the upside of nostalgia
Best o’ the Bitch, Bitch’in Life

The Upside of Nostalgia

Up until a few days ago, I had a rule I lived by: You can’t go home again. (Thomas Wolfe, although lots of people have the same thought: for example a more contemporary comment on nostalgia: “Don’t let the past remind us of what we are not now,” from the CSN classic, “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.”)

To me, sentimentality can be a sappy pit of self-indulgent goo. I’m not normally one to throw down a #tbt — when I pull up old photos of places I’ve haunted over the decades and the old friends I used to frequent them with, I feel like I run the risk of hitting the sorrow rather than the sweet spot… and so it’s not necessarily something I want to do, say, every single Thursday.

Coming from someone whose weekly blogging is often fueled by remember when’s, I know this sounds like a bunch of hooey. But lots of creative peeps like to pull their inspiration from feelings of loneliness, melancholy, and depression. To me, the deep abyss of longing and loss serves as an endlessly abundant well of material.

When I look at it that way.

Which I don’t think I’ll do anymore.

A few months ago, some things in my life started to shift, and instead of descending into fear and horror (my go-to “happy” place), I decided that I was just going to say yes to whatever came my way. This may sound sexy, but as a woman of a certain age, a lot of it was just offering to drive the carpool more frequently, volunteering to help with fundraisers (more on that in next week’s blog: Ask Bitch’in Suburbia: Back to School 2015), and some other random, albeit excellent, opportunities.

Coincidentally, I also wrote my Bitch’in Suburbia annual tribute to camp. It always gets a nice response, but this year it took on a life of its own, and I heard from a ton of people I’ve known and loved from my camp, and also those who knew and loved their own camp.

It was a whole goddamn shit load of campsick adults, which was a pretty awesome sight to behold.

In the thick of it, I got an email from one of my BBFs (Best Bitches Forever) and eternal counselor, saying simply: “You must come.”

The place I “had” to go was to my summer camp’s 65th reunion. But here was the rub: reunions are the ULTIMATE nostalgic minefield, and I wasn’t necessarily in the mood to get my heart blown to bits by missing people who weren’t there. Also, it had been decades since I last returned, and I knew from my online stalking that the joint had changed quite a bit under the tutelage of new owners.

And so at first I ran straight to my go-to excuses: I’m just getting back from a ginormous family trip, my kids are starting school, the dog ate my homework. All of them true (especially the one about the dogs), but ultimately pretty flimsy.

Plus when your eternal counselor says get off your ass and go, what’s an eternal camper to do?

So I said yes. And for a change, my habit of not looking back meant that agreeing to attend the reunion was something I had to move forward with and embrace.

The arrival in my hometown airport and first night sleeping at my other BBF/CIT’s house was fun and easy. Turns out people from the same backgrounds are easy to fall in step with. Which is a simplistic way of looking at it.

But then the descent into camp, where stretched before us was an explosion of new cabins, buildings, signage, and even a swimming pool (!) with a slide to rival any waterpark, was less comfortable. My security detail of the former counselor/CIT weren’t staying on-site, and I ended up being assigned to a cabin with the oldest reunion attendees — some that were there for the first few years of my early camp experience, but most of whom were long gone before my first summer.

Feeling like I had nothing in common with most of my bunkmates for the weekend, I headed out for a healing soak in the lake. The waterfront was my stomping grounds back in the day, and some of the most enjoyable years for me were when I was a swim counselor, so it made sense to start with what I knew best.

I don’t know if it was the cold water slapping me in the face, the intoxicating scent of sunscreen mixed with lake funk, or the muscle memory of childhood, but by the time I made it out to the dock, my antiquated take on nostalgia — which is term a 17th century term that combined the Greek words “nosto” (“return home”) and “algos” (“pain”) and was coined by a Swiss doctor trying to characterize soldiers’ maladies caused by homesickness — was over and out.

In fact, the same article on nostalgia where I got that bit of trivia about the roots of the word also discussed how nostalgia is a good thing. Dr. Constantine Sedikides of the University of Southampton has done pioneering research into the science of nostalgia and has found that nostalgizing alleviates things like boredom, anxiety, and loneliness, and makes for people that are generally happier, more generous, and more tolerant. It also increases feelings of belonging and connectedness, which in turn makes people more welcoming to strangers and more appreciative of their community. And in the end, when all is said and done, nostalgia helps mitigate the fear of death by making life itself much more meaningful.

I believe this also explains the elation I feel when I hear, say, the B-52’s “Rock Lobster,” Prince getting funky, James Taylor’s sweet soulful songs, The Big Man Clarence Clemons wailing on an early Springsteen track, etc.

Nostalgia, in other words, is all about hitting those notes from the past that bring us higher in the present and groove us on into a brighter future. It’s why the old camp directors who were there back in the day will always be my touchstones, and also why the young couple that now own the place are my new family.

Not that I was doing that kind of academic interpretation as I swam, sailed, ran, played, cheered, clapped, hugged, and reminisced my ass off.

And those older women in my bunk that I was sure I had nothing in common with? We stayed up to the wee hours singing songs and laughing about all the things we did at camp that filled our young lives with so much joy.

