Columns, Slightly Off Center

Slightly Off Center: September 2018

By Dennis Hinkamp

Nostalgia at the shallow end

Nostalgia is a public pool filled with warm memories at the shallow end, but in the deep end there be monsters disguised as beguiling Sirens. You may enter smiling but drown there if you are not careful.

Take your ex-spouse, ex-dog or ex any-no-longer-living human being. These are fine spirits to fill a few minutes waiting at a stop light, but you don’t want them to consume your thoughts on the whole trip. There is a reason family and high school reunions generally aren’t scheduled for more than two days. Wisdom dictates that beyond that time limitation there might be litigation, homicides and infidelities as rose-colored glasses turn blood red. Likewise obituaries are best limited to 500 words or less, just hitting the high points. Further introspection would morph into investigative reporting.

We have always had a difficult relationship with mental time travel. In daily life we ricochet between YOLO (you only live once) and FOMO (fear of missing out), living in the moment, mindfulness and other slogans that fit on a t-shirt or lend themselves to a hash tag. Those who forget the past may be doomed to repeat it but those to spend too much time in the past are doomed to recall it accurately. Who needs that? I love my past life like I love my steak, just a little rose colored in the middle.

That’s not to say all nostalgia is bad. If not for nostalgia, we would probably never listen to a song more than once. There wouldn’t be all that mysterious brown stuff still in the back of our freezers. Photo albums, whether digital or printed, would not exist. Memories are always better than photos, but we need both. The photos keep us grounded in reality. “Oh, I really did have long hair and plaid pants like that in 1972,” I was forced to admit.

These are things one ponders later in life as one spends more time at retirement receptions, funerals and going-away parties. These are pleasant places to visit but you don’t want your mind to loiter. Smile, observe and learn so you can plan your own version of these rites of passage. Learn from the past just don’t get a PhD in it.

Of course we don’t want to push aside all bad memories; we need them for balance. Faults are part of who we are, but forgetting is one of our best psychoevolutionary survival mechanisms. There are a whole lot of things we would never do again if we really clearly remembered how bad they were—marathons, tattoos, childbirth and first dates come to mind.

We have a lot ex-places in Cache Valley that probably weren’t as good as we remember. Was Logan better “back then” or just different? I don’t think downtown was ever really thriving and Main Street was never safe to cross anywhere other than at a stoplight. Zanavoo, Sherwood Hills and The Emporium are full of ghosts of businesses past. If any of them were as great as we remember, they would still be here. Unless we create zero growth economy or zero growth world we are going to have to deal with some of the consequences of too many rats in the maze. Of course the past was better, there was more of it per capita.

Oh, and Einstein never said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” We just like to remember it that way. That’s the trouble with memories. But Carly Simon definitely did sing “these are the good old days,” …I think. u

Dennis Hinkamp hopes you have forgotten all the awful columns he wrote and fondly remember the good ones.

This article was originally published on August 31, 2018.