Et in Arcadia Ego

Poetry is an art of imitation... that is to say, a representing, counterfeiting, or figuring forth--to speak metaphorically,
a speaking picture...
--Sir Philip Sidney, The Defence of Poesie



Cross wanted to be one of those people who had no use for nostalgia, but he was more or less born nostalgic. It was somehow part of his genetic make-up, and thus he wasn’t so disgusted with himself whenever he indulged. Besides, memory was so important to Cross—so utterly crucial to who he was, what he did, how he saw the world—that he always expected nostalgia’s warm, syrupy glow to creep into the acts of remembrance that made up the texture of the present. He had long ago given in to nostalgia for a past that was vanishing before he was born; not a small step to give in, at least a little, to nostalgia for the past he moved through, helpless as a shark in deep blue waters.

Incipient middle-age didn’t help. Lately, voices out of his past, voices twenty or fifteen years removed, had come to echo around the chambers of Cyberia. The World Wide Web was a perfect trap for the ephemera of the past, if anyone cared to throw it out there (and many did). The ability to digitize and post old photos now meant that everyone could sit on a vast virtual couch on a melancholy evening, perhaps a little tipsy, and turn the leaves of a rarely visited album, and hear the running commentary of their friends and comrades, as if everyone you’d ever known was somehow home for the holiday and looking over your shoulder...

Not everyone. Many resisted the online life—they were the wise ones, and often Cross wished that back around 1995 or so he’d made some different choices. But having crossed that Rubicon, giddy, thoughtless, amazed, Cross felt the virtual life was something to be managed now, not dispensed with entirely. He’d briefly tried, and only felt like a hermit with the benefit of spiritual enlightenment. You’d need to go off the grid completely, and that wasn’t Cross anymore than the sort of person for whom only the future is real.

But more than the refuseniks, Cross now felt the pull of absent friends keenly. More so, now that they rose, just as luminous and unreal as any spectral presence, from Flickr accounts and Facebook albums. The dead came to you in your dreams—Cross often thought of the afterlife, of the idea of Heaven itself, as basically an explanation for dreams—but now they popped up in your inbox as well, part of daily routine. Even if you limited your time online to a sensible hour or so, they would come at you, daily.

Cross wasn’t so disturbed by this. He was pleased to see that, while death had indeed undone so many (and only add to the legions as he and everyone ages), their images made them more present than ever, especially as they multiplied beyond whatever collection of photos Cross had and now came from every direction of acquaintance. He was simply, purely happy to see these absent friends, even if every memory was suffused with... well, with what? Not regret. Well, sometimes regret. Not pain, for a decade will do its work, leaving pain’s memory where pain once glowered like a spreading bruise.

No, more like an Alas, that poetic anachronism now supplanted by Oh, Well or (if you weren’t feeling warm or fuzzy) Whatever. Living with ghosts, even happily, even in dreams or reminisces, was an Alas to the infinite power, a thumbing of one’s nose at eternity.

Which—alas—is the only thing you can do to eternity, mused Cross.


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Reader Comments (1)

Any moment in time can make anyone nostalgic, comparing it to times past or times that never were. This time of year lends itself to reflection and reflection to nostalgia. The build up to Christmas means there's a downside on the 26th when everything seems heartless and are just things without meaning or relevance. The decorations that inspired such warm fuzzy feelings or sardonic retorts, are dull and sad and you just want them to go away until next year when maybe, just maybe, they'll mean something. At least something more than they do this year.

The year is ending and it's comforting somehow to look back over the past months and years, as if your life is imprinted on a single-lane blacktop highway that stretches far into the past and up ahead is a turn and you are pretty sure you know what's there but it always surprises you.

Nostalgia is part of your genetic makeup and it centers you between yesterday and tomorrow. Without it, without reflection, you'd forever tip forward blindly, not aware of what you can do, of what you might do, of what you've already done and don't wish to do again. It's an anchor.

It is a warm fuzzy blanket that supports and protects your memories. Sometimes the blanket has scratchy fibers of memories and doesn't comfort you. Sometimes the blanket is so fuzzy that it clouds your memories of the past, allowing you to think things were better than they were but, hopefully, not worse than they were. You don't need pain that cannot be relieved. Most of the time, much more often than not, it reminds you of the good things in your life and it enables you to remember how happy they made you and how you still carry that happiness in your heart.

Nostalgia allows you to realize that things now are not as bad as you fear they are. It reminds you of where you've been and how you've gotten where you are and to love yourself for surviving the journey.

It can be dangerous when you're nostalgic about a time you never were. Watching "It's a Wonderful Life" makes one long for the purity of a small town, the love of good people, and the contentment of being where you belong and knowing that's where you're wanted. That nostalgia depresses and yet, humor can be found in it--one day people who may not even be so much as zygotes today will look back to today and think it was a magical time and how wonderful it must have been to have lived then. Now. And we'll listen to them and laugh until we cry because we remember, as best as our own nostalgia will allow, it was not how it will be perceived.

Nostalgia gives you hope that things can be good now and again, and maybe, even better.

Don't allow yourself to forget that, ever.

December 13, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth

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