to recall.

The nostalgia list has grown in logarithmic progression over the years away from that residential north-south street in the mid-Wilshire District of Los Angeles, although you can still feel that not-yet-dark quality, the smells of jasmine and the crepe paper appearance of the jacaranda trees.  At one point, you squeezed your eyes shut to hear fragments of differing conversations, many of them as filled with inaccuracy as only the conversations of young boys can flaunt accuracy.

These days, your nostalgia is more for friends you've grown apart from in a more basic, primal sense of living and not living.  Your current cat reminds you of a first cat whom, in much innocence, you took to Virginia City twice.  He, in his own innocence, allowed you to do so

You are experiencing some nostalgia for books you read at special ages.  These were books you could not read the same way again.  Those books and the things you wrote shimmer in the nostalgia of evenings in the twilight and advancing darkness.  One constant remains, the uncertainty of what waits for you on up ahead, the ahead of then and the ahead of now.

Time is making a story of you, setting you into a conversation with a past that was looking for a future you have to pry out of your own sense of nostalgia.

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