When you live in a city as full of artistry as Ann Arbor, you get used to a few things. Wild-haired old eccentrics talking to themselves on the street, hearing more than one language in a single walk to class and being struck with sudden nostalgia listening to a song in a coffee shop. All these things are inevitable, but only one will make you cry into your latte.
Nostalgia is a funny thing. It’s a feeling that sometimes makes you happy, sometimes makes you sad and sometimes inspires a creativity elicited by few other emotions. It’s essentially your mind saying, “Hey it’s me again, here’s that memory you forgot about that made you feel something for once.” We can’t control it, and once it’s in your mind, you can’t stop it. The most poignant nostalgia for me is always in a form of art, be it a song, a painting or a film. So why is it that art makes us feel the most for the past?
Perhaps the explanation for all this is the inherent sadness of the artist. For every sullen artist in recent memory with enough stature to have several hundred Google results after searching “quotes by blank,” you can bet there’s at least one about the sting of memories or something of the sort. Memories are poignant things, and seem to attach to nearly everything, and that only becomes more apparent with age.
When you’re young, it’s hard to grasp the concept of nostalgia when your life has been filled with so few experiences. I always thought it was the look adults get when they hear “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” in a public place, when their eyes glaze over and a small smile appears on their lips. As I’ve gotten older, I can confirm this is true. There are about a million things in the world that make me zone out of present time for a moment and take a trip down memory lane, and about 999,999 are some formulation of art. These memories are often personal, and don’t always hold the same effect from person to person, but that is the beauty of nostalgia. I can’t listen to “Brown Eyed Girl” without thinking about dancing with my dad at a wedding when I was six. Diego Rivera once said, “I don’t believe in God, but I believe in Picasso.” I may not believe in sappiness, but I do know that every time I look at a Diego Rivera painting, I’ll think of his print hanging in the kitchen I grew up in and smell my mother’s cooking. Little associations like these are everywhere in the art we consume, we just don’t always pay them much attention.
Whether we like it or not, humans tend to crave the past, whether it’s in the art we consume, the people we surround ourselves with or the books we read. When done correctly, there is no harm in nostalgia or the feelings it brings along. Memories are a part of life, and even if they’re painful or not favorable, they’ve held enough of a purpose to change the way we see a little aspect of life (even if it’s in the form of a Cyndi Lauper song). Next time you’re struck down in Espresso Royale by a song you danced to at prom, don’t wave off the emotion as silly. Instead, pay it some attention. Everyone cries into their lattes at some point in life, it’s just one of many quirks that makes us human.