Anti-Nostalgia

By itself, nostalgia isn’t a bad thing. When we base our primary motivation off of nostalgia, that’s when things start getting dangerous.

Well time slips away, and leaves you with nothing mister

But boring stories of – Glory Days.

-Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band “Glory Days”

As my winter break inches to a close (school resumes on January 6th), I’ve spent a good portion of my break planning. I had a few friends tell me to “try and not do too much” over the break; they know me pretty well.

I did have to do some school prep. When 2 of your 3 courses are either brand new or completely revamped, it’s inevitable. I’m a tinkerer by nature (can’t leave well enough alone), but I’ve done what I had to do. I’ll tinker a bit more, but I’m not going to go crazy in doing so.

My wife and I have done A LOT of cooking – some for fun, and some trying to stuff my parents freezer while my Mom is still healing from her surgery. She’s doing better, but anything we can take off her plate that lets her recover a bit more is a good thing.

I’m currently reading The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean. I’m also turning my attention to this summer. I quickly read a book put out by Backpacker Magazine: The National Parks Coast to Coast: 100 Best Hikes. We’re planning one more big road trip out west this coming summer. I’m starting research now. (Sonia bought some sleeping bags rated down to 20 F, and we each got some secondary hiking shoes in preparation for the trip).

In 2015, we took 2 weeks and went St. Louis to Albuquerque, NM  to Flagstaff, AZ to back home. I didn’t write about this one very much at all. In 2017, we did this thrice. In the spring, we went to St. Louis to White Sands National Monument to Guadalupe National Park, to Carlsbad Caverns, back home. In the summer, it was St. Louis to Albuquerque, NM to South Rim of the Grand Canyon, to Coconino National Forest (between Flagstaff and Sedona) to Pismo Beach, CA (my in-laws) to Zion NP, to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, to Bryce Canyon NP, to Salida, CO, to home. New Year’s Eve 2017, we did 5 days in my wife’s home area of Las Cruces, NM.

This summer, our son will turn 15. In 2021, he’ll be 16 – and he’s already said that he wants to work, and he may be playing soccer for his high school as well. He’s done a lot of side jobs already. Once he’s working, big trips will be difficult. Can we go someplace for 7 days? Absolutely. Disappearing for any time longer than that will be difficult. Our daughter will be on his heels. She’ll be doing a similar trajectory – swim, band camp, work, etc. I think many families go through a phase for about 8 to 12 years where going places with your children is, well, difficult. They would enjoy going more places, but because of commitments, it just gets harder. And with two people working in education, we can’t exactly fund the rest of their post high school lives. SOOOOOO…. Strike while the iron is hot. 2020 it is.

We’re taking a different route this time; we’ll try to see some different things, and do some slightly different stuff. Andrew has made noise that when he’s older, he’d appreciate getting to see New York City (is he my kid?) We’ll do that; it would be fun. Allison doesn’t have ideas yet, but I’m sure she will.

It has occurred to me once again that in the process of planning, which I enjoy very much, that I’m not a nostalgia guy. Those other trips we did were great. I don’t need nor wish to do them exactly the same again. I’d like to see something and experience something just a tad bit different this time around, thank you.

When it comes to holidays, things don’t need to be exactly the same year in and year out. Traditions are nice, don’t get me wrong. But if the meal switches, if the people in your home need to be different based upon THEIR needs/wants, that’s just fine.

I’m looking forward to the day when I’ve been teaching long enough where I have a full repertoire lessons to pull from, so I have somewhat less preparation to do. However, I think I will stay the perpetual tinkerer – the person looking for the best sequence. The material has to stay fresh for the teacher as well. Don’t get me wrong – it will be nice when I get to tinker and not re-invent, there’s a big difference in free time that I’ll get to have.

The truth of the matter is I’m just wired this way. It doesn’t make me right, and it doesn’t make me wrong. Short of reliving my wedding day or the birth of my kids, I don’t think there are many experiences in my life I’d care to repeat, and there have been PLENTY of experiences that I have thoroughly enjoyed. In fact, I’ve enjoyed much more of my life than I’ve dreaded. Work, vacations, you name it. I’m just not wired to want to repeat much of what I’ve done.

