Posts Tagged ‘Nostalgia’

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

I’ve always been a nostalgic kind of guy. I enjoy romanticizing the previous iterations of my life.  There is irony in this.  I am a history professor that loves to preach to my students that ‘THERE WAS NEVER A GOOD OL’ DAYS’  It is not much different in my own personal history. Yet, I often romanticize time periods of my own past that I realize were not necessarily good times. Evidently I’m a paradox.

Let’s venture into this strange nostalgia.

  1. Though I was undoubtedly nostalgic at an earlier period in my life, I would say my 9390178-largeoddest nostalgia occurred when I was in college.  Inexplicably at 19, I began to view my high school days through rose-tinted glasses. This made absolutely no sense.  When I was living high school, I hated high school.  I deeply romanticized a time that should not have been nostalgic.
  2. After college was graduate school.  Surprise, surprise; at 23 I could not get enough of college memories. Now, this made more sense. College was a great time; much better than high school! Plus, in comparison to undergrad, graduate school was trying. My desire to succeed began to really take over my life. The pressures of grad school just made any blemishes on my college experience pale in comparison.
  3. I got my advanced degree in 2002. I went looking for a job. Then I found a job.  Oh boy.  My student loans needed to be paid back.  Hmmm… maybe grad school, with it’s bookishness, it’s intellectual stimulation, it’s trips to the library and wide-open schedule wasn’t all that bad after-all. At 27, as a working stiff, the thought of once-stressful grad school made me nostalgic.

From 1999 (grad school) to 2008 (career),  Chicago was my home. Though my university was by no means small, the big city was a bit of a culture shock. My initial nostalgia chicago-image-1for college probably  had as much to do with the location of my university as it did with parties, classes and social life.   The entity of Chicago just added to the stress of school and career life.  Chicago was bills. Chicago was truly being independent for the first time.  Chicago was living with my fiance, paying rent on time, dealing with bad landlords and constantly  taking in stray cats.  All the eras of my life seemed simple compared to Chicago.

Then, in 2008, my wife and I left Chicago. We moved to Oak Park, just to the west of the city.  We bought a  house one block over the Chicago city limits.  My two small daughters were born, and then they started day-care (that bill was like a second mortgage!) Oak Park hasn’t been utopia. Taxes, house repairs and play-dates keep us busy and sweating. Still, I would not want to live anywhere else.  I love our community, our neighbors and our friends. Oak Park is much more home than Chicago ever was.

But, just because a place isn’t home doesn’t mean I can’t be nostalgic for it.

A couple  months ago, I turned a Chicago nostalgia corner. I was given the opportunity to teach the ‘Chicago Urban Experience’ course at RMU, and began to really think about Chicago.  What is the identity of Chicago? How does Chicago shape you? I wanted my students to think about these questions. So it only made sense for me to ask the same questions of myself.

One day, I was on the train reading Neal Steinberg’s memoir about his life in Chicago. Then, GR-Ashland2-10it hit me: That feeling of nostalgia. The feeling put a silly smile on my face. All of a sudden, I find myself doing something unexpected: I am looking around and absorbing Chicago. I look at the faces on the train. I look out the window on the El at the neighborhoods going by.  I pay attention to the beautiful architecture of the loop. Heck, I even enjoyed a Chicago hot dog the other day. The people, the culture, the history of Chicago are wonderful!  This class reminded me that when I lived in Chicago, it wasn’t just stressful, it was also incredibly exciting!  The restaurants, the friends, the unknown. These things are now my romantic past, and the thought of them warms the cockles of my heart.

‘Sweet Home Chicago’. Yeah, I guess it really was that.

 

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By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty.

I watched a lot of movies over the holidays. I went to the theater, visited Redbox, logged onto Netflix, and watched DVDs and Blu-Rays I own. However, there is one thing I didn’t do:

I didn’t go to a video store.

Whenever I visit my parents out in the Chicago ‘burbs, I pass by Orland Video. It’s the video store my family would go to when I was a kid, and it’s one of only two brick and mortar video stores I know of that are still open.

Whenever I drive by, I wonder how – or even why – it is still open. With on-demand digital content and video rental kiosks, who are the customers that are keeping this store alive? Even my parents, who admittedly dislike technology and were the last people I knew who still went to video stores, migrated to Redbox years ago.Orland Video

Yet, the video store is still open, with its same yellow sign glowing at the end of a stripmall – a symbol of different, older times.

I first tried Netflix during my college days. Back then, Netflix mailed out physical copies of DVDs. It was a slow and obnoxious process. Netflix had some perks, but it was still far easier and faster to drive over to the video store. When Netflix first started offering streaming services, technology hadn’t quite caught up with the concept yet. Internet speeds weren’t fast enough – at least they weren’t in my house, or anyone else’s I knew. The movie would take a dreadfully long time to load, then about ten minutes of the movie would play, and it would go right back to the loading screen. Trying to watch a 90 minute movie was more of a three or four-hour process.

