(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.
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.)