Traditions and Nostalgia


If nothing else, I’m a nostalgic person. I played through the entire Mass Effect series over the course of several whirlwind months a few years back, and one of the things that stuck with me the most, out of the hundreds of hours of gameplay, was a single conversation with one of the characters. The character, Thane, was a member of an alien race who had the ability to relive any moment of his life with perfect clarity. I remember watching this scene and genuinely thinking ‘that would be pretty cool’ until the character continued talking and convinced me otherwise. I find it worrying that “cool!” was my initial reaction to what is ultimately a curse.

I catch myself waxing poetic things that happened mere months ago. And it’s not a ‘aw, wasn’t that nice?’ kind of feeling, it’s more of a crippling ‘I WANT TO GO BACK’ kind of feeling. I’m 23, and I don’t feel like I should be that nostalgic over something that happened a couple months ago. To make things worse, this nostalgia compounds on itself and becomes more powerful as the events become further and further away. The plus side to this is that I am often the centerpiece of my own nostalgic tendencies. That sounds incredibly absorbed and self-centered, but it’s actually just a side-effect of how much I love to be alone.

Because the feeling can be so overpowering, I prefer to think of my nostalgia trips as self-imposed traditions. Whether you like it or not, everyone has tradition forced upon them. Every Christmas we collectively experience the same traditions as a society. The same music is being played in the stores, the same specials are being aired on TV, and even the fronts of buildings change to reflect the candy cane color scheme. Hell, we spend time, money, and natural resources wrapping our trees in little lights just because it’s a specific month. Christmas is the only time we collectively change our environment, and more importantly, these changes are all completely out of our control. It doesn’t matter if you’re Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Wiccan, or a Scientologist, you’re gonna hear those tunes over the course of those two months whether you like it or not. And this isn’t some “war on Christmas” rant, the point is sometimes seasons carry traditions which overpower everything else around them.

Sometimes traditions don’t make sense, but we do them because they make us feel good. As Community pointed out in “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas,” Christmas isn’t about presents, or food, or even Jesus: Christmas is about family. Christmas is about literally and figuratively getting closer to your family and using them as support to get through the coldest, darkest, harshest time of the year. Christmas isn’t for Christians, Christmas is symbolic: it’s is about what your family does. Now, what your family does may entail presents, food, or Jesus, but in the end, it’s human connection that carries us through what would otherwise be the most unforgiving season of the year.

Because I spend so much time alone, music is often the key element to my own nostalgia. My iTunes contains a worrying number of playlists tied to specific years, seasons, and even days. As a 23-year-old I’m accustomed to viewing life in school-like quarters (I guess normal people call them seasons?), and the changing of the seasons always comes with a new rotation of music on my iPhone. I feel like that’s relatively normal, but the problem is that I often reinforce my own nostalgia by recreating the circumstances the following year.

I’ll waste dozens of hours listening to a specific podcast, revisiting a specific album, or even playing through an entire video game just because it brings back a fraction of what I had felt at a previous time. Why am I so obsessed with recreating the past? It’s not like I have any regrets. I’m not trying to make things better, or take back what I’ve done… It just feels good.

I don’t think nostalgia trips are necessarily a bad thing, but I worry that this zealot-like commitment to recreating the past may be holding me back from missing opportunities in the present. 2016 has been the best year of my life, and I owe that entirely to the new experiences I’ve had this year. The people I’ve meet, the things I’ve done, all the amazing things I never thought I’d be a part of… See? I’m already getting nostalgic about a year that’s not even over yet. The point is I’ve had a great year, and I owe it all to trying something new. There’s something to be said from learning from the past, and I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with revisiting your personal history, but I suppose it’s all a matter of not falling into it completely.

Over the next several months I’m sure I’ll make specific posts dedicated to individual pieces of my nostalgia, and I’m starting to realize that’s the point of this blog. I think if I can document this all somewhere I’ll be able to get these nostalgic demons off my chest and move on to bigger, better, and newer things. There’s so much beauty in the world, and I just want to share some of what I’ve found. Sometimes it’s as simple as a week over winter break that I spent shut in with a video game. Sometimes it’s an album whose opening chords are so powerful that I can’t help but be transported back to a specific time and place. Even if no one is reading this, I think it will be a great exercise to document my personal traditions and show how these things far in the past still impact me to this very day.

I feel like these personal traditions, the things you do by yourself, aren’t something people talk about openly a lot. But they’re important. I believe personal traditions are some of the most unadulterated experiences we have as humans, something that shows who we are and what we find important. We’re all a collection of favorite albums, this is just mine.