Notes on Nostalgia
The first day of autumn this year could only be described as quintessential. Before that, the city was relentless in its summer mood of 85 degree days and sunshine marching on as if it meant to take over the delicate transition and push it aside for some time to come. When we woke up that first morning of fall, we expected more of the same hostile summer. What we got was a partly cloudy, slightly breezy, 67 degree day. And just like that, my mind was thrown into a flurry of memories I forgot existed and haven’t had to navigate since living in the mono-seasonal climate of South Florida. I found that for me, autumn is exhaustingly nostalgic.
I want to pause here for a moment and talk about nostalgia. Since I have been dealing with it over these last few weeks, I’ve come to discover that my ideas of nostalgia may not be universal. I brought my musings of the season to a new friend of mine and they told me they simply did not experience nostalgia. “I just get over things so quickly and never really pay attention to my past; it’s over.” I couldn’t believe that there were people out there who could just not feel these feelings of equal parts joy and sadness where I had been wading through them almost every time I left the house. I tried to explain as I will try again here that nostalgia is not about not being able to get over your past. I’ve felt what that is and it is embarrassment or regret or broken heartedness. There is no joy in that.
Nostalgia may come with a longing for the past but it is more than that. It is a recognition of time before, that it was there, that it happened, and that it’s part of you. It’s retroactive appreciation for a moment that perhaps you neglected to appreciate when it was around. It’s a healthy relationship with your whole self. Time isn’t linear and neither is our experience. It’s all happening now and nostalgia may be the purest recognition of that.
Autumn brings this up for me in a way no other season or object or song or experience could. And a first autumn in New York means there’s a day in September that feels like Valentine’s day in 8th grade in your favorite burgundy striped turtleneck and making eyes at your crush who doesn’t care that you exist. Remembering he got married recently. It means when you’re walking to the subway at night and someone passes you speaking a language you don’t recognize, Christmas markets in Budapest sparkle behind your eyes. It means that when you pull out your lipstick and put on Cherry Skies, the memory of your first New Year’s Eve kiss two years ago flashes in the corner of your mind before flooding you with the kind of nostalgia only newness can bring.
And that’s it, isn’t it? It’s the new, the unfamiliar that brings up the comfort of the past. The memories that are like home, the ones you can point out every detail and say, “This is why I am.” They tell you that soon this will be familiar too. Soon it won’t be new. Soon it will be summer again marching relentlessly and Valentine’s day and Budapest and Cherry Skies will be put to rest.