Miss Simpson’s infant class, Sinclairtown School, Kirkcaldy, Fife 1966. I wonder if any of us look back on those days with nostalgia?
Nostalgia: a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition (Merriam-Webster dictionary).
Spoiler alert: I’m not nostalgic.
I can’t really think of a single thing or time from from my past that I get particularly sentimental about, or yearn to relive or return to.
I admit that I kind of miss the few years in my early twenties when I was slim and promiscuous (these two things are almost certainly connected), but if I’m honest, the sex may have been great but the rest of my life was still a mess.
I don’t miss the past because mostly I don’t remember it with much fondness. That’s not to say that there haven’t been moments when I’ve felt really happy, but in general I don’t think I ever learned how to turn life over to find the bright side. I’m definitely a “glass half empty person” with an uncanny talent for locating large black clouds to stand under.
I’m particularly not nostalgic for my childhood, so I guess my choice of photo probably counts as an attempt at irony.
I hated being a kid. I was all the “un’s”: un-athletic, unattractive, unpopular and probably pretty un-likeable. I hated school because the only thing I was any good at was the actual schoolwork, and lets face it – that doesn’t really count for squat in kid universe. I think even the teachers didn’t really like me. It’s ok to be brainy, but not nerdy too.
At home I had to contend with parents who were so desperately wrestling their own demons they didn’t have the time or perhaps the sensitivity to notice that I was miserable, stunted, lonely, suffering.
And anyway, none of that really mattered since my main role in the family was to give my parents something to brag to their friends about – preferably a glowing report card at the end of every term with a few sensational exam marks in between. This I did, but no matter how good I was, it was never quite good enough. “Ninety eight percent! What happened to the other two?” Eventually I learned that they coped with my deficiencies by massaging the truth of my achievements a little. I’m not sure if they did Apgar tests when I was born, but if they did my parents would have insisted I got 11 out of 10.
So really there wasn’t much point in trying … Except … Except that I wanted them to love me, and I didn’t know of any other way, so I kept on getting A’s and knowing that without the little plus sign, they might as well have been D’s. For a long time it didn’t even occur to me that there was any other point to education.
So I guess I’ve wandered through vast tracts of my life totally without any sort of navigation device. Which is probably ok, because I didn’t know where I was supposed to be going anyway. I still don’t really.
If I was making this up, I’d be able to tell you that at some point I had an epiphany; a moment of clarity when it all started to make sense and I got my life on track, blah, blah, blah.
Sorry. As a narrative, this one doesn’t obey any rules.
I’ve probably had lots of mini-epiphanies — epiphanettes if you like. I’ve probably even tweaked bits of my existence as a result. Whatever.
I’m a different person now. Maybe my present – reasonably happy – existence is the result of lots of dialectical hopscotch, or maybe it’s just what happens when you get older and slower and less willing to give a shit.
What I do know is that although I still find black clouds and get caught in their storms, I can also make my own shelter and dry myself off and carry on. I’m not waiting for anyone to rescue me.
I can go back to university after 20 years and get A’s because I want to do each assignment as well as I can – not because I think it will make someone love me.
I still don’t have a destination in life, but I have a morality that helps me navigate each day, and at the end of most of them I feel ok.
So right now I feel no nostalgia; and I almost hope I never do because that would mean life and I had stopped getting better. And that would be a shame after how far we’ve come.