WASHINGTON December 9, 2012 - Have you ever read a quote that makes an instant, permanent path in your neural network? It might be the words of Frank Zappa, “It isn’t necessary to imagine the world ending in fire or ice. There are two other possibilities: one is paperwork, and the other is nostalgia.”
From then on, the words fire, ice, and paperwork make you think of nostalgia. You showed no interest in nostalgia prior to perusing the quote, but now you find yourself contemplating nostalgia more than must be normal.
However, after giving nostalgia much consideration you realize there are different types. Each type signifies the pain of not being able to return home. (The Greek word nostos means return, and algos is translated as suffering.)
Wallow Nostalgia (WN)
“If you’re yearning for the good old days, just turn off the air conditioning.” ~ Owens Lee Pomeroy
Wallow nostalgia is believing the past was better than today and continually longing for it. The problem with WN is that you are trying to get something from the past because it is missing now. It could be a person, a sense of safety, comfort, being taken care of, a particular atmosphere, or youth.
WN is an exercise in futility although it does point to something you need or want but do not know how to acquire in the present, or think it is no longer available. It is WN that gives nostalgia the reputation of being futile, useless, maudlin, or silly, but the intent behind it is never silly.
Surprise Attack Nostalgia (SAN)
“The times you lived through, the people you shared those times with — nothing brings it all to life like an old mix tape. It does a better job of storing up memories than actual brain tissue can do. Every mix tape tells a story. Put them together, and they can add up to the story of a life,” writes Rob Sheffield (Love is a Mix Tape).
Almost everyone has an internal mix tape of songs, especially holiday songs that are back linked to their pleasant-memory storage cells.
Maybe you are out doing holiday shopping. The store begins piping in music from the Christmas LP (or tape) your parents played every year. Before your mind registers what is going on you find yourself in the emotional and possibly teary realm of nostalgia.
SAN is reflex nostalgia. A sound, smell, taste, texture, or a sight flips a memory switch and our ever ready emotions run with it. We re-experience the feeling attached to the memory, automatically. This is occasionally embarrassing.
Existential Nostalgia (EN)
“I became quietly seized with that nostalgia that overcomes you when you have reached the middle of your life and your father has recently died and it dawns on you that when he went he took some of you with him.” ~ Bill Bryson
Sometimes nostalgia is a reckoning with time and change. EN is often triggered by a present loss, or when we reach a milestone and see what is lost through the spectacles of mortality. That’s why we usually do not engage in EN until life gives us a nudge.
With EN you experience positive feelings connected with a memory but instead of longing to have it back, you face the reality that you will not. This type of nostalgia can be motivating, but scary as well.
Reverential or Reminisce Nostalgia (RN)
“The very color of the air in the place I was born was different, the smell of the earth was special, redolent with memories of my parents,” writes Natsume Soseki.
RN is a mental and emotional memorial service; a remembrance with the intent of honoring or celebrating a time, person, or place. RN is glass-half-full nostalgia that can be somber (Veterans Day), wistful (sigh, those were such great times), or a party (30 year reunion of a football team).
Though RN can be done individually, it is frequently a group look-back at something shared. It can involve laughter, tears, regret, longing, and happiness. If RN involves the imbibing of excess alcohol, the reminisce can turn maudlin and sappy, but generally it is a touching or a more sweet-than-bitter experience.
You might have noticed that wallow nostalgia is emotionally driven while the existential type is of the mind. Surprise attacks are a physical, autonomic nervous system reaction, and reverential reminiscing is what? Maybe a heart-salute to the shared past.
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