Olivia Conway, co-online editor

Hi, my name is Olivia and I am plagued by crippling nostalgia. The dictionary defines nostalgia as “a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.” While it may sound quite whimsical and harmless, my nostalgia crashes into me like a tidal wave and leaves me dazed in a flood of memories. Even though nostalgia is associated with warm and happy memories, it can also be quite powerful in its effects on human experience and perspective. For me, unexpected attacks of nostalgia force the air from my lungs, cause dizziness, and render me unable to exist in the present. 

These two variations of nostalgia, the awe-inducing power of memory versus the sunshiney glow of past experience, make it a popular emotion in literature. Nostalgia is different from a flashback because nostalgic remembrance is like viewing the past through rose-colored glasses; the negative memories are far more blurry than those of positive experiences. Marcel Proust’s famous novel, titled A Remembrance of Things Past, is a seven-volume recollection of the narrator’s childhood after a madeleine cookie triggers a rush of nostalgic memory. In the first volume, Swann’s Way, the taste of a madeleine cookie leads the narrator on a journey through his childhood memories that lasts for the rest of the novel. The nostalgia described in A Remembrance of Things Past is closer to the sunshiney type than the torrential-flood-of-memory type. Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude, describes the latter type of nostalgia since the characters are eventually destroyed by their nostalgia. In this case, the nostalgia seems to become more than an emotion and manifest itself in ghosts that haunt the remaining living characters or strange habits that consume the characters’ lives. 

For me, the images conjured by my nostalgia are always washed in sunlight and can be triggered by almost anything. The way the sunlight shines through my kitchen windows and illuminates the wood floor reminds me of the immense bookshelves in the house I lived in when I was five years old. The smell of clean cotton candles creates an exact picture of my fifth grade bedroom in the late spring. Rereading certain books transports me back to elementary school sleepovers with my best friends where we would stay up late into the night discussing our hopes and dreams. Looking through old yearbooks resurrects memories of playground games and picking flowers from a time when the most pressing problem I faced was who I would sit with at lunch that day. Just by seeing the bright label on a bottle of Into the Wild lotion from Bath and Body Works, I can hear my friend’s voice from the day I bought it. While I cannot remember what else we had done that day, I can distinctly recall my friend’s words and the feeling that there was nowhere else I would rather be than walking around the mall with her. 

Unfortunately, the warm feeling associated with a happy memory fades shortly after the nostalgic spell ends. What takes its place is a sense of loneliness or melancholy or a deep yearning for the past. This sadness is what might prompt one to reconnect with old classmates or friends over social media, but reconnecting over social media is like looking through a window at a party you left but can’t rejoin. You end up feeling excluded from a life you gave up willingly. Often I feel as if I am trying to live in both the past and present simultaneously. I struggle to live in the moment because my mind is distracted by faded memories of things that used to be. 

Nostalgia causes me to chase my past experiences as if I believe I can relive them, but the truth is that they are memories and should be treated as such. Our pasts shape us but we should not allow nostalgia or memory to decide our futures. While the nostalgia can be comforting, one should not live in the past when they belong in the present.