Nostalgia: It Ain’t What It Used To Be

Been spending most of my time alone the last several days.  And I’m actually quite happy with this arrangement.  And why not?  Most of my friends are going through the mid life crisis deals as my friends are in the mid thirties to early forties range.  I have a college friend who was diagnosed with cancer several months ago who’s only a year or two older than I am.  Most of my friends are struggling with debts and dead end careers, so they are constantly on edge about money.  I’ve had friends suffer through divorces.  I have a cousin whose son was diagnosed on the autism scale last year.  My best friend from my teenage years lost her mother to cancer two years ago.  Even in myself I don’t have as much get up and go as I did even three years ago.  But I am in my late 30s.  I’ll be 40 next summer yet I don’t dread it.  I don’t dread aging as much as most of my friends.  Most people think I’m weird  or lying when I say I actually look forward to being a wise elder.  I’m not lying or weird.  I’m just ahead of the curve and no longer fearing the inevitable.

I admit I don’t have much nostalgia.  I don’t long for the “good ol’ days” because, well, the good old days kinda sucked in many ways.  When exactly were the good old days?  Was it back in the 1990s when President Clinton was screwing his interns, computers occupied entire desks instead of fitting in shirt pockets, and the music of Tupac and Marilyn Manson were going to be the death of Western Civilization?  Was it back in the 1950s when using the n word was okay but Lucille Ball couldn’t say pregnant on network television and the threat of nuclear war was real?  “Better dead than red” people said back in those days.  And people were worried about the corrupting influence of rock and roll music.  Or was it in the Old West when boom towns like Dodge City and Tombstone were far more violent and lawless than any modern slum, women couldn’t vote, and bounty hunters got paid for Native American scalps?  Or was it in the Stone Age when everyone ate fresh and natural food, drank clean water, breathed unpolluted air, had no laws, no villages, half of children died before adulthood, and writing didn’t exist.  Even the 2010s will be considered the good old days in twenty years by nostalgic fools.  Nostalgia is a desert mirage.  It is imagined.  It isn’t real.  I haven’t fallen victim to nostalgia even though I’m on the door step of 40.  Hopefully I never fall victim to nostalgia.

I definitely never want to be one of these bitter and angry old men who complain about the kids.  Let’s get some thing real clear: every generation of “lousy kids” was supposed to be the death of civilization.  And it never happened.  If anything, most generations built upon what previous generations did and left science and humanitarian efforts further along than when they started.  I have zero patience for people who complain about young people.  Elders were complaining about how stupid and incompetent my classmates and myself were even when were in grade school in the 1980s.  I have never forgotten how hurtful and unfair that was.  I never will.  And for that reason I will never pull that kind of crap on people younger than me.  And it burns me to see people my age complaining about the kids coming up now.  The kids are not more unruly or weaker now than in the past.  The only thing kids have ever been guilty of is making old codgers realize that they will someday become irrelevant, they will someday die, and they will someday be forgotten.  Kids make old people uncomfortable because kids make elders confront their own hypocrisy, stupidity, and that they were too scared or lazy to try to chase their dreams.

I’m now seeing many of my cohorts becoming bitter and resentful about the bad decisions they made in their teens and twenties.  You should have left that dead end job and started your own business or moved to a different city.  Yeah, you should have majored in STEM or went to trade school instead of majoring in humanities or general business.  Maybe  you should have paid off your credit cards before they become unmanageable.  You shouldn’t have spent your teens and twenties partying, drugging, and having sex like there would be no price to pay.  You shouldn’t have put up with abusive boyfriends or manipulative girlfriends.  You should have called your mom more often.  Yeah, you shouldn’t have cut ties with your siblings.  You should have road tripped and traveled to foreign countries while you still had good health.  You should have gone to seen your favorite musician the night they performed in your hometown.  You shouldn’t have ignored that geeky girl or boy in your high school history class in favor of the school bully or queen bee.  I could go on.  But there are no do overs.  Learn and move on.  Quit romanticizing a past that never existed.  Learn from your bad decisions and be glad for the good decisions you did make.

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Christmas Memories

Today, December 4, is officially three weeks from Christmas.  So allow me to say Merry Christmas, Happy Saturnalia (to my friends who are students of ancient history), Happy Kawanza, Happy Winter Solstice, and Happy Birthday Sir Issac Newton.  Since we had several inches of snow and cold the last few days, I have more or less been house bound since the weekend.  Not that it completely bothers me.  Seeing the snow, listening to Christmas songs on youtube, and the much longer nights have put me in the holiday spirit.  I guess I really have no wishes for Christmas gifts.  At this point in my life I am happier spending time with family and friends during the holidays.  I have three nephews and a niece ranging in ages from seven to fourteen.  So all of them are at fun ages.  I enjoy watching the kids run around with their gifts and play in the snow just as much now as when I was that age and running around with gifts myself.

While I don’t really specifically remember many of the individual gifts I got for Christmas as a kid, I remember the events and activities vividly.  Every year, usually the weekend after Thanksgiving, my family would go out and get a tree.  We didn’t usually buy one.  Instead, one of the local farmers who was a patient of my father’s would allow us to go onto his acreage and cut some cedar trees.  Since these cedars had a strong scent of cedar and sometimes wild animal urine, we would have to leave the trees outdoors for a few days to knock some of the smell down.  From age twelve until I went to college, I always had my own small scrub of a cedar tree in my bedroom.  I usually hung Coca Cola cans and red, green, and silver Mardi Gras beads on the tree.  One Christmas when I was a teenager, instead of turkey for Christmas dinner, we had fried pheasant that my uncle hunted at his farm.  One year, the same uncle, instead of having a tree, decorated a tumble weed in Christmas lights.  My father is a licensed pilot, and we had a few Christmases when I was in high school and college when we would get in a small four seat Cessna and fly around looking at the lights in towns as far a hundred miles away from our little village.  I did see A Christmas Story shortly after it came out on the old VHS tapes.  My parents asked one of my brother’s teachers if he could show that movie at his class’s Christmas party.  The teacher said no because there was too much profanity to be showing to grade school kids.  When I was in sixth grade, my teacher showed an older movie called “The Hobos’ Christmas.”  It was a funny and poignant movie about drifters, hobos, and homeless people hopping freight trains and hitch hiking from all over America to a big Christmas party.  When I was in college, my parents and I spent Christmas in San Antonio on the River Walk and went to the Alamo Bowl when the Huskers made it to that game.  My brother graduated college in Oklahoma right before Christmas.  It was also when they had their biggest ice storm in years down there.  I swear, those Oklahomans don’t know how to drive on ice :).  Of course, my friends from Minnesota and Montana say the same thing about me :).

And my nephews and niece have some of their own traditions now.  They are big into the Elf on a Shelf.  When they visited my apartment a couple years ago around St. Patrick’s Day, I had a Leprechaun doll sitting in a large St. Patrick’s Day stein on my bookshelf.  I told the kids it was “Leprechaun on a Ledge, the Irish cousin to Elf on a Shelf.”

There are some Christmas things I haven’t done that are on my bucket list.  As I didn’t grow up Catholic, I have never been to a Midnight Mass.  My brother and his wife went to New York right before Christmas one year and did things like visit Macy’s, ice skate at Rockefeller Center, and attend some Christmas musicals.  I would like to at least have the chance to do likewise someday.  Every year, I try to watch some show that has Christmas or the holidays as a theme I have never seen before.  This year, I plan on finding a documentary on the Christmas Cease Fire of World War I.

I have made some Christmas memories over the course of my life.  Now I’m watching my brother’s kids make some of their own.  Hopefully I can stay around a while longer to make some more memories.