It’s no secret that I am a dedicated lover of nostalgia. For me, it’s learning about our past history, feeling the weight of the past, and remembering lovely things in my life that make me such a lover of this wonderful feeling. And having just finished my second book, this one full of historical fiction based around my wonderful city, I could happily live in the world of nostalgia forever.
But there’s a lot of trouble with being a lover of nostalgia.
The trouble with nostalgia is that we see it through rose-coloured glasses. Because it wasn’t all beautiful vintage photographs and wonderful fluffy memories. They were there, but they were the bright spots in a long grey foggy day of illness, death, working for a living, and trying to keep a roof over your head. Rose-coloured glasses are fun because we get to take them off.
The trouble with nostalgia is that it gently blurs and warps the picture we have of the past. It’s easier to remember the bits of history where the hero won. It’s easier to think about beautiful dances and balls, and the sumptuous clothing that rich people wore, and ignore the social injustices and extreme conditions that much of the population lived in. I love to read about Imperial Russia, Victorian England, even Edwardian Canada – but by reading about that and dreaming of living there, I ignore the fact that a lot of that was built on the backs of people in poverty and bondage. History, they say, is told by the winner of the day – but objective history looks at both sides.
The trouble with nostalgia is that it’s easy to get lost in that achingly beautiful sadness. I would often, as a child, be practically paralyzed with the thought of some beautiful thing I’d experienced, or even some sad thing I’d experienced. For me as a writer, it helped me to get those feelings out on paper, and it helped me to craft my words properly in order to describe it. But living in that aching sadness means that you always feel that way – and it’s hard to be that emotional all the time. In fact, it’s downright exhausting. Small doses are best for me.
The trouble with nostalgia is that it’s easy to stay there in the past and ignore the present problems we have. When you’re feeling bad, it’s nice to be able to get lost in someone else’s story. I used to read “Little Women” and “Anne of Green Gables” just so that I could read a simpler sort of angst to what I was feeling at the time. But living in the past means that your current problems run on unchecked.
But maybe the best trouble with nostalgia – and the one that we can take as a lesson for our own lives – is that it shows us a simpler time. A time when technology didn’t run our lives. A time when there were fewer things to keep track of and fewer problems to manage. And we can learn from that sort of life. To put the phones down once in awhile. To enjoy running around outside in all weathers and seasons. To make things from scratch. That’s the best part of nostalgia – and the not-so-gentle reminder that maybe our lives are sometimes too complicated.
Nostalgia isn’t the same as history. History isn’t the same as fact. And remembering those things as we go forward in our lives can help us sort what’s rose-coloured from what’s real – and learn how to enjoy both.
As a dedicated lover of nostalgia, I’ve learned to love it on my own terms.