I’m In Love With Places I’ve Never Been and a Past I’ve Never Seen

Nostalgia is a funny thing. I can never make up my mind on how I feel about idealizing the past. I know that people have a tendency to hate “the now” because now is hard, it’s boring, it’s terrible. And the future doesn’t look much brighter, does it? Dread, dread, dread. The past is so much safer because it can’t hurt us anymore. So I roll my eyes at people who talk about how much better things were back in the day while they ignore all the things that were demonstrably worse about the day compared to to-day.

Perhaps if I had grown up during a particularly exciting era (the ‘90s aren’t exactly the ‘60s, are they?) I might think differently. But without nostalgia for my own past, I have a romanticized view of eras I’ve only ever experienced through movies and novels. Renaissance Florence, a revolution of art and architecture. The late 1800s and the wild American frontier. The roaring ‘20s, when all the twentieth century’s greatest writers and artists were hanging out with Owen Wilson or something. Pretty much any time from the ‘50s all the way to the ‘70s, in Oxford and New York and countless other cities. The world wasn’t a better place in those times. Objectively, I mean–there was so much more war and disease and famine and hate compared to today. The blind glorification tends to forget that stuff.

And how reliable are those romantic notions, anyway? I’m getting them from artists and poets and filmmakers, and who can trust them? Even the history books can’t get everything right. The past is a longing, a lover–all perfection and potential masking flawed humanity, a painting over a cracked wall. It’s sweeter to dwell on all the movie-song perfection nestled in imagination than to face the complicated details that we know will seep through in the future–the future, so much bleaker than the past.

I started this post with “Nostalgia is a funny thing.” Maybe it’s not very funny. I hope I don’t have to be funny all the time.

– H.

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