I find the desire for times past to be a bit odd. The past is done, over with. Let’s move on, people. The drum beat keeps on, so we ought to as well.

Nostalgia has its place; it’s great for reconnecting with friends. In all seriousness, I know it helps patients with dementia – it helps to recall, calm, and soothe. By itself, nostalgia isn’t a bad thing. When we base our primary motivation off of nostalgia, that’s when things start getting dangerous.

In a stream-of-consciousness, semi-rant list, this is what I find dangerous (or just flat out obnoxious) about nostalgia:

TB2
Christmas Changed this year, so we went hiking – you can see some snow in the background. Don’t be fooled, as it was about 60F.

-Political campaigns that want to bring back “the good old days.” They were good for some, they weren’t great for everyone. If you think the 1950s were “the best of times”, ask someone with skin anything darker than shade of light taupe how they might feel about that. I suspect their answer will be a tad bit different. Just food for thought.

-Music just isn’t what it used to be. I’m not the target of most music composition, and I’ve long given up caring about this. The music industry is not competing for my dollar. It’s ok. But, for the record, autotune sucks.

-For the record, “Piano Man” is Billy Joel’s 2nd worst song.

-The sports radio debate of “who was the greatest” in a particular sport. It’s really hard to compare eras. And I’m not going to pile on with people complaining about how slow a baseball game is currently. Until consumers stop showing up at the gates and stop watching on media, it’s not going to change. This goes for any sport (or artistic product like movies). Until you stop spending money, it won’t change. For the record, I haven’t been to a Cardinals game in 3 years, and I’m much more interested in the MLS team starting in 2022. 

-Yes, students could stand for a little more discipline. No, we don’t need to bring back corporal punishment. It will not improve behavior long term. Long term improvements start at home without beating the hell out of kids. Abuse does not equal better behavior, and that kind of nostalgia is really dangerous.

-Nostalgia kills the drive to make things better NOW. It eases past an analysis of current circumstances and drives straight to “why can’t we just go back?” Circumstances change, rightly or wrongly. The same solutions don’t work. You have to take an honest assessment of where we are NOW and where we want or NEED to go.

-This gets to another point – how do you perceive change? Is it bad, good, or is it just there? Put me, for the most part, in the third category for a majority of things: it’s mostly there. Some changes are inherently good (women’s suffrage for example) and some are inherently bad (nuclear proliferation), but many things just ARE. What you do with it, well, that’s another issue. I think the only dangerous spot to be in is to see most change as bad. Whether you see it as “good” or just as “something” is a less interesting debate to me.

I’ve thought about these points a lot as we plan out a route for the summer. We plan so when we get somewhere, we have an idea of what might be possible. If a better idea comes up – we get a tip from a family member, friend, or park ranger – well, that’s great. If not, we’ve got an idea of something interesting to do. It’s easier to call an audible if you already have a bit of a plan. But we’re on purpose trying to avoid doing the exact same things that we did in 2015 and 2017. I don’t know if it will be better, worse, or about the same. And I doubt if anyone should really care. From my view, I just don’t want to get stuck for ideas, professionally and personally. And sometimes that means being deliberate and going out of one’s way to mix things up, even if just by a little bit.

**************

Addendum (2 hours after publishing)

This is how much I’m against nostalgia.

I’m a huge U2 fan – they’re my favorite band (jazz is my favorite musical art form).

My wife and I originally had tickets to see the Joshua Tree 2017 Tour.

The show in St. Louis was cancelled (we don’t need to revisit that today – that would be a series of different blogs).

In 2018, U2 came to play their Experience and Innocence show. Minority opinion here – I’m glad I actually didn’t see the JT 2017 show. I know the idea was to show how the songs were relevant 30 years later. I disagree. It was nostalgia, and I’m glad I didn’t see the show. I can’t compare, but I think I’m happier that I saw E&I show, and wish I could have seen the I&E show in 2015. Feel free to disagree with me, but I’m not in for nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake, even with my favorite band.

Author: Jason Kesselring

I am a 42 year old high school chemistry teacher (and former pediatrician), happily married, and a father of two wonderful children.

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