Notes on Nostalgia and Lightening Up

One morning this October, the internet reminded me of a sunrise in my first apartment 4 years ago. My bedroom, all windows, looked east. Fluoro pink, orange and specks of sky blue painted my entire view.

That picture, which I had taken while still in bed, sent me down a spiral of nostalgia for those sunrises and the days I spent in that apartment in my mid-twenties hitting snooze and typing on this same laptop.

It wasn’t the good kind of nostalgia, or maybe it just wasn’t a good day for me to see that photograph. Which is strange, because if 27 year old me knew that 4 years later I’d be here, doing the things I’m doing, I know she would have been all “fuck yes” and such. So why should I feel sad looking at the photographic connection between then and now?

The heaviness I felt for most of October could have had something to do with the rain that poured down over Sydney for weeks on end. It also could have had something to do with refusing to let go of my past whilst trying to piece together a new life here.

Whatever the reason, my facebook memories that day seemed to just add fuel to an already somber state of mind.

The rain was giving me permission to stay inside and put the brakes on. Stay inside and do what I always do when I don’t know how I’m feeling. In The Sound of Paper, a book that has remained in my possession through the years, Julia Cameron explains that writing allows you to meet yourself where you really are.

The day the internet reminded me of how fuzzy and pink my not so distant past was, all I could see were crammed bus rides and dirty city streets and the never-ending chore of unloading the dishwasher. I felt crowded, rushed, nostalgic. Everything unfinished. Everything sort of out of grasp.

“How are you?” felt hard to answer.

And when that’s the case, I hold onto a pencil and a notebook. My most recent writing muse Joan Didion has said, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” 

I write it all out and then sometimes share it here.

The other thing I always run back to, and always helps me meet myself exactly where I am, is my yoga mat.

On the day I was reminded of that October sunrise 4 years ago, I almost didn’t go to yoga, because sometimes whiskey sours trump the 36-minute walk I have to the studio. But I made it there.  It sounds especially woo-woo, but in that particular class, it felt like there were all of these possible answers swirling around me and that I just needed to settle on one. “Everything you need is already inside of you,” they say. “They” usually being yoga teachers or spiritual gurus on Instagram. I’ve read and heard those words in so many ways, in numerous places.

I have learned that sometimes words lose their power when they are used too often. It’s why phrases turn into cliches. It doesn’t mean the words aren’t true, they may have just lost their sparkle.

I had run to my mat and what came to mind at the end of that class, the answer I grabbed onto in my subconscious, was “Lighten up.”

But even more forceful than that. Almost more like, “Lighten the fuck up.”

While not necessarily cliche, I wouldn’t call those words profound in any way. They definitely didn’t sparkle with wisdom. In fact, they sounded more like something a rough-around-the-edges uncle would say to cheer me up.

“Lighten up,” sounded too simple.

But I think simple is sometimes the very thing we need. I was taking everything so seriously. Just ask my boyfriend how mad I got when one night in October I had to eat a nectarine for dinner because a certain food delivery service didn’t have any drivers available and we were too drunk on whiskey to pick up our food from the Vietnamese restaurant.

Infuriated.

I needed to lighten up and I needed a kick in the ass.

So I decided to give it a shot.

After my “Lighten the fuck up” aha moment, I went for post-yoga cocktails instead of rushing home to meal prep. I went to Melbourne for a weekend of soul-nourishing chats with one of my fairy godmothers. I bought a dress. I organized a 40th birthday party. I went to life drawing again. I implemented “Fuck It Tuesdays.”

I came back to myself, again.

“Remembering what it means to be me, that is always the point,” Joan Didion also wrote.

Remembering that it’s not a Vietnamese restaurants fault that I’m tired and homesick. Remembering that it’s okay when things feel hard. Remembering that no one promised easy. Remembering that compared to many, my life has been an emblem of ease.

How is it that this game of lost and found with myself keeps occurring? It’s not an answer that I’ve landed on, or even expect to. Too many women older and wiser have taught me that this kind of soul-searching journey is a never-ending one.

I get distracted by things. Like love, like annoyance, like being 27 and partying. By meeting incredible people, by dating not so incredible people, by ideas, by possible futures, by someone offering me an Aperol.

There is so much enthusiasm, and life, in the things that distract us. I think distractions are good. I think they are largely where life happens, and where it takes interesting turns.

But I’ve been considering, ‘When the distraction subsides, what is left?’

I’ve been thinking about what remains – what we hold onto, no matter what.

The things that make the cut when we reread Marie Kondo and decide to once again, purge the closet and throw away everything that doesn’t spark joy. The items that I stuffed into my suitcase last January. The websites most frequently visited. The curiosities that never cease to make a spot for themselves in my head. The friends we call no matter the time.

Despite circumstantial changes, despite following sparkly things down winding roads, I always seem to come back to certain things. And by things I mean literal objects like certain books and my Oma’s cheese knife. Because they point the way to what matters most to me. And also untouchable things like desires, interests, and the goals that get written down year after year. Because they also point the way.

It’s not that growth isn’t there, or that the distractions aren’t worthwhile. They are in fact, everything. Everything happened for me when I hit pause on my life and got distracted by a stunning coastal walk. Answers, and a hunky long-haired bloke flooded my way.

Maybe what happens is that the winding roads, detours and pauses serve a larger purpose than we realize when we’re stuck in them. Maybe the more of those we live through, the more clear we get on the things that always remain. The parts of us that never stop whispering – this. 

The things, people, curiosities and lessons that never fade away. Are those the answers, always waiting to be found again? The things that appear when everything else gets quiet. When the party is over and I’m home.  When I get off the bus and breathe again.

November has felt so different. Things are looking pink and fuzzy again. They feel, unsurprisingly, a little lighter.

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