“You can clutch the past so tightly to your chest that it leaves your arms too full to embrace the present.” Jan Glidewell
Yesterday I spent some time out in my man cave/studio rummaging through several manila folders and my old writing tablets. No, not tablets as in computerized, but writing tablet as in spiral bound, lined, sheets of paper. Most of the material I’d written pre 1996, back before I made the switch from longhand to laptop. I couldn’t believe how many lyrics, stories and poems, I had in varies stages of completion, some no more than a few words or a sentence or two, others half finished, as well as a ton of notes, ideas, drawings and doodles. I was big on doodling back then, gave me something to do when I hit a writing roadblock. I couldn’t stand staring at a blank page, the doodling helped. It’s hard to believe I spent as much time as I did putting pencil to paper back in the day. God, it seems like a lifetime ago.
I spent the next couple of hours going through pages and reminiscing. Reminiscing is certainly a pleasant way of spending a little time now and then, don’t you think? I do. I enjoy going back every so often and find it to be a great form of entertainment, sometimes therapeutic. Reliving special moments that play out like a movie and don’t cost a dime! Well, most of the time anyway. Reminiscing is an activity that can be done privately in the comfort of your own home, while you drive, write, shower or anytime you’re alone with only your thoughts to keep you company. Reminiscing also occurs in the company of others which can often enhance the experience, perhaps you gather with a few others at a party, wedding, funeral, a class reunion perhaps or in the midst of a loud conversation at your local watering hole. Introduce a little alcohol to the group and reminiscing is a sure bet. And it’s always accessible. Short of someone creating a functional, yet affordable time machine anytime soon, it’s the only way we have of visiting our past on a regular basis. Reminiscing is our personal time machine.
Now having a ‘Way Back Machine’ like Mr. Peabody and his boy Sherman would be pretty sweet but I think that physically being in the past and having the cherished moments happen before our eyes while trying to keep our future selves from being discovered be discovered (as per all the ‘Back to the Future’ films) would be a pain in the butt. Yeah it would be a very different experience than reminiscing. I’m not sure I’d like that at all. Now if I could travel back and wind up back inside myself and go through the moment again like Scott Bakula on ‘Quantum Leap,’ used to do , I’d definitely be cool with that.
An occasional trip down memory lane isn’t a bad thing. Hell, several trips, aren’t necessarily a bad thing either. A nostalgic look back can bring us comfort, put a smile on our face and is good for our mental health. It’s only when reminiscing interferes with our present life and our future that it becomes harmful. We’ve all heard of people who are said to be living in the past. They reminisce far too often and get caught up in their past most likely a period when they were extremely happy and life was good. The problem is that living in the past robs us of the opportunity of being in the ‘now’ and getting the most out of our present lives. If you’re unhappy or going through a rough time in the present, running away to the safety of the past won’t help. Your present problem or situation isn’t going to resolve itself.
The key to not letting the past become a refuge is the length of time you spend reminiscing. Reminiscing should be done in moderation. Of course so many things can trigger a bout of nostalgic reminiscence, an old song, photo, place, face, feeling, movie or even a random thought can send you back and like I said that’s okay. Just don’t stay there. The past is our personal treasure chest of precious moments and fond memories, meant to be cherished and occasionally enjoyed, but you’ll find no answers to your present situations there. The answers are in the here and now, where you should be working towards a solution to them. You know what they say, whoever they are, “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift, that’s why they call it the present.” Live it.