Jillian C. York

Jillian C. York is a writer and activist.

The Way Life Is

Growing up, you have a certain conception of the way life is, the way the world works.  Images of seasons, events, are pressed into your mind and solidified.  Later, when you’re all grown up (if there is such a thing), you’re disappointed that you can’t revive those feelings.  You catch a whiff of some candle your mother used to burn at Christmas or some perfume your grandmother wore and the nostalgia is so strong you’re brought to tears.

Sometimes the best way to overcome that feeling is to start over.  Move somewhere new, create a new life, full of new traditions.  Throw away the old ones.  Forget where you came from.

Except you can’t, really.  One small moment, one flicker of light, and you’re brought back to those evenings you and your parents spent trudging through Prescott Park, up to your shins in snow, your so-called waterproof boots barely keeping your feet warm, but you don’t want to tell your parents, because then you’ll have to go home and to bed and this moment is so perfect you never want it to end.  Except it does.  And then next thing you know you’re old, with a whole life behind you that barely recognize.

On a moving train, over lukewarm coffee, I told someone that I think the reason I want to escape so badly is that nostalgia for a time I never experienced.  Just like it saddens me to look into houses in foreign countries and see lives I’ll never live, it too saddens me to think of simpler times in my own country, my own city, times I’ll never experience.  And maybe moving somewhere else, somewhere slower, will grant me that.  I’m a product of my own obsessions, my need for speed.  Only shedding the cloak of my upbringing, my suburban-ness, can rid me of that.

6 Comments

  1. Nice. Layers of illusion filtering how the world works are still peeling away from us. Losing our illusions saddens us as losing anything does. A teacher asked me once, why should we be sad to lose our illusions? Do we not perceive the world better without them?

    OK, you refer to memories, not illusions. And suburban-ness, speaking of which, have you read anything by James Howard Kunstler, author of The Long Emergency and a couple of blogs? He says that pretty soon none of us will be able to sustain suburban living anymore.

    • Thanks David – I haven’t read James Howard Kunstler, but I’ll have to check him out now!

      I have a serious distaste for the ‘burbs. My hometown – once a small place, has turned into a bedroom community for Boston (where I now live). It disgusts me.

  2. I can totally relate to this. I know I’m not supposed to talk about “ye old days” at my young age, but your words and especially the last paragraph could be just from me. The longing for another place. I would not have called it slower, but cleaner, clearer. It’s the same in the end.
    Alas I’m not sure whether “shedding the cloak of your upbringing” can lead you anywhere. It’s pretty cold without a cloak sometimes. And if you make that your project, will it not in itself become a subject to your need for speed?
    Cynically said, you should write a book about your feeling. I’m certain it would be a great read.

    • Thanks Simon – I wonder how that book would pan out. Perhaps I’ll become inspired to write again soon (aside from these three-paragraph bits).

  3. This is a great post, Jill. I’m especially intrigued by your last paragraph. If you were to go somewhere else, somewhere slower, where would it be?

    I so rarely feel nostalgic for specific people or events from my childhood – but I miss the northwest, by which I mean the land, the water, and the climate itself, more than I can express. I sometimes wonder what that says about me, if I’m a cold or jaded person for feeling so little sentimentality about actually being a kid and feeling more innocent.

    I understand the longing for something else, though, whether it’s something you’ve already experienced, or something you just hope to experience one day. I’m still waiting to live in a place that truly feels like home, a place that I won’t want to escape from.

    • Thanks Nikki,

      I suppose my somewhere else would probably be within the Middle East; although I don’t mean to imply that by being “slower” the region is any less modern, what I mean is that, generally speaking, there’s more of a sense of importance of family. I haven’t yet found a place in the U.S. that truly feels like home, most often because of the prevailing ignorance (often intentionally) of the rest of the world. Granted, there is no utopia, but I would like to find somewhere where people are like-minded (I suppose SF is the closest place in the US, but there is way too much hokey liberalism for my liking).

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