The doctor tells you to sit down and you know its bad news because they never tell you to sit down when it’s good. And it is bad news; the test results have come in and you have a year left to live and – no, too dark.
Okay, Aliens have arrived and announced they will destroy the world in 1 year’s time.
Okay, still dark.
A comet’s going to plow into Earth in a year’s time —
Point being, you have a year left and are deciding how to spend it. That’s the point of this little exercise (and it is an exercise). What do you do with that year? How do you decide to live it? Do you quit your job or soldier on, making sure there’s enough of a nest egg for your loved ones? Say you have the money thing all sorted (and let’s face it, a lot of us do what we do because we need the money it pays, not because of any great enthusiasm for the job); what do you do with the rest of your life?
For my part, first I’d make sure all the various projects I’m immersed in are wrapped up well before D-Day, because I hate loose ends. Then I buy some airplane tickets, because I have a plan.
First, I fly from New York to Vancouver, British Columbia. I stay there a few weeks, seeing the sights, but more importantly visiting the old haunts. Because I lived in Vancouver in the late 1970s/early 1980s, and haven’t been back since 1984. I want to see how things have changed, but more than that how they’ve stayed the same. I can see my old House and School on Google Earth, but it’s not the same. I want to walk those streets, and the hilly street leading to my school which seemed as tall as Everest when I was 6 but probably doesn’t feel that way now (despite the fact we actually lived on a Mountain). The first time I ever saw mountains was when we lived in Vancouver.
From there it’s a shorter flight to Edmonton, where we lived for only 15 months in 1981-1982, and where there are no mountains. I’d like to do the same; my old home, my old school, the sights. I want to visit the world famous West Edmonton Mall because it opened when we lived there, and even then it was the biggest indoor mall in the world. It was also a shopping mall, period. No roller coasters or ice rinks or wave pools. Those are the type of thing that do well in a city where it’s winter eight months of the year (at least in my memory).
From Edmonton it’s a longer flight to Toronto, specifically Scarborough, where I lived for three years. Of all these places Scarborough is a place I’m more familiar with, having lived in and around Toronto most of my life. Even after we moved away, I still visited my friends there and that old neighborhood, and even now when I’m in Toronto on business I occasionally take a swing through the old nabe. In a way I never really left it.
One place I did leave was Greensboro North Carolina, where I lived from 1985-1986. I wasn’t terribly happy there, but now I can look back through the safety of near 30 years and realize that negative experiences can be better for you than the positive ones, because they force you to survive them, and because they make you a better person. I haven’t been back to Greensboro since we left it which is why I’m curious to visit it now, to see what’s changed and what’s remained the same (Google Earth is great for showing that while my nabe hasn’t changed noticeably, the shopping malls, movie theaters, and schools have, substantially).
The flight to Greensboro would have to come after a 3 hour drive up the 401 to Brockville, Ontario, where I lived from 1986-1992. Of all these places mentioned it’s where we lived the longest, and in a way I never really left it. MIXTAPE is largely based on the years I lived there, and while I was glad to leave for college and the big city, I realized over the years that followed that I’d left a little bit of myself there. I think we all do, given how heightened everything at that age is. First love, first favorite band, so many firsts happen in that span of 13-18 that you never really forget them. And I thought I’d put all of this stuff behind me.
This list doesn’t even comprise other places I’ve lived, from Thunder Bay and Barrie to Mississauga and Ottawa (where I was born). It doesn’t even comprise places I’ve never seen and always want to. That’s why I wrote it all up; because I really want to put all of it behind me.
We all spend too much time looking backward. I’m as guilty as anyone, maybe more so (thanks, Mixtape). Really, it’s a greater problem than I think we want to admit. Look at the movies we watch, and the music we listen to. Hell, look at the Internet, where I can see what my old homes look like today, as they are, and recall how they were. Where you can watch old TV episodes of shows you loved 20 years ago. Where every little obscure bit of fandom is given fertile soil to grow in. I think we as a culture have infantilized ourselves to the point where it’s not uncommon to find people in their 30s and 40s arguing over 35 year old film franchises and 50 year old comic book characters.
A favorite cult film of mine, Free Enterprise (a 15 year old movie I might add) nailed this when a 30-something woman tells her 30-something boyfriend that his apartment, awash with action figures and movie memorabilia looks like “a really rich 12 year-old lives here”. Some days I feel like a rich 15 year old; I have thousands of songs and hundreds of albums in my collection, I have movies, and video games, and comic books everywhere. I tell myself because of work, but a part of me realizes that if I was working in a bank I’d probably have the same stuff cluttering my place.
Really, what is our economy based on other than fear of the future (life insurance, car insurance, home insurance, insurance insurance) and nostalgia for the past (new Star Trek, new Star Wars, more Hobbitses, reunion albums and tours) where you thought things were safer and simpler than they really were?
Look, it’s totally natural to allow yourself some comfort of what you already know – says the guy listening to The Pixies for the “who knows how many times” time as he writes this. The danger is in spending so much time looking forward you miss the things that are happening right now that you could cherish ten years hence. My fear is that I’m becoming the type of person I swore I never would – the geek equivalent of the old HS quarterback reliving the big game over and over again.
So this “End Of The World Nostalgia Trip” would never happen. I’d be too busy visiting Monument Valley, Giza, Rome and Florence, Australia and New Zealand, The Galapagos and Cook Islands, Rio and Buenos Aires and Montevideo, and Antarctica, and those parts of Canada I have never seen. I’d take that month and just boot around the lower 48 and make sure I spent some time in every state, even Nebraska and South Dakota. I’d cram as much new stuff into my experiences that, if they elbow out some of those cherished memories, that’s okay, because as Johnny Thunders once crooned, you can’t put your arms around those.