Wednesday, April 3, 2013

a complete set.

Nostalgia feels like dizziness after spinning for too long, like your eyes are trying to focus on what's before them but nothing will hold still long enough.  It's like a sock to your mid-section, the disappointment settling into the pit of your stomach like a stone, because the longing you feel is to be allowed to grasp tightly to something intagible, un-holdable.  Moments cannot be cradled in our fingers or stuffed into a box for safekeeping.  This is the message of the classic play Our Town: most humans can't realize the moments that will be precious to them until they are looking back in retrospect.

So I am nostalgic.  For my calloused fingers and the red neck mark that came from playing my viola for hours upon hours each week, my fingers quick over the strings.  For rich, fat chords sung in unison with the choir at SPU.  For learning my lines for Les Mis by playing the CD over and over again in my little bright blue Ford.  For whisper-chatter at work with the girls at the Dollhouse Tearoom, sneaking M&Ms and making rice bowls for lunch.  For Subway sandwiches and flash cards in the dorm room with Steph, and pajama dancing and candles with Tashlet.  For dissecting shows on the WB with Tiff and listening to one Kelly Clarkson album for a year straight.  For the ways the sisterhood effortlessly overlapped into every section of my life, without thought.  For heading to class with my notebook tucked in my purse, neat handwriting but stuffed with too many papers that always spilled out.  For that summer when I rode bikes with Dad and looked at the clouds in the sky every night.  For staying up late.  For old ways of relating to people that weren't so self-conscious.  For conversations with Kathi Gerspach at Cafe D, about God and boys and my family.  For the chance to learn those great German songs for my junior recital, one of my favorite characters to perform, ever.  For the way I felt when I first read Blue Like Jazz, like my eyes were bugging out, as I coped whole sections into my journal because I couldn't think of another way to say how important they felt.  For those first few months of dating when it felt staggering, unbelievable, that I was finally allowed to talk with Chris about everything, for as long as I wanted, day after day. 

I am also, strangely, nostalgic for experiences that were never mine.  I read about someone going to see a show and drinking sweet tea in Nashville, or studying theology and baking biscuits in Scotland, or writing novels and listening to the bells at Oxford, and I feel the same sensation of nostalgia that I feel for experiences that were my own.  Something about that life feels like home, so I try on the idea in my mind: what would it look like being a writer, or playing in an orchestra, or editing books for a living?  What would the day-to-day things look like?  Where would I buy my groceries, go out for coffee, go for a run?  And it makes me want to turn my life in one giant U-turn to live their life in the south, or the UK, or wherever it is, and be a writer, or practice my viola again, or get a graduate degree in something else entirely, some degree that will allow me access to a new and different life.  Because, as I've told you before, I don't really know what I'm doing, and the next steps are very blurry and confusing.  It's easy to become overwhelmed at all the different ways things could turn out.  It feels easier to try on whole lives (it comes as a complete set!) than decide what tiny steps to take in your own existence.

Do you know what I'm describing?  This desire to try on a new life?  Or a return to your old memories?  And the deep belly feeling that in doing so, you're somehow overlooking what is beautiful or valuable about your own life, not in the south or in the UK, or even in your own past, but right now, in the northwest corner of a country, with rain and green trees and lots of places to go for a walk.

Why is it so easy to see the magic of someone else's life and be blind to our own?  And is there a way to have our eyes opened? 

*Photo from a recent walk in my neighborhood.


  1. Reminds me of a Sylvia Plath quote: “I can never read all the books I want; I can never be all the people I want and live all the lives I want. I can never train myself in all the skills I want. And why do I want? I want to live and feel all the shades, tones and variations of mental and physical experience possible in life. And I am horribly limited.”

    I get that feeling a lot too. Sometimes I wish reincarnation were a real thing. Then I quickly feel guilty and try harder to practice contentment. But I still feel it.

    1. such a thoughtful reader.

      i like the idea of practicing contentment more than learning contentment, because it means you can practice till the day you die and still not have mastered it completely.

  2. I never quite know how to navigate nostalgia.

    On one hand, I love reminiscing, and on the other... the stone of disappointment sinking into my stomach causes me to resent nostalgia.

    But I'm glad to have memories that stir in nostalgia in me, even if sometimes the memories contain wounds that still haven't quite healed.

    And I also relate to that desire to have tried on a thousand different lives and choices. A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken is a book that awakened nostalgia for me...but in a way that didn't leave me disappointed.

    Just realized that your blog link is sent to me whenever you leave a comment on my blog. And I'm so glad to have rediscovered the link to your blog. Read a few entries. Real and thoughtful musings, SJ.

    1. Yes! I so appreciate your observation that the painful parts of remembering and longing for something from the past often contain, in some hidden way, old wounds...perhaps this can be helpful as we learn to navigate nostalgia the next time it hits, recognizing old aches and taking ONE.MORE.STEP toward healing?

      Always grateful to have thoughtful readers and conversation partners like you, Smash.