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Entries in nostalgia (62)


100,000 Fireflies

July 1st, 2013

Last night as I drove home, the sky turned from gray to pink and the fireflies came out. I zoomed along the dusky curves of the country roads, and watched with a knot in my throat as I saw them multiply, lighting and lighting, a low, hovering starry sky over the soybean fields. Prone to hyperbole my thought was this: how could anything be more beautiful? 

This place is a broken record. But it's a repetition of the things I love, and I consider that a worthy litany. Baseball. Fireflies. Corn-on-the-cob. All of the things I missed from my youth and now have present in my every day. 

There are even things I can't remember from growing up here that hold a special new reality for me in my life. In particular: the tigerlillies. At the end of June and beginning of July, they line the highways, their orange heads bobbing in the wind of passing semis. They burst forth near every mailbox, telephone pole, in the roadside drainage ditches.

I don't particularly remember them from when I grew up here, though Mom swears they were always a part of the landscape. Why would I blot them out? Why weren't they as important to my eye then as they are now?

Every litany needs a break in the refrain. Every song needs a bridge.

Last night I ask Dad to relate to me some of his favorite memories of the place where he grew up. He told me about preparing the barn for winter; he told me about the Lutheran church bells that would chime at 5pm to let them know their work day was done and it was time to go home. "You could hear them from pretty much anywhere in the valley. On some days, when the air was right, they'd smack you in the face they were so clear."

These things that we hold on to from our childhood, the things that smack us in the face when the air is right: this is why I still come here and start typing. It's got to mean something.

© Zan McQuade. All rights reserved.


Unhinged and Lawless

I wrote something for The Daily Dot Opinion section about Internet nostalgia. 

What this nostalgia is now is actually a craving for something that today would be entirely unrecognizable: an approximation of what it felt like back in those early days, to be cruising on the information highway, the tarmac rolling out ahead of you into the horizon, the desert stretching in either direction. It was quieter, more spacious; you knew that if you threw a rock it would take a while to hit someone. Ping. This is what we are looking towards with our animated GIFs and white space: a yearning for the peaceful expanse of Internet 1.0: peaceful, and yet somehow more unhinged and lawless.

Read more here.


I'll Put Away My Pride

Yesterday I found myself at my parents house with a few minutes to spare before we headed to dinner and a hankering to play some Christmas carols, and so I started digging through the sheet music that lives in a cabinet in the living room. 

I found the old Whitney Houston sheet music I asked for one year for Christmas, along with an old Joan Baez song book that probably belonged to my mother. Deeper down I found Jacques Brel, "Softly, As I Leave You," old violin practice books, and then, buried beneath Phantom of the Opera and The Carpenters was my favorite of them all: the 1988 Chartbusters song book of "the hits of today," its cover missing and its pages worn. I did not attempt Billy Ocean's "Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car." I did not attempt "Tell It To My Heart" or "Devil Inside." Instead, I sat down and began to sight read the one song I remembered best: Aerosmith's "Angel."

My fingers dragged through the notes. I lingered way too long on certain chords on my way to reading the next one. I was the piano playing equivalent of a stutterer, struggling to get chords out like words. Awkward and embarrassed. Falling down stairs. From the other room, I could hear J sigh. 

I'm not telling this story to lament over my lapsed piano skills. Instead, it made me think about two things. First, how when we were young it was okay to do things you were unsure of, like struggle your way through a piece of sheet music, but as we get older, the expectation of success looms too large over our heads (have you read Danielle's piece yet? if not, why ever not?). You should know how to do this by now. You should be accomplished. But why should we bow to that expectation? It's okay to try the things you're not very good at, or think you might not be very good at. Of course it is. As I my lumbering fingers found each note, it didn't sound perfect, but every once in a while (*beat* don't make it tough, I'll put away my pride...) I hit them just fine and the song was mine to sing. 

And the other thing: I was going to feign embarrassment over sitting at a piano in my parents' house, playing sheet music from 1988. But I'm really proud of this. It made me laugh. It made me remember all of the stupid things I loved in 7th grade, like sheet music, or the London Fog men's fedora I wore to orientation, or baseball cards, or doing the running man; they all made me so happy. They didn't make me popular: they made me happy.

This is the part about nostalgia that I find the most comforting and misunderstood: it doesn't matter what it is that makes you happy, or makes you laugh, or makes you cry. The thing is not the thing. It doesn't matter where it turns up when you're 36 and bored and come across something that makes you laugh remembering what it felt like to be 12 and terrified that you weren't ever going to feel the emotion they were singing about in that song, terrified that loneliness and heartache were what love was going to be like. It only matters that when you hear that song, or when you find yourself hacking your way through it on a piano you haven't played in years, picturing yourself young and naive and wearing a London Fog fedora as you strut into a gym full of pre-teens: that you always laugh, that you always smile.

