Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Death of Nostalgia

-A notebook from a high school economics class
-The nameplate from my teller station at Harris Bank in Palatine
-A dolphin key chain
-The sweaty, mylar blanket I got after finishing the Chicago Marathon in 2005
-A picture of a bathroom from an English bed and breakfast, circa 1993

What do these things have in common? They're all meaningless items I recently threw away while rummaging through a really heavy box in my closet. Why did I ever feel obliged to save any of these things? I don't know.

Nostalgia serves little purpose for me anymore. I remember that as a serious, analytical youth, I often held onto box-loads of objects I was sure would be worth something to me some day. I even hesitated to throw away old toothbrushes; I reasoned that a toothbrush was a very intimate object due to it being in one's mouth so often. What did this "material nostalgia" do for me? Not much apart from provide a lot of clutter.

What's my main beef with nostalgia? By definition, nostalgia presupposes a longing for the past. Billy Joel taught me a long time ago that "the good old days weren't always so good, and tomorrow ain't as bad as it seems." It's possible that the dried-out marker I once used in Mr. Puhy's 8th grade social studies class is an obstacle in my path. The rusty, dented Pennsylvania license plate from my first car might just be an anchor to the past when what I really need is a shove into the future.

So I'm choosing to set aside the silly urges to save pieces of paper and memorabilia. No more pack rat for me! Why do I need that copy of the Daily Illini from 1999? When will I go back and reminisce about the time I got that blue and white bracelet made of yarn...especially since I can't remember who gave it to me or what it means. Instead of trinkets and knick-knacks, I'll trust in random sounds and smells to call forth distant memories of elementary school, for instance. Fallen leaves scraping along the pavement often remind me of a Halloween parade our school had when I was in fourth grade. I went as Indiana Jones, and one girl was a clock...

If I'm honest with myself, though, I recognize that I can't give up nostalgia cold turkey. I threw away the economics notebook, but I couldn't bring myself to toss the one from English 251 that had one half of a note-passing conversation with a classmate. I felt fine throwing away the syllabus for a history class, but I couldn't pitch my University of Illinois day planner with scribblings like "meet at the Union 2:30" in it. I didn't think twice about chucking an old thank you note from someone, but I held on tightly to a folded-up letter from a girl who meant a lot to me. The lined paper torn from a spiral notebook reminded me of how good things often pass us by...sometimes we don't realize the good until later.

It continually surprises me how often I rediscover that things aren't as cut-and-dry as I initially thought. Perhaps even the collection of gold-colored pencils with my Mom's name on them have value; they help me remember the face of the girl who found one of the pencils that I had lost in Mrs. Witucke's third grade classroom. I scolded her when I saw that she was using the found pencil, and the look of shock and sorrow at the harshness of my words is burned into my memory.

Maybe I'll give nostalgia a second chance.

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