However, anyone with common sense knew that as soon as streaming content got faster, the old ways – the video stores – were going to die. And this was before Redbox emerged, adding just one more nail in the video store’s coffin.

These advancements in movie-viewing technology are great: they’re easier, cheaper, and more convenient than the old ways.

Still, we’ve lost something with the demise of the video store. They were more than just a place to rent movies and video games.

They were a part of the family. On Fridays, once the school week was over, my dad and I would go to the video store to wander the aisles. I could rent movies or video games, and he would rent a movie for him and mom to watch. He’d notoriously pick anything that was labeled as “Funny” on the box, my mom wouldn’t like it, and he’d defend himself by saying, “But the box said it was hilariously funny.” The weekend was then coming to a close officially when someone, usually mom, would ask, “Did anyone remember to return the videos?”

Video stores were a part of the neighborhood community. At their peak, videos stores were everywhere, so each drew from the neighborhoods immediately around it. Thus, there was always a good chance of bumping into neighbors and friends. Also, the employees and owners would get to know all the regulars. The video store was a place for familiar faces.

Video stores were a hangout for friends. Especially in my teens, I made countless trips with my brother and his friends, or with my friends, to the video store. The trip wasn’t just about picking a movie – usually a B-movie that we suspected would be so bad it would be good. The trip was about being together, discussing movies, arguing over what to pick, and figuring out who could rent the movies since most of us had late charges on our own accounts that we didn’t want to pay.

With the rise of smartphones, there are plenty of people and studies that bemoan how the technology – which is incredibly beneficial – has led to a decrease in social interaction. I, like most anyone else, wouldn’t give up my smartphone, but it’s hard to ignore some of the negative effects the technology has had, especially for those of us who lived before smartphones were in everyone’s hands.

Similarly, video stores are another, less-often cited, example of a decline in community due to an increase in technology.

Just as I wouldn’t give up my smartphone, I wouldn’t opt to go back to the old ways of the video store. At its most basic function, the video store was to rent movies, and we now have better, faster, easier ways to do that.

But, whenever I see that old yellow sign on the video store, I can’t help but get a bit nostalgic about the fun times that have been left behind with our technological step forward.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

“When was your family’s tradition invented?,” I asked my student.  She was dumbfounded by my query.  “What do you mean?” she replied.  It was the first class in my food history course a couple years ago when this conversation took place.  The class had been discussing the meaning of food, and how food is central to our traditions.  When I asked my student about her family’s Thanksgiving tradition, and when it was invented, the question didn’t register.  For her, the tradition went back long before her birth, and was timeless.  There was no beginning; there would not be an end. After reminding her that it must have been created at some point, I could see her mind was just a little bit blown, for better or worse.

The idea that traditions are ‘invented’ does seem odd.  Traditions often feel as though their creation is organic; a natural occurrence.  In his essay titled “The Invention of Tradition”, the late, great British historian Eric Hobsbawm 28005218343illustrated that they are actually social constructions that have a definitive purpose.  His contention was that traditions shared by citizens of a state are a much needed ingredient in the formation of national consciousness, and that since the French Revolution, when our notions of the modern nation took form, the invention of national traditions has taken off. Shared national traditions help transform disparate individuals into a connected community.

Hobsbawm was concerned with the macro view. At the individual, micro level, traditions are just as important. If they didn’t exist, we would need to invent them; and, we do. We, as humans, simply love tradition.  No matter our political stances, we are inherently drawn to our traditions.  We depend upon them.  When traditions fall away in time, we mourn them.  As a parent, I have seen this love of tradition develop.

My girls are now 6 and a half, and almost 5 years old.  Both love tradition, though the older one is definitely more concerned with it.  During the last couple years, she has latched onto traditions that, in her mind, must be upheld.  Now, you may think this is crazy.  How could a girl love tradition if she only has been alive for some six years, and really only remembers about 2 to 3 years of her life?  Perhaps it is my influence; perhaps she is a wistful soul; perhaps it is biological?  I don’t know, but her need for tradition is obvious.

5409238621_bdc3493eb7Last month, my wife took the two girls camping for a couple weeks at her family’s traditional vacation spot in Michigan.  As my wife’s family has been going to this spot to camp for 50 odd years, the two weeks spent there are all about tradition.  My daughter senses this, and eats it up.  She has quickly become one of the enforcers of upholding certain traditions.  The whole family must, and I mean must, go to House of Flavors for food and ice cream a couple times during the vacation.  We must watch the big ships come in from the lake, playing on the large playground as we wait for their arrival.  We must run down the big sand dune outside the ranger station immediately after we enter the park.  Events, foods, and experiences will inevitably be repeated each year, and my girls already realize this.

