There are several emails I wake up to every morning that elicit some sort of emotional response upon opening them. One is my horoscope – I don’t take the zodiac all that seriously, but I’ve yet to delete the generalized account of my day without reading it first. And sometimes, they’re oddly predicative. Today’s told me I’d spend the majority of the day working on spreadsheets (GUESS WHAT I DID TODAY, GUYS? HUMPED EXCEL. THAT’S WHAT.)
Another daily email comes from a website called ‘Oh Life.’ It emails me every night around 11:15 PM, asking me how my day went. The gist is that, in an ideal world, I’d respond to the email and ‘Oh Life’ would record the day’s events for me in a journal format on their website. Initially, I thought I’d enjoy being haggled for diary entries every night (though I don’t know why this ever seemed like a good idea), but now it’s more tedious than anything. Just imagine an overzealous suitor emailing you day after day despite your deliberate disinterest. I do occasionally open these emails, but only because they give me recaps of what I’ve written in the past. For example, “142 days ago, you wrote… ‘Today I got drunk, had brunch alone, started to re-read Dry, then Lisa met up with me. Now we’re watching My Neighbor Totoro and it’s everything.’”
Most recently, I signed up for ‘4squareand7yearsago,’ and I’ve been notably more receptive (and anxious) when opening these emails. The app sends me a summary of my Foursquare check-ins from a year ago. It was the novelty of the app that caused me to sign up initially. I’d heard a few friends discussing it and thought, “This will help me remember everything about last summer, why wouldn’t I want that?” The answer to that question is consistently and smartly listed within the body of each email I receive.
I find equal pleasure in new experiences and in revisiting the places that feel like home. But the new experience of seeing places I felt comfortable in 365 days ago, in an ordered list, has become disheartening. It makes it that much easier to remember the meat of my days, details that would’ve otherwise been lost to age and circumstance. It awakens memories that I’ve purposely kept dizzied up and sedated. Memories that don’t have a place in my life anymore.
When you’re trying to move forward, it’s counterproductive to receive an email every morning that plucks you up and drops you back down into your old life. It’s like reading a book and realizing that you’re the protagonist. Identifiable déjà vu. You open that email and can remember everything about a particular day – what you were wearing, who you were with, your major and minor concerns at that moment. Who you loved. Who you hated. Above all, you’re reminded of the places you no longer have access to. There it is – a directory of where you’ll never be invited again, for your convenience. You are no longer welcome. You won’t be surprised by how much can change in a year. You’ll be surprised by how much an email, shot off by a bot and algorithmic in nature, has the ability to hurt you.
Nostalgia is sometimes likened to ‘homesickness’ or ‘melancholy.’ While it’s the most bittersweet of the three, it seems like something we chase despite knowing that it doesn’t necessarily feel good when we catch it. What appeal is there in recording our thoughts, or in signing up for a website that parrots them back at us? We want records of these things so that we can review them from a distance some time later. We want tangible evidence that we’ve grown, even if it means being flooded by an overwhelming sense of loss in the process. If these reminders have the ability to move us deeply, regrettably so, have we grown? Sure, we’re older, maybe our hair is longer, and perhaps we’ve gained or lost a few pounds. Whether we’ve moved the needle of a scale left or right, nostalgia has the power to remind us that we’re heavy as ever.