As I begin writing this, it’s 23:17 on the last day of November. When you read it, a new month will have begun. A new beginning, perhaps. Or four weeks to look back and reflect on the year that has past, to cremate the wounds we hold close, and scatter their ashes in the cold December wind, to cleanse ourselves of the past before 2019 begins.
This week I have been hit with insomnia for the first time in months. No matter how early, or late, I go to bed, I lie awake for hours, wishing for a sleep that doesn’t come. So tonight, I am utilising my insomnia. If I can’t rest, I will write.
Writing away my restlessness seems to be a theme of this year. 2018 has been a year of waiting. Waiting for what, I don’t know. I spent the year walking on a treadmill made of treacle, aching for progress to happen, and remaining stuck in place. These past few weeks have been different. For a month that begins with “no”, November has been a month of “yes.” Or, if life is as related to improv as some of my previous blogs have suggested, a month of “yes, and–”
I finally feel like I’m moving forward. I have opportunities, I have an action plan for the year ahead, I have friends, I have a mentor, I am happy and healthy, I am going travelling in just over two weeks, I’ve grown into a person that I like. I’m doing well. These days, I live more often in the present moment than I used to. 2018 has been, to put it mildly, an emotionally draining and challenging year (or, as I like to call it, fucking awful). Thankfully, I’ve written lots of blogs this year, so you can read all about it at your own leisure. If you do actually do this, see if you can spot how many times I contradict myself from one blog to the next, it’s sure to be a wild ride. I digress. 2018 = year from hell. 2017 = also year from hell (do you see a pattern here?). In spite of this, I am immensely nostalgic for the past year of my life. Something feels different this (academic) year. I am more myself than I have ever been, but something is still missing.
In Taylor Swift’s song Call It What You Want, there’s this line “I recall late November, holding my breath, slowly I said ‘you don’t need to save me, but will you run away with me?’” Every time I hear that line, it takes me back to a point in time last year. Specifically, last November. Like this year, November 2017 was the month when things finally began to fall into place. I was really miserable. I was still miserable in November, but there was light amongst the darkness. That light was my friends.
I have friends this year, wonderful friends. Half of whom are now spread across the globe and I will barely see them within the next several months. Where I now have a precious collection of individual friends, last year I had a sense of community for the first time in my life. I didn’t just have friends, I had a chosen family. People who felt like home, people I could go to and be the quiet version of myself, the version of me that wants to cuddle up to people and say nothing at all, the version of me that doesn’t need to be the brightest star in the room but will shine softly wherever she is placed.
I don’t shine so brightly these days. Inside, my fire burns brighter than ever. But externally, my flame barely glows. I feel like I’ve become colder, harder. I lack the softness I once had.
Today I saw a dear friend for the first time in almost 3 months, because she was back in Glasgow this week for her graduation. It was like no time had passed (once we got past the squealing and jumping into each other’s arms stage). Some people are so inextricably tied to a particular time in your life, and simply being in their company takes you right back. The few hours I spent with my friend tonight transported me back to that feeling of community I’d been enveloped in until September. This was the year I learnt what it means to feel completely loved and accepted. Even in the darkest times, that love was the light that kept me strong. I found home in other humans, and it was one of the most important experiences of my life.
This year, half the people I love are far away, in Germany or Spain or Canada. I don’t have my community anymore, my chosen family have become distant relatives. I am nostalgic for this particular element of that part of my life, but I wouldn’t wish myself back there, and I certainly don’t desire to be the person I was then. My nostalgia for the past helps me contextualise the present, and articulate my desires for the future. As I sat hugging my friend tonight, Past Eliza and Present Eliza collided. I had slipped so seamlessly into the role of Past Eliza, but I didn’t take on her attributes. I am Present Eliza, and I have all the wisdom I have gained over these past few months, I am a product of all the lessons I have learnt. I am still learning. Tonight I saw that maybe the reason I don’t have the same sense of community this year is because I have closed myself off to it. My outer shell has hardened, even if I’ve grown softer on the inside. I crave love and affection as much as I ever did, but I don’t give it like I used to. Life changes people; I put up walls around myself I never thought I’d need to.
This year will be the first time I spend Christmas away from my family. It’s the first Christmas since my parents separated, and I felt the natural response to that situation would be to run away to Eastern Europe. So once I’m finished with my essays and exam, I will spend a week and a half in Estonia and Latvia. Both those countries are filled with nostalgia for me, and perhaps that’s what I’m running towards.
