The Perversity of Nostalgia

The grass is always greener, they say. But you know what? “They” have never had to play croquet on this weed-ridden gopher-chewed patch of crabgrass, and they’ve certainly never peered over my fence and taken in the sight of that glorious English garden, the one with the beautiful white lambs strolling about.

Up until about a week ago, that’s how I would have described how I felt living in New York while seeing friends and family live in Utah. And then I got the job of my dreams in Utah. And almost immediately after making the decision to take the job, I started walking around the patch of crabgrass, running my fingers lovingly along the tumbleweeds and holding a bewildered gopher in a tender, tearful embrace. Plus, I now have it on good authority that the lambs over the fence have a rare form of albinism, and that the hedges of the English garden have to be pruned twice a week.

tumbleweed_004

I know that I said this place was terrible – repeatedly and often violently over the course of many years – but I now see that it’s quite beautiful.

I’ve wanted to leave New York in varying degrees since the day I got here almost exactly six years ago. There was no honeymoon for me and New York. I chose a graduate school here not because it was in New York but in spite of it. I watched virtually all of my friends who came to New York when I did fall deeply in love with the place, and then I watched nearly all of them leave. These friends fell into several different categories:

Category 1: “It was only 8 months, but it was enough to enable me to tell people for the rest of my life that I’m a New Yorker! And believe me, I will have plenty of chances to do that, because my spacious home in Utah is decorated top to bottom with pictures of ‘The City,’ as we locals call it.”

Category 2: “I lived in New York for 2 seasons, I mean years. I said ‘seasons’ because I moved here in the first place because I watched “Felicity” during my formative years, and because of that I’ve thought of New York as the backdrop for my own personal TV show. I walked down many a New York street late at night with my hands in my pockets and a contemplative look on my face (while dressed in an adorable pea coat with a bright scarf!). But after two seasons I decided it was time to relocate the show back to Mesa.”

Category 3: “I’m here for reasons beyond bragging rights and Keri Russel’s undeniably adorable hair, and once I’ve logged 2 – 4 years at my job/school, I’m out of here.”

4felicity5

I love her hair so much that in 15 years it will be the primary motivating factor behind a major decision that will have ramifications throughout the rest of my life.

Every time someone departed, the lucky soon-to-be-former New York resident would look at me and chuckle, reveling in the irony that I, New York’s smallest fan, was staying while they, who were so in looooooooove with “The City” moved to my personal promised land.

I know, rationally, that I hate New York and that I love Utah; there are hundreds of witnesses and reams of documentary evidence that can attest to these facts. I remember very clearly three weeks back when I stood outside of Ryan’s house on a summer’s evening, overcome by a desire to live in Utah that was so powerful that it felt very nearly like physical pain. The job I’m taking is one I didn’t even believe existed and is as perfect for me as a job could be (with the obvious exception of the guy in the Navy who conducts warfare via a wave runner, and also occasionally uses shoulder-fired missiles to destroy enemy speedboats; or a professional longboarder who is paid by sponsors and loved by fans not because he is good at longboarding, but because his mediocrity is so very hard-won).

So why, in light of all this, am I so sad about leaving? It isn’t because I fear I’ve made the wrong decision, because I don’t. It’s because I am terribly, horribly, congenitally nostalgic. Once people, places, and times are gone from my life, I miss them intensely. Even people, places, and times that I didn’t particularly care for when they were a part of my life. Why would I miss people, places, and times that I didn’t like or enjoy as I was experiencing them? Several interrelated reasons, the first being that, when it comes to the past, the negative fades and the positive becomes heightened. Broke my arm at a picnic when I was 6? Remember how good that fried chicken was??!!!! Hit by a car when I was 14? Remember how the pavement used to smell? It smells so much better than the stuff they use now. That stuff seriously smelled amazing.

The second reason is expressed perfectly in FDR’s statement regarding Nicaraguan despot and all-around terrible person Antonio Somoza, of whom FDR said, “Somoza may be an SOB, but he’s our SOB.” I miss things and people from my past that I didn’t like because they were, for better or for worse, a part of my life. Good or bad, they’re mine.

somozap

I can’t decide whether I should compare Somoza to my old boss or my first semester of graduate school.

