At the end of my last post, I described nostalgia as being akin to grief and mourning – ‘a reaction to loss.’ Loss has been a pertinent theme for me this past year, both personally and professionally.
A dictionary defines nostalgia as: ‘a wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one’s life, to one’s home or homeland, or to one’s family and friends; a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time.’
Nostalgia in psychoanalysis is considered not only as a longing for the past, but a longing for an idealised past – a past that might perhaps, not even exist. We’re all aware of the distorted effect that time can have on real, authentic memory. Nostalgia has a habit of editing out the bad bits, making us able to momentarily dismiss the more negative aspects of past experiences. Facts are forgotten and narratives unwittingly changed.
But nostalgia adds a sense of personal meaning to life and provides us with an understanding of our place in the world at large. This feeling has manifested itself several times in the course of this past year’s sorting – ploughing my way through the mass of objects and other paraphernalia from my past, I’ve become acutely aware of how time has changed the way I feel about so much of the stuff I’ve accumulated.
Time has also, of course, changed me. I’m not the same person I was 30 or 40 years ago, the point at which my collections first started to develop. I wrote in my last post about the strong urge I felt to revisit nostalgic childhood places this summer just gone. I wondered how much the sorting had impacted on my desire to go back to places that held happy childhood memories for me. As it turned out, these trips simply mirrored what had been happening in the studio – looking at what was there, examining it for what it was (truly was) and deciding whether it was going to continue to be a part of my current life, or not.
Through scrutinising the individual objects, I’ve been able to make decisions about what stays and what goes; through scrutinising my past and recognising that I’ve been feeling rather stuck in it, I’ve also felt able to make decisions about leaving my past behind and looking to becoming more engaged and connected with the present.
The loss of loved ones, ageing, the fragility of life and so on are themes that will continue to drive me to keep making my work. These themes and their associated emotions are all wrapped up in the various objects I’ve been holding onto all these years. But there has been a definite psychological shift in me which has made the whole letting go process infinitely easier.