Saturday, April 16, 2016

Nostalgia is a lie

My sister recently saw a production of the musical Oliver and emailed me that it reminded her of when I was in our high school production of the same musical.

"Oh yeah," I mused. "Oliver. That was so much fun! My god, that was a hundred years ago. I was 17 and so pretty then. And thin and smart and I had my whole life ahead of me." As I began to sink into good old nostalgia -- wishing I could experience the past again -- it hit me: do I really wish I could relive my high school years? And the answer was no.

Sure, as a high school senior I had freedom from adult problems and I had a boyfriend, the radiance of youth and the glamor of the Las Lomas High School auditorium stage, but I also had math analysis class, insecurity and a mother who regularly terrified me. At the age of 17, I had years of depression, self-loathing and painful family dynamics ahead of me. It would be three decades before I'd get enough of a handle on my self-esteem problems that I'd be strong enough to start living the life I really wanted. When I was 17, I still had graduate school in my future (shudder).

Sophomore year 1982
Having your whole life ahead of you sounds good if it means more good than bad, but I don't think that's what I got. Think about when you were in high school. Sure, most people immediately think of friends, football games, parties, having a high sex drive and all the fun times. But weren't there also stomach-churning exams, talks with teachers, parents fighting and/or getting a divorce, times you got in trouble, insecurity among your peers, days you dreaded getting out of bed, heartbreak and mistakes you would have given anything to take back? Would you really want to re-do all that, plus the last decade or three that would get you back to the age you are now?

Don't fall for it. Nostalgia is a lie. It seduces us by recalling the emotions we constantly crave, when in reality, those emotions were interspersed with pain. No, the past isn't always better, even if we think re-doing it will get us to a better present day. Being in high school musicals are some of my best memories, but even though I'm 49 and three quarters years old, with a puffy face, a pudgy body and that invisibility that comes with being a middle aged woman, my youth was not better than my present. I wouldn't really want to go back to being 17 for anything in the world. Would you?

1 comment:

Rayfield A. Waller said...

This is exactly the sentiment I was trying to express in my earlier post today on your blog, under the comment on your fiction: its not possible to relate to you in terms of nostalgia (either nostalgia about you twenty years ago or you last week! LOL)

That's a good thing, because yes, nostalgia is a lie for all of us.