Nostalgia

I am a firm subscriber to the school of belief that as soon as you start something with a dictionary definition you have, in one fell Oxford swoop, invalidated the substance of anything that follows. In high school debating there was also a pretty direct correlation between teams who would start with definitions and the ones that would inevitably burst into (wildly unnecessary) tears upon losing, but that's an exploration for another day.

In this particular case, however, we will be going beyond the definition to the root of a word, which is marginally more acceptable and interesting, as it facilitates some deeper learning, and ties neatly into the respectable study of classics. Can't argue with the ancient Greeks. Partially because they're categorically dead, but also because I feel like they were just really wiley dudes. Wouldn't even try it. Innywho, we're here to talk about "nostalgia" which, it turns out, is a combination of the Greek words "nostos" and "algos", which respectively mean "homecoming" and "pain." Poignant. Really think about that for a sec. Being a delicate little darling it would suffice to say that when I discovered this fact it caused the nostos of some solid algos in my heart.


Nostalgia's a bit achey. Feels like pressure on my heart and a bit on a very specific part of my face. Is it a stroke? No. A stroke of genius? Perhaps. But we'll get to that.

The great seamstress and innovator Edna Mode famously said "I never look back, darling, it distracts from the now," and while I admire her business savvy and no-nonsense attitude, I must disagree. Speaking from my own emotion-dominated existence, I personally find a potent hit of nostalgia is often the swift kick to the abdomen that I need in order to put the present into perspective and instigate some sort of positive action. Additionally, now that I find myself in a happy relationship which presents me with very little drama to fuel my creative fires, I often rely on a strong (yet healthy) sense of nostalgia to get things going. You see, I have come to realise through various tribulations that slightly painful emotion is my greatest motivator in life (technically it's vengeance, but that's a branch of emotion so potato tomato ya know), and nostalgia - when employed wisely - can be considered the tidy little tequila shot of the feeling world. Allow me to elaborate.

The magic of nostalgia is that its source is powerful enough to carry lasting emotional weight, but rooted safely in the past. By nature, you're removed enough from whatever you're looking back on that it shouldn't send you into a spiral - similar to how a single tequila shot is going to hit you, but not ruin you entirely. At the same time, tequila is a gateway shot; you're not going to go out and do one solitary tequila shot (unless you're the Reluctant Friend in a B-grade romcom), and it's up to you to decide whether to chase it with a laid back jack & coke or six more tequila shots and some absinthe. Similarly, nostalgia is a gateway feeling; once you're there you can decide whether to be smart and use that kickstart to create something positive, or slam back memory after memory, get absolutely wrecked and probably wake up the next morning on your bathroom floor using a towel as a sad, makeshift pillow. The potent hit of longing you get from nostalgia is a fork in the road, at which you must decide to either sink and wallow, or harness that emotion and use it productively. At the worst you will cry for hours whilst playing the same Demi Lovato song on repeat (In Case. It's always In Case.), but at best that sense of longing gives you something to work towards (or away from), and you can use that as fuel to create.


However, there are different levels of nostalgia. To quote The Official Bard of Melancholic Reflection, Ed Sheeran, "pain is only relevant if it still hurts." Luckily for me, I can hold onto outdated emotions for a long. ass. time. which means I have a pool of nostalgia roughly the depth of the Mariana Trench from which to dredge up inspiration. That being said, just because I have that lovely lagoon of potential #trigz ready and waiting should I want to use it, it doesn't mean I am actively holding onto things that are not directly impacting my present day life. Harnessing & appreciating a sense of nostalgia is not the same as refusing to let go, and it's necessary to compartmentalise your memories and emotions. I visit and draw from my Mariana Trench of feelings - I do not sit at the bottom of it.  Harnessing negative or difficult emotion can be incredibly positive, but holding onto it unnecessarily after its relevance has expired is not.

For example, 2014 was a very complex era in the wonderful world of Madeleine, as some of you may recall. If I really need to I can always pop back there and feel a feeling or two, but I don't actively think about it in my everyday life, and nothing that took place then has the power to really upset me or alter my overall emotional state in the present. That being said, although these memories don't impact me the way they would have four years ago, they still need to carry some sort of weight in order to be useful, and that brings me back to Eddy Boy's lyrics. Pain IS only relevant, or useful, if it still hurts - if I feel nothing, there's nothing to elaborate upon or draw from, and you never know when something is going to lose that ability to make you feel. There have been times I've thought of an idea for a song or a story and put it on the back burner, only to heal emotionally, truly move on from the subject of said Postponed Masterpiece (or desensitise myself to it) and absolutely screwed myself over in the process. Nostalgia can be a useful tool, but you never know when its potency will fade, so use it while it's hot.

The emotions you have attached to certain things can also transform over time. For example, the Little Mix song 'Towers' used to remind me of my ex-boyfriend, but then I fell in love with someone else and I just happened to be listening to that song in a hotel room the night before everything started with Guy 2, so now instead of reminding me of my ex it reminds me of that hotel room which reminds me of Guy 2. I can still associate it with the first one, but I don't feel a particularly high level of emotion there. On the other hand, as soon as I flash back to that hotel room it's like slamming into a physical wall of nostalgia; I can remember the emotion of the first relationship, but I can still feel the emotion of the second, and that's the part I can use.


That's not to say I couldn't find any useful emotion in that first relationship, or something else I've largely moved past - it would just take a different prompt, which most often comes from some unexplored corner of my memory. An example of this would be taking a train through a particular station for the first time in four years, or being in an Uber home late one night and seeing an illuminated carriage through the windows of a passing train we used to take together that I had no reason to get on anymore. When I find that I can't access the sadness or elation or emotion of a certain memory anymore, I just hop over to a new one. If I think about the actual moment of my breakup I feel nothing, but picturing the Upper Crust on the National Rail platforms at London Bridge? Palpitation city, boiiiii. Basically what I'm saying here is that I employ a certain level of emotional masochism in order to fuel my #art, and sometimes it comes from unexpected places.

I think learning to use nostalgia constructively is one of the most powerful things you can do. It's not wishing for a life that you don't have anymore, it's identifying what about that moment or that memory has stuck with you so strongly, and then figuring out how to pursue those things in your current life, or recreate certain feelings in fiction or music or art. It's a sign of what's really important to you. What you subconsciously (or sometimes consciously) crave to replicate. I pride myself on my ability to turn negative experiences into positive momentum, but that doesn't come without a certain level of discomfort. Whether you're a writer or an artist or a musician or just someone going through a really shit time, try and harness that raw emotion, regardless of where it stems from, and turn it into something great. You don't ever have to share what you make if you don't want to, because regardless of what form they take I find that just pouring those feelings into something makes the memory feel validated in a way - makes the pain feel useful - and helps me to move forward.

I've been feeling particularly nostalgic lately, which is often a sign that I have an excess of pent up creative energy, so I'm interested to see how I end up channeling it this time. I'm also interest to know if you find inspiration in a similar way, or if you think I'm completely batshit and should just keep these things to myself and scrapbook all my feelings away like a normal person. Either way, thank you for sitting through my Ted Talk on Refusing to Fully Let Go, and I'll see you back here next week.

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