Backward, turn backward, oh Time in thy flight… by Deb Katie

(This week’s theme is “Back to School.” I never was much of a first day of school junkie, so I thought I’d turn it on its head a little.)

I’m hopelessly nostalgic. It’s pretty sad. I can even make myself nostalgic for the present. In college, I used to walk across the campus and notice the way the brick buildings cut into the deep blue of the sky and think, with a deliciously tragic chill running up my spine, “Someday I’ll really miss these beautiful mornings.”

I had a great time in high school, probably because I went to a hippie-dippy arts school. I was in the least exotic of all programs: the utilitarian “Communication Arts” department, so I wasn’t required to break into song or dance on cars. The atmosphere was very laid back, because we all—students and staff—had it pretty good, and we knew it. I made good friends and had good times and learned a lot and all those other things you’re not supposed to be able to do in high school any more.

Sometimes my nostalgia kicks in, and I long for the open-endedness, the freedom. The knowledge that your whole adult life is ahead of you, that the choices are yours for the making.

But as refreshing as it is to consider going back and reclaiming the fun and spontaneity of youth, most people I’ve ever talked to about it wouldn’t give up who they are or what they’ve become—not even for a magical do-over—because even some of the most difficult times make us who we are.

So instead, we browse the yearbooks and the photo albums. We play phone tag with the old friends and try to see them when we’re in town. We make surreal reconnections on Facebook and alumni websites. We look at the people with whom we once walked from third period to fourth period and think, How can she be a mother? (We also, occasionally, have such thoughts about ourselves.)

Is this why, I wonder, I write for young adults? Because I can’t bear to let go of the good times? Because I’m trying to relive the happy haze of youth?

The thing is, and I think everybody knows it, nothing was as good as you remember. There’s no such thing as the good old days. And unfortunately for my protagonists, they aren’t exactly living the golden days of youth. They actually tend to get kinda knocked around.

The boring truth is that I write for young adults because that’s the voice that comes out of me. Those are the stories that come out when I sit down to write. Despite the fact that I read lots and lots of great books by adults, about adults, and for adults, the thought of sitting down to write about a woman in her 30s seems as fantastic as me going out to the garage and building myself a bicycle out of odds and ends.

But don’t think I don’t draw on that sense of possibility. The idea that nearly everything that happens can shape you, change you, change your mind—I hold it in my mind like a treasure map when I write.

I still get gloomy thinking of the times we can never go back to. I do, as a matter of fact, miss those incredible fall mornings on the college campus, with a brisk breeze slicing through the trees and the buildings jutting proudly into the sky, like the prows of ships.

I still let nostalgia get the better of me sometimes. But I like to think I’m making it earn its keep.

~ Deb Katie

P.S. – The title of this post is from the poem “Rock Me To Sleep” by Elizabeth Akers Allen. If it sounds familiar to you, you may have read it in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little Town on the Prairie. (Which I remember fondly from my childhood, natch.)

14 Replies to “Backward, turn backward, oh Time in thy flight… by Deb Katie”

  1. Katie, I’m exactly like you in this nostalgia thing! I got all goose-pimply reading about your nostalgia for the present, this “Someday I’ll miss all this” mood because I did exactly that on my own college campus. And your post brought to mind the bright blue skies and ivy-covered clocktower…

    You’re right of course that nothing is as good as we remember. I recently ran across a journal I kept during part of my college time and I opened it up to find it full of woe and horror and anxiety. And I’m thinking as my present day self…huh? I’d forgotten all about that drama…

  2. Nostalgia is all over the place this year. My little man left me yesterday morning on the bus for kindergarten for the first time. Sniff. I need a tissue please.

    Speaking of nostalgia, I remember watching Little House on TV way back when. I couldn’t stand the girl who played Laura. Sooooo whiny.

    And I finally know someone else, other than my wife, who’s read those Laura Ingalls Wilder stories. She’s obsessed with the series. She’s kept the complete set from her youth as pristine as possible. I made the mistake of nudging the box by accident one time, and spent the night on the couch.

    P.S. – You’re awesome. (Awesome quota met)

  3. Well said, Katie. Getting lost in all of those hazy memories happens to me too. Those surreal connections on facebook, the laid back life at an art school where people knew they had it too good. Lucky for you the whole of your memories and life experiences from that age is wonderfully more than the sum of their parts…which I think gives you that amazing voice with which you write. But I am biased.

