I really liked college. I grew up in a teeny, tiny town in Northeast Texas. Mine was probably the only liberal, non-Christian family in the entire community. I was smart, wasn't interested in chasing boys, and had every intention of getting the hell out of Dodge as soon as I finished high school. (Note: Hometown will henceforth be referred to as Dodge.) I was, in short, the antithesis to pretty much everyone else I knew for the first 18 years of my life, and my stick-out-like-a-sore-thumb-ness wasn't lost on my peers...or anyone else I knew, really.
Going to a college in a city that everyone in Dodge referred to as the "queers" part of the "steers and queers" description of Texas was unbelievably liberating. Even though I struggled to make new friends at first, I loved Austin. And eventually, I made friends and I loved my friends. (*waves* Hi, friends!) And then I got into my upper division (and later, graduate) coursework, and I loved my classes and my research. In short, I was happy as a pig in mud. Or so nostalgia says.
Looking back on it, I know I'm leaving out a lot of the difficult stuff. I ignore the fact that I really struggled to make friends, and once I did have them, they were sometimes mean to me (or to each other) and that sometimes I got my feelings hurt. I ignore the fact that for several years, I barely slept or ate, and as a result, had recurrent bronchitis, chronic yeast infections, massive unneeded weight loss, crippling carpal tunnel, and a host of other bizarre health problems that kept Student Health Services busy for the five years I was in school. I ignore the fact that my work load was usually so high that I never got everything done, at least not to my satisfaction, and the never-ending self-flagellation over what I viewed as my subpar performance. I ignore (really ignore) the string of bad boyfriends and worse break-ups. Logically, I know it wasn't all sunshine and roses. But...
There are days when I really miss it. Like today when I come across a quote about the subaltern speaking, a phrase which references a key work by Gayatri Spivak that heavily influenced my graduate research. Or when I read an article about Austin or hear about someone going to visit Austin or read a blog by someone who lives in Austin. Or pretty much any time I see old pictures, or talk to one of my friends from college, or reminisce with the boyfriend about "the good old days." And sometimes even the bad stuff (e.g. bad breakups or not sleeping for five days straight) can be almost romanticized.
So why do I do this? Why do humans in general look back to the past with such fondness? I thought it might be "the grass is greener" situation. You look back, because you believe that any point in your life had to have been better then than it is now. But then, I think back upon high school and realize, no, I honestly don't think the grass was always greener in the past. So if it's not about the grass being greener, than what is it?
Patrick at Very Evolved wrote a really cool article about nostalgia and the brain. In part, nostalgia might be a sort of "natural anti-depressant." Because nostalgia is almost always associated with positive emotions, having something good to look back on, something that makes you feel good about yourself and about life in general, gives you something to hold onto when depression and/or apathy about yourself and your life might cause you to stop wanting to go on living. A little melodramatic, but definitely an interesting. I know when I'm feeling down about myself or my current situation, I just look back to my past and remind myself, "Hey! It hasn't always been that bad!"
Another theory is that you just feel good about yourself when you can accurately recall a memory. I've always prided myself on my long memory, and get a kick out of it when I remember something that no one else remembers, so maybe there's some truth to this one, too.
Whatever the reason:
So maybe it's not so bad that I look back over my shoulder. As long as I'm making some good memories now to be nostalgic about later, it can't be too bad, right?
"Nostalgia is exceptionally good at making us feel better when times are tough. It’s a little mental pick-me-up that reminds us of good times, good friends and a why it’s great to be alive."