Traditions form during the special times of our lives.  If my daughters ran down a sand hill every day, it would no longer be tradition; it would be habit, or routine. It is the rarity and repetitiveness that sanctifies the annually  repeated vacation moments. Similarly, this is why holiday traditions are so endearing and necessary. My daughters already have created their own holiday traditions. For instance, my older girl has made it clear that her birthday party must be at grandma and grandpa’s house, since this has been our tradition since she was two years old.  Likewise, since that first party, we have ordered pizza from the same restaurant, so that must continue.  And don’t forget that grandma must make a strawberry birthday cake.  If her mom or I mention having a different type of party for her birthday, she is fine with that….as long as we have her real party at grandma and grandpa’s.

The Sandhill - My Girls are going up.

The Sandhill – My Girls are going up.

As I have mused on my daughters’ love of traditions, I wonder if the eventual death of our traditions is what leads to that odd feeling known as nostalgia.  Nostalgia is bittersweet. It is melancholic and, yet, heartwarming. Nostalgia does not form when we have a memory of the random past events of our lives.  We only feel nostalgia when we look back, and feel a strong reminiscence for something recognizable, repeated and safe. I think my girls are going to feel this most for their inevitably lost traditions.

By Jenny Jocks Stelzer, English Faculty. 

I remember as a child standing in the mall parking lot, thinking about breakfast. “Mmmm. What smells like waffles?”  I asked my mom. She explained that that delicious smell was antifreeze leaking from the car. Let me tell you, Eggos and Aunt Jemima are not the tools with which to disabuse a child of that notion. Indeed, that breakfast smells uncannily similar to a leaky automobile.

Gross. For some reason, many of my childhood memories revolve around the smells of cars and food, and, disconcertingly (now), those smells are often interchangeable. I remember the sharp plasticky smell of the inside of my parents’ blue Chevy station wagon, which made me think of Smoke-Y-Links (and kind of gave me a headache, to tell you the truth), and I remember pulling into the gas station and breathing deeply the stingy, eye-watering smell that makes me think of Combos and pop (my high school lunch). I also remember watching the waves emanate from the vehicles all around us in a McDonald’s drive thru (not “through”): hot asphalt and fries.

Blech. Now, this post isn’t just about how gross car smells remind me of gross food. It’s about memory.  Much of what I remember about growing up seems to have had to do with being in the car and eating processed foods. I grew up in Mid-Michigan. My stay-at-home-mom was 25 and had 3 small kids to feed while she worked to keep her family and her house in order through buying things at stores (and my dad worked, building cars). In the 1980’s, that meant driving around a lot and eating convenience foods because there was no option to do things any other way: life was too busy. This, of course, was painstakingly designed and unabashedly sold.

Ick. “You, harrowed housewife and busy working man, are FAR too busy for the things that slow life down (growing food, locomoting sans vehicle). Don’t you worry, little lady; we’ve got you covered.”  Thus, we got a country built for cars, and a brand-new (note that descriptor) mindset: convenience.

Thirty years later, we know that those mad men were bs-ing us, and we know two things:

  1. The food that was created and processed (instead of cultivated and cooked) to save us time has brought us epidemics of obesity and cancer, and the notion that someone else should be providing sustenance for our families.
  2. The machine that gets each of us going quickly and bestows upon us independence theretofore unknown, has brought us polluted air, an insatiable thirst for a limited resource, and the notion that we are each in this alone.

So, why do we keep it up? Why do we continue to eat foods that are made from the cheapest, grossest stuff possible and are dangerous to us and damaging to our land and water? Why do we continue to demand to move ourselves around with a 2-ton machine that makes dangerous the air we breathe and helps to change our climate? I think it’s because we don’t yet know the third thing:

  1. We are NOT so busy that we must sacrifice our earth, our health, and our happiness for convenient eating and swift transportation.

“Oh, I would LOVE to grow some of my own food…ride a bike…shop locally…etc., but I simply don’t have the time!”

Sure, it feels that way. We’ve got kids to raise and jobs to do and stuff to buy and television to watch and more money to make and more stuff to buy and more driving to do and…etc. Of course. But, really, we act in accordance with what we value.

The interesting thing is that these are all fond memories for me. I enjoyed the time I spent with my family doing the things that we did. The point is that our world has changed, so we need to change with it. I don’t want to raise my kids in the car headed to McDonald’s or Dominick’s. I want their memories to be of the time we spent growing our own food and getting ourselves around on our bikes. I don’t want them to simply believe that that cinnamon roll and/or chocolate smell wafting over Chicago and the ‘burbs is just some little bakery getting ready for their day. It’s the antifreeze leaking from that car that just passed us, or something way grosser.