That you laugh until you cry as you sing it: ba-ee-ay-ee-bay...

© Zan McQuade. All rights reserved.


Revisiting the Porch Swing

Hooo, boy. Remember this? That whole incident was nearly three years ago, and I'd entirely let the idea of it go, until this past weekend, when I was digging through boxes of my stuff hauled up from my parents' basement, and found the original photograph. My old friend, there on the porch swing, hair in his face, slightly out of focus, smoking that cigarette. Just as I'd remembered you. The photograph itself (even the negatives, which still have yet to turn up) wouldn't have been proof enough for me, but there are other photographs developed in the same batch, pictures taken of my friends in class at high school—THESE are proof enough to me. 

I took that photograph. I took that photograph. I did. 

I'm still grateful for the questions the incident raised, but there's a real satisfaction in knowing I'm not crazy. Digging through this box of mementoes, and seeing confirmation of things that had come back to me over the years, real and tactile proof of memories—letters from old friends, mix tape track listings, directions to a house in the country written on a piece of paper torn from a memo pad—it's distinctly comforting. I did live this life I've remembered; it's not fiction. Here is proof that it happened, that I existed. 

How long my memory's coffins—this plastic bin, these bleepity-bloopity digital notes—will hold on to this existence: that's anyone's guess.

© Zan McQuade. All rights reserved.


The Same Fabric

On our way back from the wedding this weekend ("the wedding by which all future weddings will be judged," as it's been dubbed), we stopped at the outlets on Interstate 71 to visit the Levi's store. I'd been to these outlets once before, with my friend Dana back when we were in high school; we drove the whole 2 hours on our own, feeling brave, most likely with an REM cassette whirring on the Scirocco's stereo. I bought a burgundy button-down long-sleeved shirt from Banana Republic that I ended up wearing well into college.

How strange, then, to walk in there and see the very same colors of that long ago brave car journey. A table of corduroy pants folded neatly, relics of 20 years ago: burgundy, forest green, gray, rust. I picked up a pair of the forest green and held it in my arms for a moment, remembering the last time I wore those colors.

"These are great colors, aren't they?" said the salesgirl, who in all likelihood was born around 1992, the same year I bought that pair of men's forest green corduroys, cut off the legs, and wore them with a "London Calling" Clash t-shirt and combat boots to my first Lollapalooza. "Really different."

"Really nineties," I said, and laughed. I remembered dancing in them to The Jesus and Mary Chain and Lush. Getting emotional over Pearl Jam. (I've wondered before what the music I listened to back then must sound like to the youth of today. If they hear it with the ears of false nostalgia the way I hear music from the seventies. I miss it, even though I wasn't there. The music of the time you were born, the soundtrack to your very own physical realization. How's that for liner notes?)

The most jarring thing about being here in Ohio is trying to fit these old memories into the new pattern of my life. The Cincinnati that exists now is a different place than it was back then, just as I'm a different person than I was back then. I knew I'd have to come to terms with this place in a new way, that my old feelings about it would take on new meaning. But what I didn't expect was how similar I'd feel, how provoked I'd be to remember everything exactly the way I felt back then. The thrill of driving two hours from home to shop at a Banana Republic; the giddiness of spotting someone at Lollapalooza in a Blur t-shirt as we stomped in our combat boots across a grassy hill; the crunch of leaves under foot and the feeling of fists shoved in the pockets of a hooded sweatshirt as we stand around a crackling campfire.

I don't mind the 90s revival trend. This is our chance to do that part of the past over again, and do it better. Acknowledging our bodies this time instead of hiding them. But it's even more than that: this time, when I comb the thrift store racks for crushed velvet in burgundy and come out with a floral printed rayon dress, it's nothing to do with fashion. It's giving physical shape to those memories, allowing them to live in the now. I don't mind the deluge of them hidden in the seams of the same fabric I wore the first time I thought I was falling in love, the first time I heard the words pretty little girl, she shines, knowing she is young, she smiles and was convinced every song was about me. I don't even mind a few reminders of what I've learned since I wore that fabric: that love is not just about crying, that he is not The One, that not every song is about me. Now, when I pull on these clothes, they've been tailored by hindsight, stitched together with the knowledge of the differences between love and longing, between past and present.

Standing there in that outlet store, I put back the forest green corduroys and settled on two different colors: rust and gray. Colors I never wore back then. Colors I look good in now.

© Zan McQuade. All rights reserved.