Feelings of Nostalgia During Lockdown

Searching this phrase turns up some interesting results on Google. I’m not the only one feeling nostalgic at the moment. Lockdown is having a big effect on people, creating mental space for reflection, and for many, nostalgia is proving to be an effective coping mechanism as we try to process the daily death tolls.

Hay-on-Wye, 2019.

I’ve always enjoyed the experience of nostalgia. That bittersweet feeling of happy memories mixed with a sense of time lost forever. When the UK went into lockdown at the end of March, it didn’t take me long to start losing myself in daydreams about the past.

It all started when I had to write a few simple Java programs to help me understand a technical issue I was having at work. I haven’t been a programmer for many years, and writing code again felt very therapeutic. It reminded me of my younger self, my first computer, my first job, the old Apricot Xen I used at the office back then, and of course the freedom I enjoyed from earning my own money.

Lots of memories from that time started coming back to me, probably because my mind had room to wander instead of worrying whether the Central Line was running, or whether my train would leave Euston on time come Thursday afternoon.

Lockdown has been easing for a few weeks now in the UK, but my feelings of nostalgia haven’t.

Some of my memories have been so powerful I wanted to record them, so I started writing a semi-autobiographical story. A scene I wrote recently was a simple recollection of my weekly trips out to a local branch of Kentucky Fried Chicken, and the friends I went with. I was surprised at how much detail I could recall when I thought about it. I could remember snippets of conversation, songs on the car stereo, my friends singing along to evocative tunes from my youth.

A day after writing the scene I was driving to my first riding lesson in nearly ten weeks when my iPhone decided to shuffle play The Boy With The Thorn in His Side by The Smiths. So many emotions hit me at once. I burst into tears.

Nostalgia is a powerful thing. It can make us happy, but at the same time make us sad. That’s what makes it so special. It’s not just the act of reminiscing, it’s a feeling, an experience in itself. Definitely something worth bottling.

Photographic dreams

When I’ve been doing quite a lot of intense photography, I find I suffer from strange photographic dreams. There are far worse dreams I could have, but these photographic dreams are particularly frustrating because it’s in the dreams that I seem to be making my best pictures!

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There isn’t really a beginning or end to the dream, I just suddenly become aware that I am taking pictures. There’s always a wonderful supply of subjects right on hand without having to wander around for hours. It feels like I’ve walked into ‘photo land’ where every street is amazing and filled with great-looking people who want to be photographed. I’m snapping away and saying all the right things and the people are really responsive and the backdrops are amazing and I know the pictures I’m getting are fantastic.

I’m fully aware all this is a dream, and I keep telling myself to remember this stuff and put it into practice, try to remember the framing, the angles, the expressions, etc. However, when I wake up it’s all gone. All that remains is the memory that I had a dream in which I was very energised, and taking amazing photographs, one after the other.

Apparently William Eggleston has similar dreams, so I know I’m not alone:

Often…I have these.. I call them ‘photographic dreams.’ They’re just one beautiful picture after another – which don’t exist. A short time later I don’t remember them. I just remember being very happy during the dream… Always in color.

I wonder how many other photographers experience these.

Finding your purpose in life

This thought kind of follows on from this one, where I question the reliability of asking yourself to think back to when you were at your happiest. While I still think it’s near impossible to answer this question – and indeed find your purpose in life – I do think there are some questions you can ask that will help you on your way.

This list of seven strange questions from Mark Manson is particularly interesting.

I especially like questions #2, #3, #4, #6, and #7…

  • What is true about you today that would make your eight year-old self cry?
  • What makes you forget to eat and poop?
  • How can you better embarrass yourself? (This one needs some explaining, so read the article by Mark).
  • If you had to leave the house all day every day, where would you go and what would you do?
  • If you knew you were going to die one year from today, what would you do and how would you want to be remembered?
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Probably still not going to give you reliable answers – because your thoughts will always be coloured by recent experiences – but an interesting exercise in navel gazing nonetheless!

Why you don’t really know when you were at your happiest

I had an interesting conversation with a client recently. She was advocating the practice of sitting quietly and asking yourself to think back to when you were at your happiest. The idea is that when you find that moment, you should plan your life to go forward in that direction.

While this is a nice idea in principle, I think it’s fundamentally flawed because we can’t reliably determine when we were at our happiest.

At any given moment, our thoughts and decisions are coloured by what is going on, or what has recently gone on around us. This uncontrollable mental filter changes the way we think, so with such grand questions it’s highly likely we will come to different answers on different days.

The only way to reliably determine when we are/were at our happiest is to engage third parties for triangulation. Yes, we can come to a decision on our own, but would independent observers reach the same decision?

Keeping a journal or blog can help, but our interpretation of what we have written can again be coloured by recent events.

An independent viewpoint is key. The difficult part is finding the observer who has known you long enough, and well enough, to be objective and honest.