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The allure of absurd nostalgia

I miss my old room. It was square, and the walls were a deep royal blue. Were it not for the southwest-facing window, it would have been quite dark. Many afternoons in high school, after the slog of the school day, after waking up at 6 a.m., trudging through hallways and fighting against the mysterious magnetic force that existed between my forehead and classroom desks, I would lie on my bed, acoustic guitar in hand, while a rectangle of sunlight inched across my body. 

This segment of time — after school and track practice, before dinner and homework — was my break. It wasn’t for getting things done. The clothes that I threw into one corner of the room would accumulate over the days, until the occasional afternoon when, struck by divine inspiration, I would decide to stuff them in my drawers or toss them into my hamper. Usually, still shirtless and in track shorts, I would recline against a pillow or sit on the off-white carpet floor and aimlessly strum my guitar.

I’m nostalgic for this memory, but it’s a nostalgia that doesn’t really make sense. What is it that I miss? In high school, the days blended together. This isn’t to say interesting things didn’t happen. They did. New friends, falling-outs, track meets and tests marked the weeks. However, there was an undercurrent of pattern, routine, sameness, of a life that had been shaped for me — and I was always so tired.

Midway through my first year of college, my parents moved. On a Sunday in January, I went home to sort my items into two piles called “keep” and “throw away.” I took videos of every room in the house and saved them to my Snapchat memories, but at that point, the rooms were already unrecognizable. The beds were stripped and the floors were littered with piles of things unmoored from their previous locations and sapped of significance. I wanted to save memories I had already lost.

When this attempt to systematically preserve my past failed, I was left with a cloud of feelings, sensations and thoughts swirling in place and time — vague memories that could only be sparked by the disparate artifacts of my life in that house. What tethered me most strongly to my past, I discovered, were the moments when culture brought me comfort in my room: the afternoons I practiced songs on my guitar; the first time I listened to “Bizarre Love Triangle” through cheap Sony headphones; the weeknights I stayed up in bed watching “Twin Peaks” on my laptop, choosing this intimate solitude over an adequate night’s sleep. My nostalgia blended these moments together and ignored that comfort only exists where there is discontent, where there is a need for comfort. I don’t really want to go back in time. I like my life better now, I think — and yet, sometimes I feel like I could spend hours lying in bed, listening to music, scrolling through photos, drilling deeper into some unreachable past.

I don’t think I’m alone. TikTok churns out nostalgia for the masses with industrious speed. Some of it isn’t surprising — nostalgia for the simplicity of childhood, for vintage fashion or for imagined historical aesthetics (what is “dark academia,” anyway?). But recently, some videos on my For You Page are nostalgic for the early days of the pandemic, nostalgic for the trends and sounds that were drilled into my brain when I had nothing else to do. I hated April 2020. And yet, after hearing a Beabadoobee song I tell myself I don’t even like, I have this absurd urge to return to those days... those simple, simple days.

Music, film, photography, TikTok videos — these mediums are so powerful, they can tie us to ourselves, bring us comfort amid turmoil, shade us from the heat. Yet, at the same time, as I recently heard in a movie, it’s good to remind yourself that the world’s larger than the inside of your own head. There is comfort to be found inside the confines of bedrooms and memories and music, but there is relief elsewhere, too, and I have to remember that. 

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