The third and final reason is the most important, and also the simplest: I miss things I didn’t like because they are gone. We’re programmed to want things that are scarce more than things that are plentiful, and nothing is as scarce as something that is entirely gone. Nostalgia is primarily driven by the fact that times that are past, people that are dead, and places that are far away are unavailable to us. We simply can’t get to them, and so we long for them.

And so it is for me with New York right now. I thought the intensity and consistency of my dislike for the place would be sufficient to render it an exception to my lifelong tendency towards debilitating nostalgia, but I was wrong. (And if you think this is bad, you should see me with things that I actually did like. Actually, the fact that you read this blog means you have seen that, as DDDT is a wholly owned subsidiary of Nostalgia, Inc.) New York is a terrible place, but for six years, it was my terrible place, and as much as it pains me to say it, I’m going to miss it.

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28 Responses to The Perversity of Nostalgia

  1. Eliza says:

    Oh Davis, that is painful, I totally relate. and wow lol to this post, so many great lines, “ebracing a gopher, felicity hair, “the city”, so funny. great stuff, and finally may I say, WOO HOO, you are finally returning to the promised land!

  2. Maweesa says:

    I’m trying to compose myself and get my tears under control before I get called into court. You forgot to mention all of the good times we’ve had over the last few years

  3. Macy Bell says:

    I knew when Ryan got a text from you about S&G’s Bleeker Street you were going through your dramatic goodbye from New York. I remember crying and crying as I drove away from my apartment in DC knowing that even if I moved back there my life as I knew it there would never be the same.

    Whether you love somewhere or not it is always hard to say goodbye. I am one of those people that sort of has a hard time with change so even the smallest thing like Rex leaving a school year, teacher, etc willl almost bring me to tears. Provo is a perfect example. Is anyone dying to live there? Is anyone dying to stay when it is time to leave? Probably not, but it was hard to say goodbye, and for that reason I will always love visiting because of all the things that happened there. It will always a special place in my heart I guess.

    Great post!

  4. Andrea W. says:

    LOVE this post and I second Eliza about so many hilarious lines. Your sentimenal and nostalgic side is perhaps one of my favorite things about you. I think Melissa and Macy are right in that so you may not have ever loved NY but so many good friends, meeting and falling in love with Melissa, having your first…dog etc. It’s definitely the end of an era and that’s always a little bittersweet. It’s the same reason every time I’m pregnant a big part of me gets really sad for my current baby even though I’m so excited to have another one.

  5. Christian says:

    Good thoughts. Very true that our memories and experiences can be SOB’s, but they’re out SOB’s, so we love them in retrospect.

    But don’t worry, you are going to get here during a pretty time in Utah and feel nostalgic about it here, then in January and February you’ll be nostalgic about living anywhere else, but then in May you’ll be nostalgic about Utah again, until next January.

  6. Macy Bell says:

    And I do expect to see a full wall of 16×20 black and white photos of New York City, and don’t forget the Brooklyn Bridge on your largest wall in your new apartment here in SLC. You guys deserve it!

  7. Kyle M says:

    Great post… I’d rather share my city with Felicity fans than with Gossip Girl fans. The good days are gone!

  8. Bryan H. says:

    As Don Draper opined on Sunday, “We’re flawed because we want so much. We’re ruined because we get these things and wish for what we had.” When I think back to law school my stomach churns, my chest tightens … and I miss it. Nostalgia is weird.

    Still, you know that one time when Alderaan was destroyed and millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced? When Utah found out you were moving here, it was just the opposite of that. The state is happy to have you back.

  9. Davis says:

    Lize, WOO HOO, indeed.

    Maweesa, the good times are for next week’s post.

    Macy, Bleeker Street is killing me right now. I’m glad to know I’m not the only oversentimentalist out there. So funny about the black and white photos. Spot on.

    Andrea, those are really good points, and make me feel better about being so irrational.

    Kook, I guarantee you that Jan/Feb in Utah will confirm my decision not to be in New York during Jan/Feb there.

