I was gripped the other day by a sudden jolt of nostalgia. You know the feeling. It’s when some sensory stimuli triggers an entrancing, meaningful memory. Maybe the smell of smoke in early winter reminds you of Christmas time and family fun from your childhood. Perhaps an old movie you loved to watch as a kid causes a glimmer of the same excitement you felt back when you couldn’t help but frolic throughout the living room pretending to be the hero of said movie. Well, I recently stumbled across something that reminded me of my undergraduate college days, a time when you’d often find me guzzling caffeinated beverages (writing fuel, I called them) while cramming to complete midterm papers a day before they were due. Ah, the good old days.
What is nostalgia? How does it really influence us? Is the nostalgic return a refusal to take responsibility for problems in the present by hiding in pleasures of the past, thus delaying progress? Or is it an effort to reacquire tools, solutions, or a renewed faith from successes in the past for the purpose of overcoming present problems? I guess, depending on the circumstance, it could be both. However, in my case, I would argue the latter applies. The object which triggered my nostalgic return was an old book I used for a college Creative Writing class. The book was titled, “Behind The Short Story: From First To Final Draft,” edited by Ryan G. Van Cleave and Todd James Pierce.
The Final Draft. That sounds like a wonderful place to be. Lately, I seem to have forgotten how to get there. I’m lost at sea, adrift. A faint flicker of hope warmed my heart while I brushed the dust off this book, remembering moments attending the class the book was assigned for. Back then I had confidence. Not just confidence. I was a little arrogant, and ignorant of my limitations. Nowadays I’ve become well acquainted with my weaknesses, especially the more I see time slipping away like the sand seeping from the hands of the narrator in Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “A Dream Within A Dream.” Writing is a lonely job. Stephen King once described it as like floating across the Atlantic ocean in a bathtub, and he’s right. You’re floating along a vast ocean of words hoping for meaning and much of the time all you’ve got for company are your weaknesses, glaring down at you mockingly as you stumble from word to word.
The book reminded me in the smallest way of what it felt like to be confident again. I remembered that first day of class when we so easily imagined we’d become the next Ernest Hemingway or Virginia Woolf, even if it was a bit arrogant. The book also made me realize I could try again, a little of that renewed faith. This time I could dig a little deeper into the book’s insights and utilize the suggestions with more sincerety. This time perhaps I could cross the treacherous Mariana Trench that stretches between the first and final draft. What if this time I even became a better writer on the other side? By the way, you’re welcome to join me on my journey if you like.
The nostalgic return isn’t just sappy escapism. Sometimes it can revitalize your life.