Nostalgia and Living Fully

©2015 Trudy | Drift Sojourn

©2015 Trudy | Drift Sojourn

I have an enticing and dangerous relationship with nostalgia. Enticing because of the euphoria that covers me like a blanket when remembering the "good times," the happiness and the internal joy that certain people, places and things gave me. Enticing because even in moments of altruism, there is ego. I can remember how I helped someone and not just remember how good it made them feel and/or changed their life, but how good it made me feel and use that feeling as evidence of being a good person. For most people, that is evidence, in general. (Whether it actually is evidence or not, is debatable.) Most people want to feel like they are good people. I am not exempt from that. I too am human. Thus, nostalgia entices me. Dangerous—nostalgia, that is—because sometimes it is unknowingly or even willfully rewriting history better than it actually was because "good" memories are more treasured and more valuable than a "bad" present-day reality. (This also can be dangerous when people are nostalgic over periods in time, organizations and movements and allow that euphoria to replace accountability or admitting problematic parallels that continue in the present day. ) 

Nostalgia is defined (in Wikipedia) as a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations. The sheer process of remembering something as good—whether it was actually good or not—is euphoric. Enticing. It is like a process where sometimes I know I am not being truthful to myself about the memory, but even the process of the slight deception is part of the game. And the game is protective. The game is fun. The game is human. The game is living. Conversely, sometimes I think I do remember things as they were because I documented that history as it happened. Photographs. Writing. Another person being involved and sharing the same memory that I have. Although my personal perspective is always a filter that shapes how I process what I believe to be true, there is still a difference, at least for me, from nostalgia closer to authenticity than protective nostalgia where I remember the good parts of something versus only viewing a negative person, place or thing in my life as solely a negative. 

When I experience authentic nostalgia—not protectively, but based on what I documented and believed as true in the moment of the original experience—I experience a bit of fear after the initial joy. Good things come to an end. I experience something wonderful and in the back of mind there is the "oh, this will end soon, so do not get too happy now" feeling. Some of this is actually a facet of anxiety, a mental health issue that I experience. That is a different issue. But some of this is as if I am trying to hoard my own good experiences because of fear of what life is like when they are not happening. How I learned to mitigate this fear is by living fully in that good moment, so I know that I did when I think of it later. Living fully in that moment also means making my desire to document that moment a secondary desire. This is challenging to me because I want to live fully in the moment but I also know that good moments are not common ones for me, so then I always want the proof, the document, the reminder that is more than my own memory (not that my own memory is not valuable, as is) to seal that moment. Make it accessible to me again. Make it feel good again. Make it feel real again. This has a lot to do with why I am a photographer. I am in the business of nostalgia. I am in the art of memory. If writing helps me think forward and dream then photography helps me think back and remember.

Usually when I create a selfie—which I love to do and I reject the sexism against women who enjoy doing so—I document a time where I both look and feel good. For me, it is rarely about only looking good, though that is a valid enough reason to create and control images of oneself, especially for people most mainstream visual media ignores or vilifies. As I have written a few times in the past, selfies are more than self-expression and self-affirmation for me. They are reminders and proof that I do have happy times amidst a complex and at times very painful life. Selfies are records of my own existence…on my own terms. I want to be able to do this—both experience life and document it—without losing one to the other. In essence, I end up compromising on both. I suspect this is part of being an artist anyway. Over time, I accepted that this compromise means that I can keep letting nostalgia entice me and I can keep accepting the danger involved in doing so. It means that I want to live life well but also remember that I did live life well, even if those moments are fleeting. The ephemerality of the moment is no longer an issue when I document. Sometimes not as work as a photographer but as self-care as a human being, I look through my photographs. Wistfully. Remembering. When so much of my life has been just barely surviving, I want to be able to fully live. But I also know that since so much of life has been just barely surviving, I need to document those moments when I am not just surviving. I am not sure exactly how much compromise I make by documenting while trying to live fully, but I know that in those moments where self-care (such as looking at past photographs made while attempting to fully live) might be the difference between wanting to wake up tomorrow or not, I accept the compromise.