    Kyle, I hadn’t considered that in 5 – 10 years New York will be overrun with GG fans. Terrifying.

  10. Mallory Bell says:

    I loved reading this, I feel like this all the time in life. I am going to miss you guys. I hope I get to see you guys one more time before you leave! I wanted to leave Utah so badly but I am feeling a little jealous that you get to go back and I have only been here a little over 2 months… I might see you there soon.

  11. Ben Pratt says:

    Congrats on the new job! Also congrats on writing a post!

    Cami and I had a wonderful friend/mentor advise us early in our marriage to treasure our time in school and graduate school. Besides the Nostalgia (TM), there was definitely a sense of simplicity that is forever gone now. We sure enjoyed it while it lasted.

    It’s this same perverse side of nostalgia that leads people to become Facebook friends with the kids from high school who actively despised them.

  12. Oh man, the Navy guy about did me in. You summed it all up perfectly. I’m glad you’ve got your dream job and get to live near family and friends. We’re trying to decide where in the heck we’re going to end up and nostalgia is weaseling its way into our minds and making us want to go back to CA, even though it’s a disaster of a state. But it has the beach…and so many fond childhood memories! Just ask Zack about all those times he walked to Circle K and grabbed a hot dog and slurpee amid the homies and walked to the overpass to signal the big trucks to honk.

  13. Braden says:

    Great post, Dave. Very funny lines–and very wise, too, about nostalgia. I share the ability to nostalgize almost anything with you. However, leaving NYC was–and remains–one of the happiest days of my life. I have almost no nostalgia for that stinky, sweltering, insane place–although I miss some people. Odd, since I am usually a nostalgia maniac.

  14. Braden says:

    P.S. Miss the Chinese food, too.

  15. Troy says:

    You guys are going to be just like Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker in “Did You Hear About The Morgans?**”!! It’s a hilarious tale of two New Yorkers who are forced to move west in the witness protection program. The resulting culture clash is just a riot! And SPOT ON! I wish I could just follow you two around as you discover all of the idiosyncratic nuances of the west!

    **One of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. Yes, I knew SJP was in it when we rented it. It was the wife’s turn at Redbox.

  16. Carl says:

    First time caller, long time fan here. Best of luck to you and Melissa in Utah. You’re a good man.

  17. Rob says:

    Good on ya. And I am so much the same. I get nostalgic about everything. Especially terrible things. That being said, I’m pretty sure I’d go inactive if I had to live in Utah County. And then I’d get nostalgic for that time I was active. I’d be a mess.

  18. Katie Holmstead says:

    I had no idea you were leaving! We never did dinner. This is by far my most favorite post you have written thus far…I LOVE how you so genuisly point out the reasons people move to this city and their reasons for either wanting to stay or go…(my favorites are the ones that have lived here for 2 weeks only to chnage their profile pic to them at Yankee stadium decked out in Yankee gear complete with the hat). Having said that, I think that your sadness upon leaving NY has more to do with just pure nostalgia…I think you mr. Davis Bell…mr. West coaster might just actually LIKE it out here. Even if it’s just a little light, let’s face it, I think you saw it. There is no City in the world better then NYC and I can say that because I have left, but have no returned….for good ( oh and with West coast man by my side).

  19. annie says:

    perverse nostalgia: i’m living abroad for a yr and that oasis wonderwall song came on the radio while i was on the bus. i didn’t like the song in 1995 – it was a dislike that intensified and neared facial tics with each thousanth time it played and/or someone mentioned how awesome it was – it was like elaine and the english patient. but hearing it in peru almost made me cry, i was so happy to hear it …you know, it’s not a bad song.
    love this site!

  20. Maweesa says:

    I have to admit felicity was at least half of the reason I moved
    to the big city.. I get nostalgic for the good old days of felicity and Ben all
    the time.

  21. Davis says:

    Bryan, that’s such a great line, isn’t it? I also loved, “People tell us who they are, but we don’t listen because we want them to be who we want them to be.” I’m glad Utah isn’t crying out in terror.

