A critical point before I get into this: there’s nothing I can say on the subject of nostalgia that would ever be as profound as the words spoken by Jon Hamm, as Don Draper, in Mad Men. The scene I refer to is one of the most perfect moments of film and TV, of all time, in my opinion.
Matthew Weiner and Robin Veith’s script really delivers in this heart-wrenching moment, where Don Draper unveils his secret weapon to advertise Kodak’s projector wheel: “Nostalgia. It’s delicate, but potent.” He tells us that, “In Greek, nostalgia literally means ‘the pain from an old wound’.”
It goes on, and I won’t spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen the scene (it has more impact in its true place in the final episode of season 1). The scene stabbed me, though, right through my heart, when I first saw it, and I will never forget its message.
A scent. An image. Someone else’s memory. A song. A movie. A TV show. These things are powerful and emotive. They open up a wormhole in time and space and in the blink of an eye, you are no longer looking at the frozen photograph, or watching the TV show; you are inside the picture, reliving the scene, or in another room, watching the TV show with someone else – the person you shared it with first time around.
As a boy I had a strong dislike of the word nostalgia. As a teenager I had a strong distaste for the notion of nostalgia. In my twenties, I convinced myself I was correct to keep moving faster than nostalgia and now in my thirties I am slower, weighted with the collected memories and possessions of a lifetime, and I cannot outrun it anymore.
Popular culture takes me back over the landmarks – 30 year anniversary of Ghostbusters – and I’m a child again watching the movie every Saturday morning, then spending days playing with my Ecto-1 and the Fire Station, warm and safe at home with family.
The Smashing Pumpkins bring out a new album and I am listening to Mellon Collie for the first time, in sixth form at high school with friends I thought I’d never part from and a confidence I thought would be forever at my command.
The problem is that many of those closest to me when I was a teenager are gone from my life, some geographically, some because we turned on each other when I decided the only way to be in life was to steamroll on and over everything, crush people and replace them and crush them and replace them. I’m sure they weren’t sitting around miserable for very long, but the point is that I didn’t care if they did. The moment you didn’t mean everything to me, you meant nothing to me.
My emergence as a writer, I mean, seriously pushing to have my work noticed over the last couple of years, has brought with it some nice surprises. Someone I thought I’d blown it with ten years ago reached out and I’m glad she did. You see, the time of my life I am transported back to more than any other, is age 17 and she was my girl!
The other day she tweeted about teaching resin casting, using some rose petals. She noted that these rose petals were 18 years old, and bought for her by me. I was amazed. She added a lovely line (I hope she isn’t going to kill me for blogging this, but hell, we tweeted openly for all to see, so I don’t suppose she will): “They are older now than we were when you gave them to me.”
That might seem like a depressing thought to some people, but not to me. Those little things, remnants of a full-on, crazy-about-each-other teen romance, have survived all this time. In that time I have been married, divorced, discovered heavy drinking, discovered I’m better at light drinking, discovered drugs, discovered I’m better without them, created 2 fantastic children with a 3rd coming along in a matter of weeks, changed career direction several times, moved my entire life away to a city, given that life up to return to a small town with the city girl who captured me, gained a stone of muscle mass, lost a stone of muscle mass, gained 2 stone of overindulgence, lost some hair, had the best nights out, had the lowest days of the low, made a fortune, drank a fortune, learned to play four tunes and come to learn that the best friends I have were made the exact same way I was, by the same people.
Yet somewhere out there, these little pieces of 1997 just hung on in.
No matter how happy you are, no matter what you have, who has you or where you are, sometimes, the ache of an old wound is going to throb through your body and drag your consciousness back to the past.
I played U2 Pop, the soundtrack to Desperado, I remembered Thursday nights when we had finished working at Woolworths, remembered Friday nights in ‘watching’ Friends and Frasier and endless videotapes of gangster movies and overwatching The Crow. My God I had the teenage years that some kids see on TV shows and wish they had – I had that! I had that and I’m so glad that I did.
But I didn’t always feel like that about those years. Like all stupid teenage boys, when that came to an end and the pain of a thousand happy memories was too intense and too wounding, I tried to eradicate the history. If there are no reminders, there can be no pain. I started to run.
A few years later, I wrote a story called Matt Carsun: Saturnine. The story was released on a very early e-book site called nospine (where David Moody’s Autumn books first appeared, before he made it big!). Of course, I was ecstatic at my first taste of publishing and appeared in the local papers, touting the work with real naivety.
You see, the town in the story was a thinly disguised version of my hometown, and its inhabitants closely resembled friends from school, girls I had known, family members, that sort of thing. Being a horror story, some bad things happen to people in there and of course some of the local assumed I was making myself the hero of the story. That wasn’t true, as it goes, I was one of the friends, the sly one. Of course, the love interest was based on the only love I’d had at the time I was the age of those characters and one of our mutual friends took the story of that character’s kidnapping to mean that I was pining over her.
What she didn’t know, what only a handful of people knew, was that the pain described in the story was not a replication of that experienced in longing to be reunited with the inspiration for the character, but the crushing, tearing agony of no longer living with my daughter. Not seeing her each morning to have breakfast together, not eating ice cream from the tub, perched up on the stools in the kitchen, it was fucking destroying me back then.
Matt Carsun: Saturnine was in some ways an angry book, a bitter tirade against the backslapping golf-buddy system of small towns, but that isn’t all it was. It was a love-letter, a farewell note to my teenage years. It was an apology to old friends, it was a thank you for the memories. It was, in essence, a holding vessel for the nostalgia I wanted to outrun.
I’ve been tired lately. Tired and somewhat unwell. It’s been a pretty rough few months for my partner and I, but we’re making it through together. We’ve both endured real physical and mental strain and come through it smiling with the support of our family. I guess, throughout that, some armour fell off me, or I feel a little more comfortable revealing some inner thoughts in this way. Maybe I’m trying to say something nice to and about people, but I can only do it in a roundabout way, but the side-effect of that, is that it becomes even easier for external influences to stir up the aches of those old wounds again, allowing me to bathe, for a little while, in the pleasant memories of old songs, the old bike route by the oil seed fields, certain remembrances triggered when I brush the lavender bush outside my mother-in-law’s front door.
No longer afraid of nostalgia, no longer afraid that it makes a person weak, or afraid to move on, no longer afraid to accept the parts that people have played in my life – be those parts positive or negative – it is something new to accept the memories, all of them. It is refreshing to accept that those influences have played their part, left ugly scars or helped me to wipe away blemishes, and made me move in the direction I move in now, with a beautiful partner and fantastic kids and a great future to look forward to, with new memories to make each and every day.
Maybe I will pick up Matt Carsun again soon and complete that rewrite I started a while ago. Maybe it would be good to see what a few more years of wear and tear on the tyres would bring to the story.
But in the meantime, to everyone I know, to everyone I’ve met in the flesh, to those I only know in cyber-space, to even the stranger who stumbles upon this (you will have an effect when I check my stats later and see some extra people took a look today), I want to say thank you. Thank you for the memories you gave me, or the ones you will give.
I was going to link to the Mad Men clip here, but they’re all shitty quality, so you’ll have to either hunt it down, or take my word for it!