Sunday, March 27, 2016

Inflation: The Historical Consequences of Nostalgia

In a real sense, nostalgia is the emotional equivalent of the hair of the dog as a remedy for a hangover. Nostalgia likes to put in an appearance after some present day iteration of a past event--even a comparison of prices for a given object or service between then and now.  

The memory of what you could do for a dime back then causes what you tend to do with a dime that comes your way today to serve as a reminder of irony. One Then of such nostalgia is the DC comic book you could buy for a dime, the admission to the Ritz Theater on Wilshire Boulevard, for the Saturday matinee of a double feature, an episode of a serial, a cartoon, and a MovieTone Newsreel; a Duncan basic yo-yo, a mile-high ice cream cone at Curry's on Wilshire and Detroit.

Remembering unpleasantness from the past has the side effect of causing most persons who do so to resort, at some point, to nostalgia. This observation has its origins in your belief that the majority of humans will jump at the opportunity to move away from unhappiness, even if the nostalgia invoked to provide happiness is short lived.

You've had sufficient experiences with hangovers from drinking and hangovers from spending too much time getting comfortable with nostalgia in the face of some contemporary distraction. A favored opening to L.P. Hartley's memorable novel, The Go-Between, states, "The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there."  Nostalgia reminds us of some warmth for some time in the past, but examination reminds us of a number of ways inflation has set in.

The dime with which you were able to do so much was also a respectable tip for something that cost a dollar-and-a-quarter. Some of your early jobs paid you fifty cents an hour; some of your earliest stories brought you the munificent pay rate of a penny a word. More to the point, this particular type of nostalgia is price-oriented, suggesting that much of past happiness was related to possessions rather than presence.

Another Then of nostalgia relates to your favorite job that had nothing directly to do with writing. You were the manager of a parking lot at the northwest corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Dunsmuir Avenue, your managerial duties involved keeping track of when a car entered, when it left, and how much to charge the driver. 

For all that the parking lot was in the fabled Miracle Mile, its in-and-out traffic never reached levels of intensity, meaning you had ample time to read, to write, to visit with friends, and, most important of all, to look forward to the arrival of your scheduled hours of work.

There was no thought or hope of upward mobility, no take-home worries, no reports to write or meetings to attend. When you were given a ten-cent-an-hour raise, you promptly splurged on a deluxe hamburger across the street at Wimpy's, where you frequently ate, looking at a wall drawing of its eponymous source, J. Wellington Wimpy, friend of Popeye. 

Thinking about nostalgia often reminds you how the present moments you experience are candidates for the nostalgia of the future, a factor you attempt to build into characters you create for fiction and for ideas you wish to follow for essays and booklength nonfiction. Your current project, which is nonfiction, is an unexpected result of nostalgia as it reflects on and filters reading experiences.

Of all the novels you have read over the years, you have selected one hundred from which you extracted the most profound experiences leading to your greater understanding of storytelling. The least you will have read any of these hundred titles is twice; in some cases the number of revisits has gone upwards of ten.

At the time of your first reading, you had no idea these individual stories would offer you so much, become such equivalents of friends, and, most important of all, occasions of nostalgia. In the same manner your early encounters with nostalgia had hangovers, rereading these hundred novels reminds you how much you missed with earlier encounters, how your own attitudes toward reading and retention of responses have changed.

At the tail end of this calculus of reading, rereading, and self-evaluation, you encounter the unexpected awareness that aging and experience also involve inflation levels. The very reading you indulged at first to learn and to escape has evolved to the most humbling awareness: Learning will only stop when you do;  there is no escaping from the inflation levels.

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