How can you find what’s inside if you don’t open the door?
There’s a quote that looks something like this: “Nostalgia is the death of hope.”
Credit for this curmudgeonly view belongs to Manchester England mosaic artist Mark Kennedy.
My limited research on this artist suggests he is most gifted, talented and widely appreciated, and I admit I’m not going to spend a lot of time researching his philosophy on the process of creating [great] art. I’ve seen this quote appear around the cyber waves and in printed form a number of times, and it’s been bugging me for a while.
We have to be careful about how much weight we put onto quotes, as they are basically taken out of context. Unless we hear or read the entirety of their initial introduction into the world, we will not really know the full or true intent of their creator.
However, having said that, and despite my very limited exposure to Mr. Kennedy I am inclined to say . . . hogwash!
When I dig into writing a new piece about childhood events, holidays and other nostalgic stuff long since under the bridge, I will make inquiry of my siblings, husband, children, or whoever is appropriate for the non-fiction essay period I am addressing with queries about what is hiding in their memory banks of that specific time. What do they remember about that time that . . . Or–did your family ever . . . ? Or– what was your strongest/saddest/most prominent remembrance of . . . blah, blah, blah.
Indeed, the piece is to come from my own impressions and memories—good as well as bad—but I find that their perspective often times opens up, or broadens my own mining process. Part of the fun of this is that I am often surprised at how different their take on a particular moment was, as compared to what I was expecting from them, or hoping (?) for.
I’m working on a Christmas submission this week, and I have to say—I enjoy digging back in the ol’ mental mothballs. I know there are people who want none of this activity, but for me, honestly—I couldn’t write very well if I wasn’t willing to dig into the old, deeply personal—and yeah—often times sad thoughts that do present themselves once the proverbial Memory Hatch flings open.
A life coach friend of mine helped me understand the importance of developing a process for handling this excavation, as I call it.
She told me it was fine to enter the memory caves of the past, pick up the good—as well as the bad, if I want to–and examine it—as long as I remember to make good on the critical second part of this process.
‘Remember to step back out,’ she told me, ‘take what you need, but know that you will close the door behind you.’
Depending on just what type of memory you go digging for, I fully realize this process can be scary, because if you dig something up that you weren’t expecting, it now stands before you, and you have to do something with it. And maybe you’re not ready. Maybe you haven’t figured out how to deal with it just yet. This can be a dangerous thing.
Then, too, consider the depth that such a dangerous venture can, and will, add to your writing—your more honest writing, I might add. The real stuff. The stuff people can relate to—that they remember enjoying, suffering, enduring—surviving. And then we have that thing between reader and writer called . . . (drum roll) connection.
So—I’m sorry Mr. Kennedy, but I disagree with you.
Nostalgia, that wanting to experience again that thing from the past, taste that candy you used to eat, stand inside the house you were 7 years old in, remember the Christmas it didn’t snow, or dig through the boxes of your deceased father won’t kill hope, to my way of thinking.
I believe it’ll bring out our most personal angles.
It might make us cry really hard for a couple of hours. We might have to work hard to step away from those days gone by, but we’ll be considerably more honest writers when it’s finished.
This serves the non-fiction writer as well as the fiction writer.
Who wants to read fiction characters with no dimension, and how can a writer bring dimension to that paper character if he can’t face the dimension within himself?