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  • Writer's pictureTracey Lee

M and N

Two similar emotions with overtones of sadness, wistfulness, and reflection.

Melancholia is almost a ubiquitous trait in powerfully effective characters. I think of the brooding Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre as quintessentially melancholic. Even Jane herself can be described as a serious individual who is frequently deep in thought reflecting on the past with a grim sense of regret. It was once a state described as a disease that required some form of intervention due to the belief that one should not be gloomy, sombre or too lost in thought. Unattractive qualities in women, more desirable in men allegedly. You know brooding, potentially dangerous heroic man; whiny, unapproachable, glum woman.

But it is not all misery and dark days. The melancholic tend to be very introspective and generally quite creative. They find the greyness of winter inspiring, the silence of a room without conversation an exquisite opportunity for daydreaming and the sorrowful moments an opportunity for pensiveness. The quietness of the melancholic is unnerving for some. No-one ever knows what they are planning. The low affect of one who engages in long periods of contemplative thought tends to make them an outsider. And a target for those who tend to think that there’s something wrong with them and that a bit of ‘jollying up’ is required.

My favourite melancholic is Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh. Winnie and Piglet, great friends and terribly philanthropic residents of the 100 Acre Wood are always trying to cheer up their donkey compatriot. But Eeyore stoically refuses to let go of his colourless nature. I’m sure somewhere in the conceptualisation of goth culture Eeyore was the archetype. I shall not find joy, I will not smile and I shall costume myself in in cloak of gloom.

Eeyore, the old grey Donkey, stood by the side of the stream and looked at himself in the water. “Pathetic,” he said. “That's what it is. Pathetic.” He turned and walked slowly down the stream for twenty yards, splashed across it, and walked slowly back on the other side. Then he looked at himself in the water again. “As I thought,” he said. “No better from this side." A. A. Milne

And in the same contemplative family of feelings is nostalgia.

A sentimentality ascribed to our feelings about the past. A past where things seemed better, felt better or may have been simpler. Nostalgia tends to bite when we are experiencing the complexities of the here and now. It is defined by a wistful longing for a time or place when such difficulties were non-existent or easily solved. Many have a longing for the uncomplicated existence of youth or childhood. Others seek deliverance by pondering the perfection of places from one’s past. Nostalgia tends to allow us to wallpaper over the complexities of the past and references to the good old days rarely gives the full picture.

Life is not meant to be lived by constantly harking back to what was. Politicians do a special line in encouraging voters to reach back in time and envisage a world that was, in their opinion, better. But we can’t live backwards, we have today, and what might be tomorrow. Nostalgia isn’t not a state of mind that can last. It’s should not be a political platform. It is a moment of longing that should inspire us to be better in the days ahead.

I leave my nostalgic meanderings for moments when I seek what has been lost. The ability to run all day without tiring, the fearlessness of trying new things, the smell of daphne that grew prolifically at our front door and the yearning for a Hoadley’s Polly Waffle.

Nostalgia can be cruel. I’ll never be that fit again, I can’t seem to grow daphne anymore and the long-promised return of the Polly Waffle has not eventuated.

Nostalgia is a seductive liar. George Ball

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