Dear Unknown Nostalgia Purpose,
You’re unknown to me. And inevitably partially to yourself.
It’s insane how we’ll never be able to watch ourselves as we actually are—any video or photograph or mirror will only reproduce an approximation of what others see when they encounter us. Maybe there’s some merit to the idea that we won’t ever 100% know our current being.
Life won’t ever be lived third person.
Nostalgia is a sweet, acidic cider, isn’t it?
One of my favorite artists, Frank Ocean, talked about nostalgia on Tumblr when he released his last album, Blonde:
Boys do cry, but I don’t think I shed a tear for a good chunk of my teenage years. It’s surprisingly my favorite part of life so far. Surprising, to me, because the current phase is what I was asking the cosmos for when I was a kid. Maybe that part had its rough stretches too, but in my rearview mirror it’s getting small enough to convince myself it was all good.
The last woman I loved was one of the happiest people I’ve met. She was a journalist, radio DJ, painter, actress. She loved a lot: party hats, kombucha, the outdoors, Weezer, birthdays, dancing silly, those advertising balloon guys with the long, flingy arms they put by the highway at car dealerships.
I asked her how she dealt with each second of the day—she didn’t seem as paralyzed as the rest of us by opportunity cost. This was when I’d sit in my inaction, reacting to the turbines of anxiety cycling my head.
This was before I started writing every day, before I meditated, before I ironed away anxiety with months and months of support circles. Her answer stuck in me.
“Because one day I know I’ll miss almost all of this,” she said.
I’m always revising what I think I know about purpose. Some moments it’s paying $5.50 for a latte and listening to a friend vent in crisis. Others it’s writing a poem about Pokemon and napping at 6pm on a Wednesday.
In time I’ve shifted. The theme of why I continue isn’t as important to me as how I live the days that kaleidoscope into a lifetime. It used to be the opposite—as a teenager I was obsessed with happiness, the why of everything, the changing the world-ness of every single action .
What’s been your favorite part of life? And why?
What’s been your worst?
When I was alone for a week in the mountains of Oregon I picked up and read Kurt Vonnegut’s last book. I still remember how he talked of his uncle:
his principal complaint about other human beings was that they so seldom noticed it when they were happy. So when we were drinking lemonade under an apple tree in the summer, say, and talking lazily about this and that, almost buzzing like honeybees, Uncle Alex would suddenly interrupt the agreeable blather to exclaim, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.” SO I do the same now, and so do my kids and grandkids. And I urge you to please notice when you are happy.
People will focus on the past, automatically. And that’s okay. It’s physiology.
My favorite part of life was when I was 21: I lived in a house with four friends and a front porch where we’d sit and watch the cyclists bike by. I was scared and excited. I was on the edge of the becoming of an artist.
I was also on the edge of mental breakdown. It was when I was with the happy girlfriend and spinning in my head.
It’s funny how we look back.
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Austin Beaton is a poet writer essayist who somewhere in the multiverse is still a kid hurling pinecone baseball pitches. His work has appeared in Porridge Magazine, the Bookend’s Review, Occulum, and elsewhere.