Friday, 25 March 2016

on nostalgia

Wow, two posts in one day huh? That's the magic of the morning for ya. ;) Well, I've been thinking about these things for the past few weeks so now that I've got time today, might as well let those thoughts percolate through.

Another thing I've been wrapping my head around recently is that of nostalgia.

In a way, I find it a beautiful word. Beautiful, with all its attendant sadness. From its Greek root words of Nostos and Algos. Nostos, meaning: returning home or homecoming. Algos, meaning: pain, grief, distress. Who would have thought eh? It was actually a term used before to describe intense, almost fatal homesickness in sailors, those in the army, convicts, slaves. Nowadays we use it always tinged with that bittersweet longing for something past.

An ache for times past.

Perhaps a small portion of it has got to do with my recent involvement with this year's OH! Open House tours at Potong Pasir. For those of you who haven't gone on an Open House tour before, drop whatever you're doing now, buy a ticket for this weekend's tours because it's the last weekend for the year. OH! Open House is a fantastic experience. It's a neighborhood + art walkabout. The reason it's called Open House? It's literally because you get to go into residents houses to take a peek, where artists have collaborated with them to set up artwork inside their houses. It's a way to explore a neighborhood, learn about its history, its colorful traits, and appreciate works of art that have been created in conjunction with the theme of the tour that inevitably revolves around a particular aspect of the neighborhood. For Potong Pasir, the theme is Departed Spaces. The spaces that once were but have now given way to other forms of existence. An old walkway which had to make way for an up and coming condominium. An old street soccer court, reincarnated as yet another carpark. Bidadari Cemetery, a place where people could go to to jog, stroll, sketch, enjoy time with the departed, now giving way to a new HDB estate. And if none of us know about these spaces and their original incarnations, what happens when they are no longer around? What happens to those memories?

Hope it sounds interesting enough for you to sign up. ;) You won't regret it, I promise. 

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(View of one of Potong Pasir's unique ski-slope roofs, courtesy of Liu Thai Ker, also known as Master Architect/Planner of Singapore.  A beautiful type of skyline that is rarely seen in estates other than Potong Pasir.)

It's been such a great experience for me, as my friend and I were both tour guides. Like quite a few other volunteers, it was our first time walking around in Potong Pasir. One of the Open House leaders said it well. That Potong Pasir sometimes seems like a country within a country. A place that is only now starting to catch up with the rest of Singapore. A lot of us might view its changes as something that's unfortunately, taking away a part of its character and be nostalgic about it. Wouldn't it be great if it could always remain the same way? As something we can take pride of in its existence. The longest standing opposition party stronghold previously. If only it could remain in its beautiful unchanging bubble. But that said, that's always from the point of view from the outsider. Most of us speak as people who have not grown up there.

Which brings to mind a quote from an author, Stephanie Coontz, who wrote the book, The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap. "There's nothing wrong with celebrating the good things in our past. But memories, like witnesses, do not always tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. We need to cross-examine them, recognizing and accepting the inconsistencies and gaps in those that make us proud and happy as well as those that cause us pain."

Nostalgia is an enticing paint brush that we can use to colour our reminiscences. But it's all too easy to use a single colour, not leaving room for the 'inconsistencies and gaps' to reveal themselves to us. I suppose being more aware of that makes it easier to not pine so much for something that once was.

The other night, out of nowhere, really, I was suddenly reminded of Casper, a movie that I had watched countless times back when I was a kid. I kid you not. I was on of those obsessive movie watchers. Casper, Robin Hood:Prince of Thieves (starring Kevin Costner), The Fifth Element...those were some movies that I perpetually kept out of the VHS holders because I was always watching them. God, that brings back memories. To the days of opening that movie cupboard in my parents' rooms, looking at rows of VHS tapes, deciding which to watch next. ;)

There are so many moments of my childhood that I look back on nowadays with such an ache of longing. But those are the memories that are filled with so much happiness. Truly, the ache of 'algos'. I miss those specific moments of watching my favorite movies, engaging in my favorite crafts... But at the same time, do I really want to go back to that period of time in my life? Probably not. So much appears beautiful through the lens of retrospection. But it's precisely because I'm standing where I am now, that I can see its beauty. Back then, as a child, I probably couldn't appreciate it fully though I was steeped right in it. Isn't it so ironic? I can only appreciate what I had last time because of who I am now.

That's life for you.

Of course, though I can look back on those times with an ache in my heart, one thing that always helps is gratitude. To be grateful for what I have had before and that it is still something I can enjoy by revisiting the memory or making a new one with the same thing from before. Sometimes I think I'm chasing after that feeling of infinite possibility that I used to feel so strongly as a child. Thinking anything was possible (including meeting movie stars lol). Of course, as one grows older, one realizes that there are certain things more likely to happen than others. And with that grounding in reality, comes an ache for a time when I didn't realize not everything would be possible. In a way, it's like thinking you were able to fly, only to realize actually, they have to be on the ground.

So what I have been doing the past few nights, is watch Casper on youtube, savoring, luxuriating and reveling in feeling like a 10 year old again. And by all intents and purposes, it really is a pretty dang good movie, with such a memorable soundtrack. Love love love it. If you haven't seen it as a child, it would be a great weekend movie to settle into bed with (or with a bag of popcorn).

Here's to a beautiful weekend ahead.


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