Future Nostalgias

A long time ago I kept up a Livejournal. Don't worry—I looked but couldn't find it. It was called "Future Nostalgias,” which was lifted from a line in a book that I loved:

Increasingly of late, and particularly when I drink, I find my thoughts drawn into the past rather than impelled into the future. I recall drinking sherry in California and dreaming of my earlier students days in England, where I ate dalmoth and dreamed of Delhi. What is the purpose, I wonder, of all this restlessness? I sometimes seem to myself to wander around the world merely accumulating material for future nostalgias. 

That’s “From Heaven Lake” by Vikram Seth, about a hitchhiking journey through northwestern China and into India, across the Himalaya. At the time of my romance with the book, and the Livejournal-ing, I was a journalism student living in India, in Delhi, racing around from story to story, experience to experience, “merely accumulating material.” I was acting…really romantic. And part of that act was this clever name—to name the journal after what it was, eventually, going to be for. But it’s gone now, so, joke’s on my past not-too-clever self. 

I was thinking of nostalgia today, though, and Seth’s quote in particular,  because of a great essay I read about Winona Ryder, and this paragraph in particular:

She saw a therapist who diagnosed her with “anticipatory anxiety” —feelings of dread over anticipated events—and, quaintly, “anticipatory nostalgia.” (In the Times, psychologist Dr. Constantine Sedikides recently described this lesser known “condition,” which could be considered our current era’s raison d’être, as the drive to “build nostalgic-to-be memories.”) She was prescribed sleeping pills, to which she got briefly hooked. She then “tried to be an alcoholic for two weeks” but packed it in after falling asleep with a lit cigarette. Then, in April 1993, two years after canonizing their romance in a spread for UK Vogue, Winona Ryder and Johnny Depp broke up.

Read the whole thing. It’s by Soraya Roberts (who has a book coming out soon about My So Called Life) and, yeah, it is simply excellent.

The Winona essay, and that paragraph, took me on a little bit of a rabbit hole about anticipatory nostalgia, and research into nostalgia generally. I’d encountered a bit about nostalgia’s history before, for a story I’m working on about sound and deafness and medicine and the military, but had forgotten that the idea of nostalgia being a good thing is a very, very new. Like, only in the last few decades, new. When nostalgia was first named in the seventeenth century, a Swiss physician named it, combining nostos—home, in Greek—and pain—algos. It was a disorder, suffered by military men who’d spent too much time abroad. Physicians speculated that nostalgia’s root cause might lie in ear drums, where the ring-bong-clang of the bells on alpine milk cows had burrowed, causing a deep longing among mountain men for the sounds of home.

My sense is the pendulum on nostalgia has swung too far into the positive. That it’s more likely somewhere in the middle—a nice sad thing. It’s very hard not to feel weird pangs when social media reminds us of what we were doing on this day way back when with a photo we never thought we’d revisit. What I’m saying, mostly, I guess, is that Winona was right all along: we should be anxious, at least a little bit, about the things coming up we’re going to be reminded of later on, and happy when some things, like that Livejournal, are lost completely.