Looking at How We Look Back
For the past half an hour I have been walking in and out of my new studio into the house, grabbing things I think might be nice to have in here: hooks for a bag, a speaker, some art and gifts from the holidays, some incense—things to make the studio home. But I’ve also been coming back to the house trying to calm the yelping hollers of my housemates dog in the living room who, despite the studio being in a completely separate unit, I can hear crying for comfort. And I want to give it. So, I go back, looking for a speaker and giving Lou, the little dog, some pets and telling him he is strong, he can be alone. I want him to be quiet so badly. Eventually I go back to the studio and I hear him yelping again, and I return, making sure he has water. I walk back into the studio one final time, now ready to write. I listen for Lou. But it is silent. I hear nothing. The dog is quiet, the usual drone of the street is all I hear.
Suddenly, the anticipation of his yelps makes me miss it. I’m distracted. I want him to yelp so I can pet him, tell him it will be okay. I look at my computer and I am no longer sure what I was trying to write any more—what I “had” to do in the studio. I was waiting for Lou to call out for a friend. But no more barking, just silence. It’s been nearly half an hour. Still. Silence.
In the absence of the thing that I was going insane listening to, I started longing for it to return. The chaotic yelps of that sweet little pup, not even a year old, still learning what it is to be a dog—I missed it. And this, for many reasons, seems to always haunt me, this desire to look back at things that once drove me crazy and long for that chaos to return. In my memories those moments become beautiful, hilarious, or poetically torturous. I hide away from all the pain of these instances (not always but usually) and only remember how I wanted them to be in the first place.
This could be a good theme for the past year, maybe even years, of my life. Things I grow to hope turn sour and I leave them, almost always for the better, and then I look back and think, “Well, that wasn’t so bad. I could def do that again.”
What do they call this? Insanity? Coping? Nostalgia?
I might even think back on the seventies, a decade I have never lived in and imagine how wild it would be in that time, to try and fight against the tragedy of Neoliberalism, to find so much hope in the opinion-saturated periodicals that Didion homes for “the young and disaffiliated” —and I won’t think of the lynchings, the protests, the people squashed, the oil companies so tactfully denying their own science.
Or, and more often, I will remember a moment with a friend on one of the saddest days of my life, and wish I could return to that conversation. I might remember in some of these moments the fear and anxiety that held me quiet and in pain. But still I seem to long for the moldy carpeting of an old friend’s room, or a tormentingly hot drive with an ex; and I’ll only fixate on the way we smoked outside of the window or how beautiful the sunset was, not how depressed we were, or how much we had loathed each other. I’ll still miss that sunset.
Nothing I’m saying is really new though. We know nostalgia is not the greatest. We understand how our minds will fabricate entire memories just to let us believe what it is we want to believe. And it is because of this that nostalgia needs to be brought up again and again.
This is the time of year for reflection, the few spare and quiet days between Chanukah, Christmas, and New Year’s, the rare moment where we can look back on the recent past and wonder at what the fuck happened to us. All in all, we’ll look back and call it a mixed bag. We’ll think about who we dated, who we lost, what we did, and believe these things were maybe hard, but worth it. And they were. But, some things we’ll think of and see them as fun, truly blissful, when really we were lost and searching. We just don’t want those moments to hurt, because so much good surrounded them.
This is not to say, for myself, I had a bad year: it was a mixed bag. This is to say I know that things can be better, that I want to remember what was truly wrong about this past year only so that those mistakes might be harder to make again in the future. I would like to release nostalgia for pragmatism.
But still, I’m in my new studio of wood paneling, my seventies cabin escape in East Oakland, looking out for Lou’s calls, waiting to be bothered again, because that boy has the sweetest face. Maybe next time he barks I’ll just remember that he’ll be okay. Maybe he just needs to learn to find the beauty in his own company.
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