I’ve been finding myself nostalgic recently.
This isn’t exactly unusual — I’m a nostalgic person, prone to accidentally losing hours scrolling through old pictures and reminiscing. Sometimes I wonder whether I’d be less nostalgic if I had a better memory. Mine’s terrible, so often, looking through photos like that is the only record I have that things happened at all, that versions of me ever existed.
I’m a chronic re-reader, too — again, my terrible memory can make even frequent rereads rewarding, because inevitably I forget plot points and character details, but even the books I’ve read so many times I have sections practically memorised still feel comforting to go back to. I’ve been this way since I was a kid. Sometimes I don’t feel like embarking on something new: I want a familar world, familiar characters, a story with a rhythm that feels like one of those songs you knew as a child but had forgotten entirely until you heard it again.
But recently the nostalgia’s been reaching new heights. I found myself playing RuneScape — a truly desperate state of affairs, considering how many years it’s been since I last did that. If you’d asked me a month ago, I’d have told you my RS days were firmly back in 2007-08, and yet there I found myself, obsessively training my mining and smithing skills and trying to remember the quickest way from Lumbridge to Port Sarim.
And fanfic, always a source of comfort, has reflected this same nostalgia. I still read considerably more published books than fanfics (at least in terms of wordcount, if not in terms of titles), but I’ve been finding myself spending a lot more time on Ao3 recently… reading Les Mis fanfiction primarily published between 2013 and 2015. It’s not that there aren’t newer fics (the Les Mis fandom has been around in various forms since 1862, they’re not going anywhere), but it’s those older fics that I keep going back to, the dynamics and fanon that I remember from sixth form, when I was more active in the Les Mis fandom and was first dipping my toes into transformative work. Why? I don’t know. Because they’re comforting. Because they feel safe, somehow.
Then there’s music. My music taste has always been fairly eclectic, and I’ll give most things Spotify recommends to me a go, which means I often end up getting really into some obscure band that released one album in 2012 and nothing since. So, okay, I would never describe my playlists as up-to-date or engaged with the zeitgeist or whatever. I’m clueless about new releases and charts (are charts still a… thing?), which isn’t a deliberate refusal of the popular or whatever, just a side-effect of how I engage with music.
But recently, I’ve been regressing. Going back to the albums I loved when I was twelve or thirteen. And, okay, I started writing at 13 and I joined Spotify in 2009 and I’ve been making character playlists just as long, so yes, songs from those albums are still on my writing playlists, and it’s not like I ever stopped listening to them. But I’m pretty sure I haven’t listened to The Black Parade on repeat this much since roughly 2008. In my defence, it’s (a) completely full of bangers and (b) perfect for one of my writing projects, so it’s been helping me through my revisions lately, but that doesn’t change the fact that I found myself singing/yelling along to practically the whole album in my living room the other day, and might have ordered myself a MCR t-shirt as a special treat.
It’s a pandemic. That’s my excuse.
But — that is my excuse. Not to psychoanalyse myself (kidding, I love psychoanalysing myself), but I can’t help thinking this nostalgia is a symptom of all the uncertainty we’re experiencing about the future. Without a way to look forward — because we have no idea what the rest of this year will look like, let alone the impact it’ll have on next year — I’ve found myself looking back, seeking comfort in something familiar.
I saw someone on Twitter saying, “Can’t wait to live in precedented times again.” And I think that’s probably a big part of why I’ve been finding comfort in media that reminds me of the world ten or fifteen years ago. While I’d never choose to live 2007 through again — and would be even less keen to re-experience 2013-14, which was one of the worst periods of my life — it’s the familiarity that feels safe. The fics are set in a ‘modern’ world which is safely contained, separate from the drama and change and uncertainty of reality. RuneScape, while it’s changed a lot since 2007, is a way of whiling away the hours that reminds me of being eleven; it’s untouched and separate from adult reality.
And The Black Parade? Is just a really good album, to be honest.
(But it reminds me of home. It reminds me of my 12th birthday, listening to it on repeat via my old Creative Zen V and docking station, accompanied by the model dragon my sister gave me as a gift, which I’d named Máire. It reminds me of half a dozen characters I spent my teenage years writing about, because I have more writing playlists with MCR songs on them than without. It reminds me of being fifteen and afraid to like anything too visibly, making self-conscious jokes about listening to ’emo’ music because I was afraid to admit what I liked. It reminds me of all my teenage angst, which shouldn’t be comforting, except it is, because I’m not a teenager anymore.)
I’m willing to bet I’m not the only person looking to the past right now. Not just looking at Facebook ‘Memories’ of a year ago as lockdown loomed, or the year before with our normal lives untouched by pandemic, or five years ago to our undergrad days, or whatever. But finding comfort in old hobbies, familiar media, well-loved stories. Not exactly regressing to a past version of ourselves, but leaning on them for strength, because in a world where so much is uncertain and unfamiliar, sometimes you need something that feels safe.
Our unprecedented times keep getting more precedented, the longer this goes on. What was strange and unfamiliar a year ago is now a bleak reality from which it can be hard to see any escape in the near future. But the uncertainty remains: the impossibility of making plans, the constant rescheduling of anticipated experiences, the vagueness about the future.
And when the shape of the future is impossible to discern, perhaps it’s inevitable we’d find comfort in nostalgia.
If you enjoyed this post, please consider buying me a coffee.