Thoughts on Nostalgia

I found my journal from high school, and it was a really wholesome, nostalgic experience.

By Katie Powers | @katiepowers_6

Last night, I fell headfirst into a pit of nostalgia and spent some time reconnecting with my sixteen-year-old self. I could not shake how connected I felt to my past, so I did the only thing I knew how to do to process all of this: I sat down to write.

It all started when I couldn’t find a piece of paper with my mailbox number written on it tucked away in the contents of my entirely disorganized desk. I never found what I was looking for, but I did empty out and reorganize the mounds of crap that I’ve accumulated during my last three semesters of college. Let me tell you, folks: I have too much free time, and I found piles of gold in what objectively looked like garbage.

There were the classics, of course. Old movie ticket stubs, a bus ticket from a weekend away from Emerson at a friend’s house, and a bag of miscellaneous vitamins. I know, I know: those items do not sound exciting at all, but I kind of think they are. The way my brain works is that even the smallest things (like bags of old vitamins, apparently) can send me off, leaving me lost in old memories.

I can look at almost any item in my room and assign some sort of sentimental value to it. This is a trait I both love and hate about myself. While I love that I can find some meaning in the smallest of things, I also know that it can cause me to get too bogged down in the details at times. This is all to say that when I found literal folders of loose poetry and prose from old literature classes and books I both have and have not read, I was ecstatic. I spent time reading through poems that had made me furrow my brow in confusion during my first semester of college. Questions and comments filled the margins, at times the ink bleeding into something unreadable. Oh, Judy Grahn, Pat Parker, Marilyn Hacker, and Mary Oliver, how I grappled with your work.

The next, and last, item I found caused what I am now thinking of as an explosion of nostalgia within my core being. Folks, I found my journal from high school—a purple, college-ruled notebook that looks worn. Whew, lots to unpack. I used this little baby for the first time during my summer before sophomore year of high school and filled it with some of (truly) the worst poetry I’ve ever read in my life. It’s okay though, I didn’t know any better. It was my outlet. I was misunderstood and emotional and contemplative (isn’t that how people say teens are?), and I needed somewhere to write shitty poetry.

The beginning of the notebook has a disclaimer (presumably for if my mom or someone else picked up the notebook) assuring everyone that I was completely fine, I just sometimes needed to write sad poetry. Okay, past Katie, okay.

Flipping through the notebook was quite the experience. I was taken back to a very different time in my life. I’m making fun of myself a bit in this piece, but this notebook is really where I worked out a lot of my feelings and frustrations during my time in high school. I have a timeline of events worked out in a way: friend breakups, my very first heartbreak, the moment I realized I wanted to write (like for real), the day I realized soccer did not make me happy anymore, moments that I felt really alone, and the times I felt despondent over the president’s bigotry or the country’s inaction on gun violence.

The last page of my notebook was from last December, dated a lot later than the previous entries. I don’t remember writing it, or even having my notebook around to write in, but all it says is “I miss Ellen.” My aunt passed away in July of 2018, and I guess I was feeling particularly reflective about her on the day of my last entry.

Tucked between and stapled within the notebook’s pages were pages ripped from other journals, poems and stories printed out from my notes app, and letters from old teachers, friends, and family members. I think I wanted everything to be together—a complete collection of all of my thoughts and feelings. I was always so afraid someone would find my notebook and flip through its pages, finding out that I was someone who felt really deeply all the time. Then, my secret would be out: I cared, and I feared that made me too vulnerable. How could I maintain control of my life if I could not even control my own emotions? And, worse, what if people knew I had no control?

That notion of hiding emotions from others is not unique in any way, but it made looking through this notebook all the more impactful for me. I felt proud of my past self, for finding an outlet. I also felt sad for her, for keeping so many of these feelings hidden. More than anything, I’m happy that I have learned to be more open with the people I love and continued to use writing as an outlet.

Finding this little piece of myself, in many ways, reminded me of why I began writing. I am so terrified of forgetting my life. I know that, as I get older, it is inevitable that I will drift apart from friends and that people close to me will eventually die—that I will eventually die. I become so caught up in the future sometimes, that I feel nostalgic for memories and people who are still in my life. I look ahead to a time when I fear they may be gone from my life in one way or another, and that can make me incredibly sad.

Diving into the past last night comforted me in a way. Of course, I have drifted away from and lost people since I started writing in that notebook, but I’m coming to terms with the normalcy of this. And, my shitty poetry helped me reflect on those years without feeling too much despair for old friends and old memories that aren’t as clear in my head anymore. So often, I fall into the trap of feeling like the stakes could not be higher with mundane happenings in my life. I become fixated on what everything means and what it might mean to me in the future. The time I spent with my notebook last night helped me to remember that it is okay for aspects of my life to change—that it is, in fact, a good and necessary part of life.

If you have an old notebook with shitty poetry lying around, do yourself a favor and give it a read to reconnect with your past, incredibly angsty self. If you’re like me, it may give you some much-needed perspective and remind you to not take everything so goddamn seriously.