about nostalgia

Once upon a time, in the nineties, on a St Patrick’s evening, I listened to a band full of the most amazing lust for life play Irish music in one of the stiff and serious music halls of Bucharest. Somewhere towards the end one of the girls sang this song, with a divine voice and in an accent in which the stanzas made no sense to me whatsoever, but I could just about make out the chorus properly enough to melt into tears. I looked for the song for years after that, forgetting to ask Matthew Sweeney during his creative writing seminar what it was called (not that I could reproduce enough of it, with melody, for someone else to recognize it, but it would have been worth a shot). I found it last year, when I decided to transcribe what I remembered of the chorus word for word in the google bar (Hail, Google!). I’ve listened to it a few times since then. It’s still beautiful to me. Maybe also because I remember now my student self from when I listened to it, who was moved by nostalgia for a time of purity and grace and community togetherness before that… and that’s where the harsh sound of the needle scratching the LP breaks my construction, like in kids’ TV-series.

It’s not then. It’s never been then. I know everybody says this all the time, and yet, even when you understood it, it is difficult to feel it, because it’s so damn easy to make `then` feel absolutely perfect, to purify it of everything that was not idyllic, or, just the opposite, to fill it with all sorts of anger that are actually not about then, but are much easier buried there. `So we did, so we did and so did he and so did I/ And the more I think about it, the nearer I’m to cry…` And it’s so easy to melt down in this invented collective memory which my generation puts in PPS-es with all the lost products of the communist age that we grew up with. Because `then…`

It’s not then. It’s now. It’s now that my daughters splashing each other in the tub laugh so beautifully that the back of my throat aches with suppressed tear-bliss. It’s now that I feel the ocean of fear for whatever world there will be ahead for them. It’s now that I’m grateful, furious, amazed and drained at the same time. It is the now that is loaded to the brim with ideology, politics, communication, life, work, meaning. I’m nostalgic, as I write, about every bit of now that I wasted thinking about how differently serene things have been before. Instead of looking for my serene point from which I can absorb and deal with today. It’s now.

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