Timbre of Old Voices by Regina Mogilevskaya
I don’t know whether I am eternally plagued with escapism or if it’s merely misplaced affection. All I know is that I am prone to losing myself between trodden alleyways of minuscule details. Fleeting moments send me away for brief increments that feel like hours, adrift in the white noise of reminiscence.
Johannes Hofer was a Swiss physician who first coined the term nostalgia, struggling to understand the drowsy melancholia that overcame young soldiers. The word itself is derived from the Greek language: nostos, meaning to return home, and algia, a meaning a painful condition. An aching yearning to return home. In the 17th and 18th centuries, nostalgia was thought to be a disease of the mind, a physical ailment cured by the proper dose of medicine, even the right surgery in some cases. Men and women alike suffered similar symptoms; weeping and a racing heartbeat.
Today it’s coined as an “incurable modern condition.” Svetlana Boym, a Harvard professor and the author of “The Future of Nostalgia,” claims that the 20th century began with a futuristic utopia and ended with nostalgia. This is to say that the further forward we move along, the more something inside us clings to what already was. Boym divides it into two phenomenons: restorative nostalgia, in which one seeks to cement the cracks in memory as they see fit, and reflective nostalgia, which “thrives in the longing itself.”
Thrives in the longing itself.
Years of constantly looking over my shoulder for one more glimpse of blue scenery I’m leaving behind has shown me that the longing acts as a taper between the reality of what is, and what was. The further I move away (not forcefully, but merely following life as it comes) from an event, or a person, the closer I look back at them, running old dialogue rough across my tongue, evaluating shapes and listening closely to the timbre of old voices.
The trigger always comes so quick that I don’t even have a second to sturdy my footing, or even suspect that a trigger is coming. Sometimes it is an act of exploration, the opening of a drawer, or leafing through an old album that fills the afternoon light of the family room closet with dust. And sometimes it’s these brief nuances of the little bits of my life: the smell of my parked car beneath the birches in the driveway, the tune of a violin that accidentally comes on my shuffle while I am at the gym. The first smell of fresh snow always conjures up the same image: me at seven years old, bundled in a purple snowsuit, helping my father brush a soft coat of snow off our Pontiac. One note of a songbird in Allston sends me to a crisp morning in the Catskill mountains, while even the crackling of modest flames in a fireplace in Burbank hurtle me back to a burgundy living room in New Jersey, my knees curled into the lap of someone I once loved, the smell of warm pasta still lingering.
Even when I do not consciously succumb to its pulls, there’s a twisted romanticism to tracing my finger down old pathways, guided by scents and visuals, always music. Longing yourself into displacement doesn’t have to be a daily occurrence, I know that. And yet, in the early hours of a Los Angeles morning, caught off guard by the scent of damp dew, I am spinning, spinning, spinning. I land swiftly on my feet moments later in my car, driving down Cahuenga Boulevard, everything exactly as I had left it.