When I go to Latvia I might be meeting with an old acquaintance (the kind that should be forgot and never brought to mind). For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been undecided about whether or not I want to see him. I last saw him when I was in Riga at the beginning of July, 2017. It’s been a year and a half. I thought the reason I might not want to see him is because we have become strangers. Now I can see he is not the stranger I worry about, my past self is. When I look back to the time I knew him, I see a movie montage of close-up images; I can even hear the sound of his voice. Do you know who barely features in those memories at all? Me. I’m embarrassed by my past self, and because of that I have erased her from my history. I know the moment I lay eyes on him, 2017 Eliza will re-emerge from the dregs of my memory.
I’m not scared of Past Eliza anymore. I want to see how she intersects with Present Eliza, and what lessons I have yet to learn from her. As much as I dislike that version of myself, even she is someone I am nostalgic for. I miss her hopefulness. She was free of cynicism, she believed in things I have long since lost faith in. In spite of my misgivings, I hope I do meet with my acquaintance in Latvia. I want to see what I can learn from the ghost of my past self, but, more than that, I want to enjoy his company free from Past Eliza’s emotional baggage. The past is in the past, and whilst I can learn from it, I don’t need to be held back by it. I’ve learnt my lessons, and there are so many clean slates ahead.
When I leave Latvia, I go back to Estonia for a week, and I will spend Christmas there. Estonia is where my novels are partly set, which is where my original emotional attachment to the country comes from. It is also the first foreign country I travelled to alone. It is the place I will always want to run away to. For me, there is so much nostalgia tied to that beautiful land. It is where I found myself, where I lost myself. It is a place to heal and learn and grow.
When I decided to run away from my problems, I mean, spend Christmas abroad, I was all ready to convince myself that Christmas is just a normal day; it only has meaning if you allow it to. A few days later I found vegan lebkuchen in Aldi, and bought them in spite of myself. Lebkuchen are German Christmas cookies. I generally think of myself as someone who doesn’t have a national culture. I was born in New Zealand to an Australian mother and British father, and I grew up in the North of England, where I felt like an alien my whole life. I live in Glasgow, and this city is home to me, but Scottish culture is not my own either. My grandparents on my mothers side are German, and the only time that German culture seeped into me was at Christmas. My mum would make lebkuchen and stollen (a German Christmas cake filled with marzipan), and we celebrated on Christmas Eve, rather than Christmas Day, as is the German tradition. On the rare occasions I stumble upon vegan German Christmas foods, I can’t resist buying them, because the nostalgia is so strong. Even though I am adamant that I want nothing to do with Christmas this year, there’s this little voice in the back of my brain whispering “you should bake lebkuchen!” It represents more to me than a Christmas tradition, it is also my only tie to my European heritage. I have German friends, and a German flatmate, and a German need to be punctual, but that is where links to my grandparents’ culture end. Nostalgia may come in the form of cookies, but it represents so much more.
I’m never going to spend Christmas the way I did growing up, because my family no longer is what it once was. I didn’t know the last time would be the last time, and if I think too hard about that I’ll probably have a good long cry. Too late, writing that sentence is enough to make me cry. These are the perils of writing blogs when you’ve been awake for 22 hours. There are so many things about what my family once was that I miss, and so many more that I haven’t even thought to miss yet. I’ve lost my traditions, at least temporarily. But sooner or later, I’ll make new traditions. For a person as nostalgic as I am, it is impossible not to.
I already have some traditions of my own. The reason I’m travelling at Christmas isn’t just to run away, it’s also to take part in a tradition of my own creating: the tradition of visiting Estonia every year since I turned eighteen. This tradition is mine, it’s not something I inherited from parents or grandparents; it’s a tradition that stems from my own ambition. I visit Estonia every year because I’ve set three novels there (and counting!); it reminds me of my hard work, of my creativity, my determination. I’m nostalgic for the girl I was when I first wrote those novels, I’m nostalgic for the girl I was the first time I went to Estonia. Hell, I’m nostalgic for the girl I was two weeks ago.
I am obsessed with time. I started this blog by stating what time I started writing, and throughout I have made frequent references to months, years, times of day. When I write in my diary the first line and last line are almost always what time it is, contextualised within what I need to do that day. I am always counting down to something, but I have no idea what. Perhaps I am just chronicling my life, and my fixation on timing is simply a way of keeping track. My perpetual state of nostalgia is related to that. When you’re this focused on time, you become keenly aware of how it passes you by, and you cling to it with all you’ve got, try to understand that fickle thing. It’s 4:37am, I don’t know what that means in the scheme of things, all I know is that it reminds me I exist in the now, no matter how many parts of myself I nudge towards the past and the future.