I’m letting my mind be pulled in multiple directions right now. I say letting, because it’s deliberate. I’m deliberately working on more than one project at a time, deliberately letting myself think about work, ideas, things, that aren’t directly related to my qualifying paper, my dissertation, etc. I’m letting my mind expand in multiple directions because that tends to be the way my mind functions best. I get confused, I get caught in the threads and tangled up and can’t seem to sort it all out. But then somehow it gets sorted, and it all comes together to make something.
My thoughts are muddled. There’s a lot happening to muddle them. I get frustrated at times that the work I’m doing now seems to be only ancillary to the work I actually want to do. I want to make change. I want to be an activist. I know as a teacher I can do this in a small way. I know as an intellectual I can find ways to do this. But right now, my work feels like it does not allow me to be active the way I want, because it’s pulling me inward, pulling me backward, pulling me toward literature and texts and thoughts that are in the past and not now.
Of course, all of that literature and those texts and thoughts that are in the past and not now aren’t exactly in the past. They stay with us. They creep into our current lives. They show up on the internet in the form of a leaked video of SAE fraternity members at University of Oklahoma singing racist chants about lynching. They show up in the responses to that video, and the responses to the responses.
I research and write about nostalgia and identity formation. Nostalgia has this bittersweet connotation when we think of it– nostalgia for grandma’s cookies, nostalgia for being small enough for your mother to hold you in her lap when you’re sick, nostalgia for the excitement one used to get on Christmas morning that just doesn’t seem to be there anymore.
Nostalgia, though, is so much more than that. It’s dangerous. Nostalgia reshapes our memories, makes them so much more pleasant than they were. It’s nostalgia that allows people to wish for “the good old days” when life was “simple” and things were “safe.” Sure, things were safer and simpler for some. But when you parse out what that simple and safe life looked like for a few, there were many, many more who knew that simple and safe were fragile, false concepts, and that simple and safe were not a reality. Nostalgia rose-tints not only our childhood memories, but our historical memories. And not just our historical memories, but our vision of the present.
We hear, often, that things get better. Okay. Sure, they do, for some. We also hear that things are getting so much worse. That’s also true. So where in all of this can we stop with the rose-colored glasses already and stop looking on with nostalgia for the things that are better, nostalgia for the things that are worse, and just look on and say “this is what needs to be now”?
I have no answer. This is just what’s been floating around in my muddled thoughts. The best thing I can latch onto right now.