The Problem With Nostalgia

Kelley Bozarth

I have a crippling fear of forgetting things.

I’ve kept diaries fairly consistently since I was maybe 10 years old. I’m not disciplined enough to write every day, nor was I even disciplined enough to write for every year of my life, so I guess by “fairly consistently” I mean that I’ve been extremely consistent in the level of drama and irrational anger and scribbling I’ve incorporated into every entry over the last 13 years.

I know I’m supposed to write every day, but I can’t. Mostly because when I’m actually happy and, like, drinking water or something, I never feel like I have anything to say. Sometimes, under the day’s date, I’ll just write “Happy!!!!!” as if to explain to future me why I took a week off of writing entries.

I like remembering the way I felt and the way I was thinking and who I was with one year or two years or even five years ago. That’s the biggest drive behind writing in a diary—that I get to plan out any feelings of nostalgia and can control it. Because nostalgia, while it’s nice in small doses, really warps my perception of things and I already have trouble with letting go of the past. Nostalgia makes me feel bubbly and soft for what’s already happened and hardened against any change that’s prevented the past to be the present as well. But that’s all so backwards and wrong to me. It used to be the future that scared me (I can barely plan 24 hours ahead without my body shutting down from the stress of it), but now I’m scared of everything that’s already happened. I need change.

My diaries take up approximately half of a shelf in my childhood bedroom. I feel weirdly detached from the stories and writing in there—as if, once I write something down, it’s no longer mine—but anytime I’m home I read them anyway. I feel embarrassed about every piece of writing I’ve ever produced, with the exception of a very few recent articles, and this embarrassment wholeheartedly applies to my diaries too. But I think that’s good, isn’t it? I think that embarrassment is supposed to stem from knowing you’re changing and growing. Or maybe I used to be a really shitty writer, who knows.

It’s a weird space to be in—me, surrounded by the bubblegum pink walls I painted back in 2008 and the dusty developed photographs from my senior year of high school, sitting on the floor where I used to have slumber parties and study for tests, now reading these old notebooks. It’s like purposefully overdosing on nostalgia.

My little sister is five years younger than me and starting college and I only have good things to tell her about what the next four years of her life will be like. It’s nothing new or particularly inspiring; everyone did the same to me right before I left for LA.

Except, when I read my old journals, I’m reminded of everything nostalgia convinces me to forget.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, only because I recently spent two consecutive weekends in my childhood home and because I’m leaving for LA again in a couple of days. It’s funny to read in my diaries how some of my worst moments happened in LA, but nostalgia makes me think it’s ok to go back. The same could be said about where I grew up, but I still go home from time to time. I said this to someone recently and they thought that “funny” was a weird way of describing it.

I’ve spent the majority of my adult life split between two major cities, and what’s bizarre is how I always feel like I love whichever city I’m not currently living in more than the other. And that’s the problem with nostalgia.

I indulge myself occasionally. I’ll think about little golden moments and drag them out in my head so they seem like they were more meaningful and important than they probably actually were. A lot of sources of nostalgia for me will always be tiny things that I never thought to write down in my diary, no matter how hard I try to cram everything in there. Like grabbing dinner with my friend in LA, and watching her check her teeth in the reflection of her phone screen while we wait for the bill. Or the days in the summer at home when my friends and I would drive miles and from different towns and congregate in one living room and watch TV in silence. Times when I’d invite myself over to a friend’s apartment—unfairly close to where I lived and entirely unplanned and it was almost disrespectful how long it took me to realize how important this was to me until we had to move (him, across town; me, across the country)—and I would watch him study a subject I never had interest in learning, as I secretly waited for his roommate to come home and pay attention to me. Thought Catalog Logo Mark


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