“What’s the last song you listened to?” my supervisor Ryan shouted at me from the entrance of his living room before retreating, with batter-dipped spatula in hand, back into his kitchen. From my customary corner seat on the couch I called back, “Umm ‘Linger’ by The Cranberries.” I was confused by his question as I had just been talking to him about my current difficulty dealing with writer’s block. Ryan shot back at me from the kitchen, “why did you listen to that song?” I thought for a few seconds as I wafted the smell of pancakes from the air. We were just about to have staff meeting and Ryan traditionally makes a treat for my peers to enjoy. “Because I wanted to listen to some throwback songs,” I responded after a moment of contemplation. Again from the kitchen, Ryan hollered another question in rapid fire mode, “why did you want to listen to throw back songs?” Great question Ryan. “Well,” I said, “because I was feeling nostalgic.” Ryan grilled me further by asking the importance of being nostalgic. With forced solemnity I blurted out, “because we must remember our pasts to be our best selves moving forward.” Ryan appeared in the doorway again grinning wildly, “that’s bullshit,” he chuckled.
Ryan was right it was total bullshit. However, I finally understood that he was doing more than just keeping up to date with my music preferences (although as a music person, Ryan often does talk to me about music so that was not altogether out of the question). In a matter of minutes, he had effortlessly provided me with another topic to turn over in my mind. Nostalgia. I can’t help but think that I’m feeling rather nostalgic right now because I’m incredibly stressed out. There are less than two weeks left to this term and I have zero motivation to complete this final push and yet there is so much left to be done. My inner perfectionist is in battle with my outer worn but not quite burnt out self. And thus the music of a simpler time calls my name–the anthems of my childhood, a time when I was not so stressed out all the time.
It occurred to me that nostalgia can work in two ways. In a positive sense, nostalgia can empower one to think fondly about the past and although we may miss these easier times, we can draw on the good from those memories. We bring them into our present experiences, give them new meaning, and make ourselves happier along the way. In a negative sense, we can choose to dwell on the loss of these happier times. Sometimes, in doses, this is ok. But I don’t think harnessing the past in this way is productive. We get stuck if we allow nostalgia to dictate our current experiences to the point that we are trying to recreate the past by hiding in it.Now you might be wondering how this relates to my recent music choices–it seems awfully extreme to pose all these philosophical and existential questions every time you listen to your favorite jams from the 90’s. You would be absolutely correct because that would be crazy and life would just be miserable. I do, however, propose that at least for right now you think about it in a larger sense. I have certainly had my fair share in recent weeks of harping on events from last year and pining over things that no longer serve me. We all do this from time to time. My point is to reframe your perspective on these memories. Instead of using The Cranberries to escape the responsibilities in front of you, use it to remind you in the midst of all this obligation of (at least in my case) your carefree child-self. Life is often not as serious as we make it out to be.