Category Archives: Nostalgia

First accessory

Wind-up watch.

 

In second–maybe third–grade, I had a Strawberry Shortcake watch with a red leather strap. It was the first accessory I ever coveted.

It was a wind-up watch, not a digital, and I wore it everywhere I went. And, I went. Though I lived in a city famous for rainfall, my friends and I lived outdoors where we were free. We would roam and there would always be some dinner time we were supposed to be back by five or six, or seven. We were always running late and winding that coveted watch back by fifteen minutes, a half hour, to prove that we weren’t really late at all.

 Ah, I sometimes miss the days when I could be not really late at all. 

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Skipping class

I’m not sure how it started, exactly. One day I must have been walking to school and instead of turning left toward the tall gray concrete building, climbing the stairs to sit in Mr. Lokken’s Algebra II class, I turned right toward the public library.

I spent the first few hours browsing. First flipping through cards filed alphabetically, kept in long pull-out drawers that sighed when you opened, then closed them. Next, walking up and down the aisles, pulling books off to browse because the title or a familiar author or the color of the spine.

I must have checked out five or six books that day, one was Rukeyser’s selected poems, which I carried around in my backpack way past the due date. Returning books to the library on time is not a skill I ever mastered. Messenger bag heavy with books, I walked out into the cold, quiet, empty streets of downtown Aberdeen to the new, hopefully to stay this time, cafe. I ordered a bagel with sun-dried tomato cream cheese and a cappuccino, found a table with a windowed view. I wrote through the afternoon with my new roller-ball blue pen–poems, snippets of stories, quotes from the books I browsed through. I jotted down pieces of conversation overheard at other tables.

“You wont’ believe what she said, Grace.”

“Well, you tell her she can go to hell for all I care.”

Not unusual for any day in Aberdeen, rain drummed the sidewalk. The tables were all different, but all varnished wood. Probably picked up at the consignment shop down the road, the one whose storefront took up an entire block. On my table a small faceted glass vase held a bouquet of fake pansies. I used most of the surface of the table to stack all the books from by bag, lay down my open notebook, set out some pens, a pencil, a highlighter, plus a corner for my coffee and my empty bagel plate.

An hour after I would have been getting out of school for the day, I stepped out onto the sidewalk, green umbrella popped open. I walked the entire eight miles home.

When my mom asked, “How was your day today?” I said, “It was okay”, then took a bite of the peanut butter honey sandwich I’d just made and went upstairs.

I believe that this is how it started, with this day. A whim. A trip to the library. An afternoon at the coffee shop. A long walk home. After that, I couldn’t stop skipping class. I skipped school  so that I could haunt downtown Aberdeen: the library, the coffee shop, one of three thrift stores. No stranger seemed to notice or care and my mom didn’t figure it out for months.

I suppose there were lots of reasons I started skipping class. A better day for an introvert. A day spent pursuing my own curiosity, reading the books I wanted to read. The compulsion to find some solitude to write. That compulsion that continues even to this day. At least once per week, sometimes more, I find myself walking to work so tempted to turn left toward downtown.

 

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nostalgia

Nostalgia is a funny thing.

Summer is ripe for nostalgia. As children, upon the arrival of summer, we become suddenly free to choose. Choose our own books (in my case by the armload taken from the library along with a summer reading program log), choose our own camps or classes from a range of options, mostly extracurricular, therefore feeding a mode of personal expression. Certainly there is an economic divide in terms of this option, but even kids who grow up drinking powdered milk as I did have options to ride horses, make art, and go to camp. We have more time and more freedom, more opportunities to create memories to be nostalgic about.

And nostalgia is a funny thing, if you think about it. Defined as a sentimental longing or affection for the past, we feel many types of nostalgia, but tend to tie that nostalgia to a particular thing and that fascinates me. What I really feel nostalgic about cannot be touched. I long for a time when I enjoyed greater leisure, when my child depended greatly on me and every day I watched him reach a milestone of some sort in his journey to become independent of me. I long for a time when I took time to hang out with my closest female friends, when that that was my top social priority, and we shared everything. I feel nostalgic for my need to rebel against authority (before I became the authority to rebel against).

But how does this nostalgia manifest itself? Certain moments caught in a single photographic image. Candy cigarettes. The onesie he came home from the hospital in. The smell of baby oil used for tanning. Those colored tassels for bike handles. Library check out cards, the date due stamped in blue ink. These are the carriers of nostalgia. A sight, or sound, or taste, or touch, or smell can transport us to the past at any time. So much of who we are is made up of a life time of sensory experience, and thatGloria went on a hike with us. We are still driving back and won’t be to town until around 10. She’d still like to come see you and wants to know if that will be too late. experience is deeply connected to our thought and emotion. The fact that certain things tend to be prevalent in certain times tie us to our age. Walkman. Need I say more?

As writers we must pay attention to nostalgia in our selection of detail. I find this to be true in at least two ways when editing. Nostalgia can lead to cliché because you choose the detail that emerges strongest, not the one that most accurately fits the moment of the particular fiction you are building. Also, if we’re writing a story that takes place in a time you lived through, you might be tempted to embed objects of your own nostalgia even though they are not the objects that best create the character you are writing about. In essence, nostalgia can lead us to be always writing ourselves into stories. Now I’m not saying objects of your own nostalgia have no place in your fiction. t I am saying that you must pay attention to each particular detail you choose and be sure it serves your story, not merely your own longings.

 

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