Make-Believe Nostalgia

Yesterday I visited a community pool for the first time in a number of years. Growing up, we relied on our friends’ swimming pools because there wasn’t one in our community. In fact, the one I went to today was a small one that I’d never been to before, and I went because my aunt was feeling nostalgic: she used to go to that pool when she was a girl, visiting her aunt in the next county. So she and I went. As it turned out, there was a certain charm about this place that made me somewhat nostalgic for a life I’d never experienced.

My own nostalgia started stirring as soon as my aunt told me how she used to come to this town – only twenty minutes away from our own – and stay with her aunt, and come to this pool with her cousin. I started thinking about who I’d gone to stay with as a kid and what family I’d visited. Where I should have felt nostalgic, it was all made up: my entire family had always been right in my town. There’d never been anyone to go visit away from there.

Later, as my aunt attempted to swim laps around parents holding little kids and small children doing handstands and chasing diving sticks, I sat nearby on the edge of the pool with my legs in the water. To my immediate left was the lifeguard and to my immediate right was a group of about six elementary school boys. They kept doing cannonballs and the lifeguard kept yelling at them, and the only thing I could think about was The Sandlot. If you’ve never seen it, you’re missing out. It’s funny, but it’s also nostalgic to the core. I kept expecting the lifeguard to morph into Wendy Pefferkorn and those little boys to become the kids from The Sandlot. When those boys got kicked out of the pool for doing (what else?) obnoxious cannonballs, I started observing other groups further in the distance, and for the rest of the day was struck by the dichotomy of early and late teenage life that was, in some sense, quite idyllic. Continue reading

The Internet Giveth, and the Internet Taketh Away

There’s something ironic about the fact that I have such conflicted opinions of social media and electronic communication when it is by and large the way I most often communicate. It always makes me think of the Wally Lamb novel She’s Come Undone. If you haven’t read the book, let me first recommend it (or anything Wally Lamb has written, really) before saying that I won’t ruin it for you by giving too many details. Suffice it to say that in the novel, the main character’s life goes into a tailspin after she receives her first television and her life completely changes (and not really for the better).

I was in 8th grade, awkward, shy, socially backwards, and probably with ugly shoes, when my family got its first computer and AOL account. Going into chat rooms changed the way I communicated with people. With the safety of being behind a screen, it was more difficult for people to hurt me, and I had a much easier time letting my true personality show – my sense of humor and my compassionate side, particularly. (However, for those who think Internet bullying is a relatively new concept, I can attest to the fact that it existed in the mid-to-late 90s. Some of the same people who said mean things to me at school found me online and said mean things there, too. Kids are sharks.)

It wasn’t long before I went from chatting with friends and total strangers to talking to people I didn’t know well at my school. This was a cop-out in some ways and good in others. I would never have talked to these people at school, nor would they have likely talked to me, without the buffer of a chat window. However, when it was time to meet face-to-face with classmates (I never met strangers for obvious reasons), I knew that they would think it odd if I didn’t act in accordance with who they knew me to be: my “online personality” – the person I actually was, as opposed to the person who couldn’t figure out how to be herself around others. This forced me to come out of my shell, and by the time high school was over, I was still shy, awkward, and socially backwards (still am, really), but not nearly to the degree I had been (and I have a far cooler shoe collection). Continue reading