The Nostalgia Trap
I don’t miss my youth. It was nice when it happened, but I don’t cling to it. There’s generally a sense that once you hit adulthood, your best years are behind you. But, I don’t really believe that to be true. For many of those years, roughly 25 or 26, you’re still figuring out how your body and brain work, what you like, and who you are. For those formative years, by all accounts, you’re a goddamned sloppy mess — and that’s nothing to be proud of.
Really, until we’re about 23, we’re wild animals. We’re loud, testing the boundaries of acceptable behavior, constantly grasping for attention, living selfishly, and never apologizing. We’re never sure what we want, and we can’t be trusted to even mean what we say. I’m certainly not excluded from this. When I think of myself at any point in my youth, from infancy to around 27, there isn’t a single version of myself I’d want to spend any extended period of time with; and I certainly wouldn’t wish that upon anyone else. All of our previous versions were searching desperately for something, often flailing wildly and spouting nonsense.
My child self was learning how to make mouth sounds until around 25, that’s when I figured out how to speak like an adult human being. The language we speak in high school is a screeching mess of slang and oblivious angst. The language we speak from high school graduation until around 25, that’s just impulsive, thoughtless nonsense we believe to be the most important drivel ever uttered. And then at 25, we turn into bald know-it-alls with answers to everyone’s problems that nobody asked for — right?
But nostalgia and the longing for our lost youth, our bygone golden years — it’s a lie. Life is messy at every point from birth until death. It gets easier to navigate, but it remains messy. And so, it’s easy to look back on our carefree youth and think it to be a better version of ourselves. But, that misses the entire point of growth. So much of our youth, the stuff we’re so nostalgic about, it’s only a stepping stone. The way we speak, the way we feel, the movies we like, and the music we love, it’s all steering us towards what hopefully amounts to a real identity. Clinging to any bit of that holds us back.
In truth, I’m strangely detached from my past and my youth. I listen to just about none of the music I did from before the age of 25. None of it managed to remain significant, it only became painfully embarrassing in hindsight. I can’t inhabit it anymore, it holds no value for me. Those things that lead me here, they served their purpose, but it’s fine to leave them trailing behind us as we continue to move forward, never looking back — each our own version of Orpheus.
I don’t admire nostalgia, and I try not to engage in it. I find it irritating. When it comes to nostalgia, I find myself purposefully evading its searchlight. I don’t even let myself use certain words for too long, I don’t want anything to get stale. I don’t want to be pinned down, don’t want to get boring. The past is a fading picture, why bother with the upkeep and restoration? Just keep taking photographs and leaving them in a trail behind you.