  4. Kristina, maybe it’s a writer thing! Is that our collective problem–we’re all hung up on the past? And I think you’ve hit the nail on the head–looking through old journals is definitely the anti-nostalgia!

    Jason, awww! There’s a lot of that (kids going to school) going on here at the Debs, so you’ll find lots of sympathy here. And yay for your wife! I bought a raggedy old paperback box set on eBay as soon as I learned what eBay was. I reread those books so many times during high school. My standard weekend afternoon memory is sitting at the dining table, eating soup, reading. (Yes, I was a wild and crazy girl, what can I say?)

    Well, well, well! Agent M is here! You are definitely a player in many of my memories. We did have it good, didn’t we? Man. And I’m glad you’re biased, I count on it!

  5. Hey Katie –

    Lovely post! And now I am nostalgic for YOUR past too. Sounds somewhat more idyllic than mine.

    I clearly remember how much I loved a series of books called “All of a Kind Family” – anyone ever read those? I think they were the Jewish girls’ version of Little House (y’know, struggling to get a foothold on the Lower East Side rather than the midwest plains, but you get the idea). Anyway, I adored those books. And last year for the holidays, my brother found one at a used bookstore and I was so thrilled to have it and couldn’t wait to read it and get my kids to read it. And well, short story long – it’s just not the same. I guess my memories were better than the real thing.

    Now, DO TELL about the photo, Katie!


  6. What a terrific memory you have, Katie, and it cause me to wonder if that voice in your head — telling those YA stories — is the nostalgic Muse? Just like the “see, hear and speak no evil” monkeys, there might exist “past, present and future” muses in all writers.

    Also, in beginning my third season as a regular at The Debutante Ball, may I formally extend a greeting to each of you. You’re off to a great start with the posts and your books sound amazing.

  7. Eve, I know what you mean about things not being the same. I go back and read some old favorites and feel that sad little deflation. Some do hold up well, though–thank heavens for Roald Dahl! “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” will always stand up as a masterpiece. Oh, that photo… we just made the most of an incredibly dull class. Picture a local NPR reporter standing up and lecturing for an hour at a time. Luckily, he was also pretty laid-back and let us get away with a lot… clearly!

    Larramie, that’s an interesting take! I’ve often thought that I have no muse, but you’re onto something… perhaps my muse is whispering at me from my past. What a lovely thought that is. And thank you for your greeting! Along with the great posts here at the Ball over the past couple of years, I’ve also always appreciated your thoughtful comments (and generous promotion of the book releases)! So nice to be on the receiving end of your comments.

  8. Um, maybe you didn’t go to Yeshiva with a bunch of other Jewish girls! We all loved them. A big family of sisters – they finally had a boy at the very end of the series. I hope I’m giving anything away. They weren’t like my family at all (they seemed so nice and normal!) but they ate penny candy and sour pickles from the barrel and salty lox. Very New York and very Jewish and I guess I identified with them in a certain way. Oy! Now I’m getting nostalgic.

    Katie – look what you did!

  9. Oh my god, I LOVED “All of a Kind Family.” Remember when Hetty borrows her older sister’s dress and stains it and then has to dye it in tea? Remember Green Lena? I’m so nostalgic, in fact, that I’m going to order those books up right now for my girls! They were great.

  10. I read the Little House books too, plus the Anne of Green Gables (love those) and funny that this came, up…I also read all the OZ books, over and over. They were actually out of print when I first discovered them, but I got a whole set from Toronto’s World’s Biggest Bookstore (which is probably not the biggest anymore, if it ever was). I missed All of a Kind Family though!

    Anyway, last weekend I was at my parent’s place and took one down from the shelf, thinking I’d find the writing iffy, if not terrible. But I have to say, it stands up! I didn’t read much of it, but I was sure thrilled to see I had decent taste back then!

  11. Great post Katie. I tried to comment earlier today and got booted off the internet. Hopefully I’ll have more luck with this one!

    I loved the Little House books, too, (I had a bonnet and even visited two of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s houses!), and I also loved All of a Kind Family. I also remember really enjoying a kid’s biography series at the library and reading about Amelia Earhart, Betsy Ross and Molly Pitcher. I wonder how those would hold up now…

  12. Loved your post, Katie (and that pic!). Little House series–LOVED. Read to my girls–wanted to pluck my eyeballs out I was so bored. Ann of Green Gables–LOVED .Read to my girls–wanted to gouge my eyeballs out. Nancy Drew–LOVED. Read to my girls–wanted to gouge Nancy’s eyes out 😉 (and I’m not a violent person!)

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