aNewDomain — That shot below is of my friend Khyentse James. She’s a documentarian and a cultural anthropologist, and just a really cool human being.
The other night she was showing me artifacts from her past. Collectibles, objects of enthusiasm, but also mementos gathered from around the world. Special people, special places.
She had an object in her hand and it occurred to me to ask: what are you feeling when you hold that thing?
She said, “Mostly nostalgia.” She says joy is mostly nostalgia, reminders of good times. I don’t entirely disagree.
See, the thing is that Khyentse understands nostalgia.
She puts on a 1940s ball every Summer in Boulder, CO. I had the chance to go to one last year and it was an amazing event. There was a ton of spectacle, enthusiasm, nerdgasm, fun activities, good food and great booze.
As a veteran I’m rarely comfortable with being thanked for my service. When people say that, you rarely know exactly what it is they are grateful for, what the person has actually given, actually sacrificed.
People give away all their freedom in the service. We give away our family lives, predictability, safety, body-integrity. Freedom to speak freely, get high, get fat. Freedom to wear what we want, have the hair we want. Every aspect of life is regulated, controlled. It’s the ultimate abusive relationship: Uncle Sam takes total control and shares no power.
And that’s just for starters. In the service we also give up the right to pacifism. We even give up the notion of it. If we load bombs or launch satellites, inventory pens or drive a fuel truck, whatever it is, it’s in the service of warfare. In other words, when I launched GPS satellites for the USAF, that technology was used to guide missiles, bombs, planes, attack helicopters, Seal Team Six and guide various other personnel and equipment to deadly destinations.
Khyentse always ensures there are veterans there to be seen and thanked. But mere thanks, just the words, are just the introduction. Actually, the whole event is a festival of nostalgia. There are pin-up contests, a plane painter, a Bob Hope impersonator, Andrews Sisters impersonators. Nearly everyone comes in costume. There are planes and trucks carefully rebuilt and restored.
It’s easy to say “I appreciate you.” But all this effort, love, material culture, they are concrete demonstrations of appreciation.
Can it be that all happiness is, ultimately, nostalgia? Khyentse says that, for adults, maybe it is.
So, this: The older you become, the more experiences you have had. The more experiences you’ve had, the more everything you see and experience relates to, is like, and reminds you of the experiences you have had in the past.
When teaching adults, we have to take advantage of this phenomenon. It is hard for adults to learn completely new things, after all. But easy for us to relate new things to old things. So we learn through metaphors — through androgogy rather than pedagogy.
I’ve met thousands of people by now. I’ve traveled the world, moved every three or four years as a child and, until I was 35, as an adult, too. I worked food service and retail, and now I teach. I still meet a hundred new people a semester just at the one school where I teach So every new person I meet reminds me of a person I met before.
Sometimes it’s difficult to nail down those associations.
The same goes for the feelings you have, and the fun, too.
Whenever you feel something, it reminds you of another time you felt it. In the end, it becomes harder and harder to come up with a unique experience or, if you can have it, to not understand it in terms of a previous experience.
I don’t know. But I do know this: The folks who come to James’ party do have a good time.
Check out pictures of all that fun at this link.
For aNewDomain, I’m Jason Dias.
Editor: Check out two short takes from Khyentse James’ documentaries, below.
Image one: BohemianAgent.com, All Rights Reserved; image two: US President Barack Obama with a 108-year-old veteran, YouTube; image three: 1940sball.com, All Rights Reserved.