    Mallory, I know, it’s so sad that we’re leaving you here all alone. I think, though, if you stick it out (in the right situation) you’ll be glad.

    Ben, thanks. That’s a great point about Facebook.

    Danica, we just got back from California, and man, I love that place. If our families weren’t in Utah that’d be where I’d want to be. And you know what? I will ask Zack about those times at Circle K.

    Brade, I’m hoping that when the day comes I’ll feel the same way. Oh, and I can guarantee I’m going to miss the food here. Best in the world.

    Troy, I though the joke behind that movie was that Hugh Grant was married to a horse. That was SJP?

    Carl, what a pleasant surprise. Thanks for the good wishes – you’re a better man than I for sticking it out in NYC. But then, you and CK have that sophisticated urban vibe going that we never did.

    Rob, that is frankly a very serious concern for both of us. We’ll keep you posted.

    Katie, I know, bummer. I hope you’re wrong, but you . . . may be right. Don’t tell anyone I said that. Especially West Coast Man.

    Annie, welcome. Where in Peru are you? I spent an amazing summer there. Anyway, your example is a perfect demonstration of what I’m talking about.

    Maweesa, let’s keep that one the down low, OK?

  22. Katie says:

    Also Davis, I have to say…living in CA for two years I saw the west coast light. It took at least two years to accept that I was back east again….I think that it is possible to LOVE both, BUT having lived in London, San Fransisco, Boston and Salt Lake City, I stand by my word that there is NO better city then NYC…BAR NONE, but I get the west coast love too…who knew we would ever find common ground on this? I am excited for you and your new adventures…keep us posted on everything.

  23. Joe says:

    Loved this post! Walking through a dirty alley that smelled of urine in downtown SLC the other day brought back memories of “the city”. Not sure I would call it nostalgia though.

  24. Layne says:

    Nice post Davis. I have some burning questions though–

    What about Ron? Are you bringing him west with you?

  25. Andrew says:

    First time commenter, long time reader. Great post. I have been debilitatingly nostalgic many times. Particularly between the ages of 17 to 24. That included of course, each mission transfer, and even some meals, (okay, many meals.) Very well articulated about scarcity etc, you nailed it.

    But, I only have two points to make. I have never met your wife, but I cannot agree more with her that you left out all the good times you have had together there. Wasn’t she the single highlight above all, and didn’t that make the pain of New York worth it? Wasn’t it more romantic than even Felicity in August Rush? Come on, throw her a bone. Am I just trying to get you in trouble for not bringing her into this? Probably, but then again, back to a long past discussion. Elizabeth reads half my email before I even get it, and I kind of like the fact that I live my life through a certain spousal filter. Maybe it keeps me from the lowest form of me that I could fall back too, who knows. Anyway, if she wrote a post like this about Washington, DC, I would fully expect a little more credit.

    Second: what about the 4th category of temporary New Yorkers. These are the people that became immediate lifelong Yankee fans during their first week there, with paraphernalia to prove it. Didn’t anyone become passionate about the Mets, or even the Knicks or the Jets, I don’t seen anyone return to Utah with a New York Football Giants hat or bumper sticker.

  26. Davis says:

    Katie, that we have found common ground on that is truly amazing. And I should note that it was with you that I watched Felicity the only times I’ve ever watched it.

    Joe, that’s what I”m hoping happens to me: remembrance and relief, rather than nostalgia.

    Layne, he’s already there. (Hence the real reason for the move.)

    Andrew, I have a separate “highlights” post coming. I didn’t want to dilute the theme of this post (or make it 6,000 words). And yes, the Yankees phenomenon is super, super annoying weird. For what it’s worth, I have a Mets hat.

  27. Erin says:

    What a great post! Though I never lived in “the city” i certainly know the nostalgia you speak of, I now have that kind of nostalgia for a place in Oregon I will always love. The memories we made there will forever hold a special place in my heart. But we are so happy we are here. Congrats on your new job. Good luck in all the new adventures that await!

  28. Macy Bell says:

    I think it is a major dis that the first time Andrew comments on DDDT is on one of Davis’ posts and not well Ryan’s?? C’mon.

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