The other thing about nostalgia that the science doesn’t necessarily touch on is the transformative properties of literally going back in time. On the last day as I was walking to my bunk to pack up, I found myself heading down a very familiar path. I know that sounds poetic, but trust me — it was completely literally. I felt the gravel of the bunk line path crunch under my flip flops, heard the strains of someone cheering, smelled the clean Maine air, took one last lingering look at the lake… and was totally transported into my way younger self. (Now if I could just bottle all that, it would be bigger than Botox!)

In that moment, I realized that the bittersweet quality of reminiscing is not bitter at all — there’s honestly nothing sweeter than to indulge nostalgic moments.

When you share the same connective tissue — whether it was your camp, your school, your neighborhood, your music, your era — nostalgia is the best way to tug on the ties that bind to make sure that they’re just as strong as ever.

And trust me, they always are.

So if you see me looking back, just know that I’m just checking out the rear view mirror as I pull into the next lane of life. If you look in yours, I guarantee that what you see will be the lights of what made you who you are today and this will also be the perfect beacon to carry you on into tomorrow. So go ahead and let the past remind you of what you are not now — it’s not necessarily a bad thing, and after all, it is the essence of nostalgia. (Doo doo doo doo doo, doo doo doo doo doo doo…)

Photo Credit: Not to get all nostalgic on you, but this week’s blog photo was directed and shot by my BBF and camp idol, Julie Marcus. Yay Julie Yay Marcus Yay Yay Julie Marcus, Julie, Marcus, YAY!

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  • Reply Davida Dinerman August 21, 2015 at 9:15 am

    Trudi. Wonderful post. I had a feeling there would be a camp theme. I am glad you worked through your feelings. Memories can be a source of happiness. Know you are loved by people for life. Know you have something in common with people, like a sisterhood, for life. I feel badly I could not make it this year, so I am working through that. But I also loved seeing the pictures and remembering my wonderful, life changing past. We are who we are because of that camp and the people. I hold it and the people dear. To live and love. It is what it is all about.

  • Reply Trudi August 21, 2015 at 2:51 pm

    AMEN (A-Woman?) Davida! I had to work thru it, and that’s what I wanted to blog about because it’s just to simple to say I love or anyone loves revisiting old memories. Bittersweet is a truism, but more sweet than bitter. You are loved in a big way – your ears must’ve been burning all weekend. I will see you there next time, but in the meantime even seeing your face on Facebook makes every day happier. XOXO

  • Reply Michael A. Nathanson August 21, 2015 at 11:54 pm

    Trudi Ilene – this is your old camp director and Touchstone speaking and you nailed it! When done well, the camp experience gets woven into the fabric of your future self and identity. We hear this all the time, now that we are old with lots of Alumnae out there to tell us. The intrinsic value gained from a well guided summer camp experience is beneficial beyond words. Not to mention the absolute sense of pride and fulfillment we get when we reunite with our alums and regale in the fruits of our labor. We will always love you!

  • Reply Cindy Banagaba August 21, 2015 at 7:17 pm

    Trudesca… Loved the realness of your post.

    As for pink kiddie city, it binds us all together. (Can’t look at a bottle of pepto bismol without thinking about camp!) Our carefree years were filled with laughter, hugs, cheers, and yes, sticking faces in pie tins filled with whipped cream and a lifesaver. We laughed, cried, and sang as a community of sisters.

    I recently commented on one of Mike’s posts and want to share it with you… Camp friends are the best friends because they live with you 24/7 for 8 weeks, they know everything about you, and still like you!

    As for the memories we all share, they are priceless. I know that when our paths cross again, face to face, it will be like we just saw each other. We will sit together picking up where we left off, yet moving forward.

    Luv ya Sistah! And for the last time, what the hells a Hoya?!?!?

  • Reply Trudi Smith Roth August 22, 2015 at 3:07 am

    awwww thanks Mike – you're my people, always. I am eternally grateful for the beautiful place you and your family created, and it was such a wonderful gift to see you, Paula, and Rachel this past weekend. When I was driving in I literally had a hallucination of Midge "Leadfoot" tearing down the dirt road into camp, and also couldn't help but think about singing "Let Us Call You Sweetheart" to Uncle Joe. Those were the days… and all of my days I'm a happy camper in large measure because my parents were generous enough and thoughtful enough to give me the gift of camp. It tops the list of the biggest blessings of my life, and trust me, I'm #blessed! XOXO

  • Reply Trudi August 21, 2015 at 8:21 pm

    Banagaba – girl, you know I couldn’t fake it if I tried! I might well up at the first strains of “You’ve Got a Friend,” but I secretly have been pretty loathe to get sucked into any hardcore nostalgia. But you are so right about the community of sisters, and I am happy to report it is still alive & well & living at Camp Matoaka. We could sit together right this minute and it would definitely be like no time had passed. And we did conspire to create the best bday party ever – my daughter playing Headquarters in my backyard thanks to your recollection of the BEST tasks to make the children do was just one example of how us camp lovers persist and even occasionally permeate into “real” life. Love you too B’Nagahbah (I think I just made that Yiddish) — Greyhound Bus, take me home!! And I seriously have no idea what a Hoya is, but I can find a white Lifesaver in a plate of whipped cream with my hands tied behind my back. Now that’s HOT. XOXO

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