People romanticize snippets of the past and I’m no different. If you listen to me talk about my UF years, you’d think:
1. I got straight As.*
2. I spent four years in Gainesville with Cheryl, a time overflowing with love, joy, learning, and fulfillment.
3. Ambrosia came with every meal. They only had enough to serve it as a side though.**
4. Classmates followed me on campus, collecting things my feet had trod.
5. Steve Spurrier begged me daily to join the team and solve his dreadful kicking game.***
6. I reigned over the Florida Gym like I was the king holding court, with stifling defense, dazzling dribbling, and a clutch, 3 point shot that would make Larry Bird get down on his knees and kiss my ring.
Obviously it wasn’t all that, to borrow a phrase from my daughter. I’ve got my finger on the pulse of teen culture, yo!
I had a theory about the good old days. I wasn’t just thinking about my good old days, but the concept – those periods in life we’re most likely to hold dear to our hearts. I won’t claim I came up with it first, because it turns out I didn’t. I only claim it occurred to me independent of outside influence – other than raw evidence. When I heard some of my private thoughts in class at UF, allegedly from people who had the same thoughts before I was born, I felt a little deflated. But go ahead, call me liar. I double dog dare you!
Lest I confuse or bore you further, here it is. Although we selectively remember the good times from our “good old days,” those days don’t become good and old unless there are a fair number of mostly forgotten bad days in the mix.
Forgetting those classes at UF for a moment (I did a long time ago), the only flaw in my theory (that I could see) was it relied on one study with an admittedly small test group and no control for comparison. Can I count that as one flaw or do I have to go with three or more? Some would even stoop so low as to call my evidence “anecdotal,” because it came solely from my personal experience – or my recollection of it after the fact.
Well! You do know you’re free to stop reading anytime you like, right?
I imagine “THE good old days” is a moving target, changing as we grow older, having more days in the sample for comparison. However, for the moment mine are my days in college – as I’ve suggested before, in this same post even! I “image” they are a moving target because at the tender age of thirty-nine, I have a lot more data to collect.
Emotional ups and downs filled my college years. I started dating and got engaged at UF, but I also spent some of the loneliest days of my life at UF. If you can believe it, Cheryl was actually dating someone else when we started school. (Yes, I was a rebound guy.) I had the closest friendships of my life, and I pissed each and every one of them away. (I think it’s why I’m a little dismissive when someone says I’m a nice guy. I have evidence to the contrary.)
For every moment of bliss, I can come up with it’s equal and opposite… if I try a little harder.
Do you know what you’re thinking? I know what you should be thinking: “Why the hell would you work so hard to remember the bad times? Can’t you just deal with a few fleeting moments of serenity and nostalgia and leave well enough alone? Are you one of those weirdos who enjoy pain?”
First of all, believe it or not there are some personal things I keep private, thank you very much!
Mostly I’m just curious. I did spend the better part of four years studying the mind and how it works. Well, actually I studied what a few folks not named Freud THOUGHT about its mysteries. No offense to the Freud dude, who may have had more issues himself than he studied and wrote about. I did two research projects at UF focused on memory. The formation, use, and retention of memories fascinated me for some time, particularly after my grandmother with Alzheimer’s died (while I was at UF).
I wonder if good, even great can get bland – in a way. Say you have a great day. What does it entail? I’m not talking about vacations or events, I’m talking about real, every day life. How is it different from other good days? If you string a bunch together, is the difference enough to remember the specifics of a particular day for a week, 6 months, or years? I think the answer for most people is no. I think our mind makes short cuts whenever it can, building a construct of “a good day” from hundreds of good days. Our minds learn things which typically make up “good days,” and our recollection of the specifics fade – after they’ve been classified, ranked, and processed – added to the mind’s algorithm used to reconstruct a “memory” of a “good day.”
Now think back to the good times you had to work for, when life was a little more roller-coaster than merry-go-round. Those days have contrast, the memories like the after-image of a flashbulb in a darkened room. It makes me wonder if we have to suffer a little to find happiness with any depth to it, rich enough in emotional texture to stand out in our mind.
Study this post and you’ll probably find more holes than my memories. A four year degree hardly makes me an expert. I haven’t even tried to explain the repression of bad times in this post. In fact, I don’t believe all of them are all that repressed. But that’s ok. Light lacks contrast without darkness, and many (if not most) of us can choose to see more light than its alternative when we’re given the gift of time. It’s enough to make me think a little differently about my depression. A few times I’ve climbed out of the hole to find great memories ready for the making.
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*Actually, that one’s true.
**I meant to imply the mythological definition of ambrosia, not “beebread,” or “a fungal product used as food by ambrosia beetles,” as a pesky dictionary might suggest.
***I was actually pretty consistent from 40 yards off a tee behind my house in high school, using our narrow, 8′ swing set in lieu of goal posts. However, I never played a down of organized ball. I was always the guy with the “biggest leg” on my soccer teams though.