Monday, May 11, 2009

Corresponding With Nostalgia


Nostalgia's a fact of life because it springs from routine, it provides an easy if illusory alternative to bothersome change, and it may be legitimately related to things that worked pretty well in our lives. Things in the past were not necessarily worse, even though our tendency is to over-estimate them (arguably).
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In my case, an example of the latter (things worked all right) would be . . . the post office. In a relatively remote mountain-town, the post-office provided one obvious link to the world at large. It provided one of the most stable routine's of the day--going to get the mail.
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I inherited my father's 1969 Ford F-100 pickup, which I am steadily refurbishing but not restoring; he purchased it new, and by 1997, when we left us, he had put fewer than 50,000 miles on it. Here's a rough guess: at least 25% of those miles were put on when he drove the truck to town to "get the mail." (We had no rural delivery, except of a newspaper or two.) The round-trip was probably around 3 miles.
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I also remember liking the musty smell of the old post office; oddly enough, my dad helped build the new post-office (which is now old), including a nice stone-facade in which he embedded venerable gold-mining implements. I also liked the highly ritualized transactions of buying stamps, getting mail-orders, opening the wee mailbox, and so on.
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One ritual that still obtains in the town is that, when someone dies--especially after a long illness and even if they have moved away--someone attaches a notice of the event to the glass doors of the post office. Email and voice-mail have yet to replace this mode of communication that precedes an official obituary.
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Post-offices still seem busy, but I suspect they're far less busy with personal correspondence, which is delivered via various incarnations of phones and computers (and phones are computers). At the same time, neuroscientists might argue (I guess) that nostalgia is a matter of electrons, too--located in the electrical wiring of our brains.
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A wee ballad, at any rate (and postal rates always go up; why, in my day, a stamp cost only . . .):
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Corresponding With Nostalgia
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The correspondence used to be
Composed of pulp and ink,
Now seems elaborate and slow,
Indeed antique, I think.
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The mail comes digitally now,
Encoded on the air.
Yes, personality persists.
And no, it itsn't fair
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To say we write robotically.
The wait and weight of post--
The palpability of what
I read, I miss the most.

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Yet now I'm totally plugged in,
Am tethered to my screens.
I send and post, receive and text.
("Text" now's a verb, it seems.)
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A letter to Nostalgia, yes:
I think that's what I'll write.
It will come back: "No such address."
Electrons are Nostalgia's site.
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Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom
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