Please welcome today’s guest writer, Samantha Vanderberg. samantha graduated from Calvin in 2012 with a degree in English. She lives in Grand Rapids and is the Marketing Manager for Local First. She loves to hike, adventure, travel, read, garden, eat, and drink tea.
“Nostalgia is denial—denial of the painful present. The name for this denial is golden age thinking—the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one one’s living in. It’s a flaw in the romantic imagination of those people who find it difficult to cope with the present.”
– Midnight in Paris
Sometimes I hearken back to the distant (albeit at times fictional) past. What I wouldn’t give to walk the halls of Downton Abbey in the early 20th century, drink tea with Jane Austen, or ride a train down the coast of California with John Steinbeck.
Or the recent past. I spent a couple weeks last year in California without an agenda—just hiking, reading, eating, resting, and soaking in the beautiful November sun. I close my eyes and wish I could transport myself back to Carlsbad, eating fresh fruit and pumpkin chocolate bread while my left shoulder burned in the late morning light.
Sometimes I squint too hard at what’s ahead and what could be. I think about grad school. I think about my career. Which career? I’m not sure because the possibilities seem even more endless now that I’ve graduated. And I’m a little bit terrified of choosing my next step because it feels so definitive. If I go to grad school for my MBA, publishing, sustainability, public administration, or—shocking—not at all, I’m locking myself into a direction. Or the fact that I’m turning twenty-five this year—when did that happen? Am I where I wanted to be and will I be where I think I should be five years from now? Ten? Am I becoming the person I want to be?
I am constantly vacillating between what was and what could be. What if? It’s paralyzing. (And then there’s the “what could have been” which is dangerously close to regret, and I won’t even try to get into that because it could easily devolve into its own post.)
And maybe that sounds dramatic, but there’s something to be said about the ability to be fully present. Noticing the gravelly laugh of the person next to me, the trendy facial piercing (with a red tinge of infection) on my barista, the dreariness of the dirty ice outside, the sun streaming in through the window in the middle of winter. Isn’t that what we writers are supposed to do—be here, now?
And it’s not that I’m dissatisfied with my present, either. I am grateful for where I am and what I’m doing and for good friends. I think the best way to describe the feeling is this word that I found in a book called Lost in Translation, which depicts all sorts of beautiful and funny words from other languages that can’t be directly translated to English. The word is “saudade,” Portuguese for “a vague, constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist, a nostalgia for something loved and then lost.”
One of the reasons I love the movie Midnight in Paris is because I identify so much with the main character, Gil. He longs for the 1920s ex-pat writer and artist culture in Paris, and comes to realize through a woman he falls in love with that every generation longs for a better time before that. We romanticize the good parts with this rosy recollection and forget the bad. Which I find easy to do, because the past is stationary, definite, and known.
When I really dig deep and think about it though, I remember the not so pretty times that are mixed in with the good. The times of stress, and sickness, and heartache. The times when I didn’t think I could go another day and wished I was back in another time. Because sometimes that is easier than dealing with today.
I’m okay with being a dreamer—reminiscing about the past and wondering about the future—but ultimately I try to ground myself (often daily) in the present. I only get one today, January 29, 2015. And I don’t want to be absent.
I know that someday, I will look back on this uncertain time, twenty-four going on twenty-five, unsure of my next step, as its own kind of golden age.
So I’m going to live it.