I think it’s a commonality we can all share as geeks, that each of us has fandoms and fantasy worlds that are as real to us as the one we live in. When we were children, a stick was a lightsaber and Wonder Woman’s invisible jet was always ready to be conjured by the imagination. As we grow older, our imaginations tend to dull a bit and sticks turn into debris to be cleared from the yard. The emotions and the desire to return the that place of magic however, stay with us for life.
You may be realizing where this is going, as I am clearly a man who sells merchandise capitalizing on those very feelings. I make no effort to hide it. Let’s move beyond that relationship, so I can tell you what nostalgia means to me and why I think it’s the best investment. I’d like to begin by talking about how we access that nostalgia.
Many of the keys to our memories are lost to us as our brains age, moving out of our control to recall. Smells have a powerful ability to jog memory, but how can one seek out a smell that will help them remember something lost to time? Taste is a powerful gateway to memory, but nothing ever tastes the same as the first time you loved it. Sounds and sights are important, but our ability to use them to access lost joys diminishes as those senses fail.
This leaves us with touch (and ESP of course). I don’t want to diminish the struggle of those who have lost feeling in their bodies, but for the vast majority of us, touch remains a strong link to memory long after the other senses become dull. We keep trinkets and mementos that we hold in our hands while thinking of days long gone. The old walking stick that crossed many mountains. The old hammer that built the home your children grew up in. That first protractor that started your design career. We tend to hold on to these things, as mementos to help us recall those glory days.
But where is the memento from when you and the neighbor kids were the fellowship of the ring and went to Mordor in the empty lot, to save Middle Earth? Where is your medal, who your sister, Princess Leia gave you when you and your dog Chewbacca blew up the Death Star in the laundry room? You don’t have them anymore. The stick that was Sting is long gone and the paper medal was thrown out when you went to college. The real ones are in Bilbo’s study, inside a fantasy world that you can only access by reading the book again for the umpteenth time…
It need not be so.
In this age of wonders, it is a small task to recreate those items. Not as sticks and paper medals, but as they were in your imagination. As they appeared on your old 13” TV or as they were described on the page. So that when you hold the red book of Westmarch in your hand, it isn’t the crayon-drawn map that you and the neighbor child brought back. It’s the true article, with all the weight and feel that your childhood imagination could conjure.
Because you too will want to share those memories with your children and grandchildren. Not only the memories of your childhood adventures, but also the stories that inspired your imagination. How better than from a book just like the ones the characters have in their world? How better than while they clutch the holy symbol in their little hands, the same one that allowed the hero to cross the magical barrier?
It is true that material possessions and trinkets are fleeting and temporary. The memories they can access however, are one of the greatest joys we can experience in our lives.
I feel that the curation of that nostalgia is a sacred task. Those memories created people who now solve the world’s problems, with the lessons they learned from those childhood heroes. While you may have your skills or the adult decisions you have made to thank for where you are in your life, it was those trips to Mordor that made you the person you are today. Remembering that and passing that sacred mythology down to the next generation is as important to me as the preservation of science and culture.
Because that’s truly what it is to us; our mythology. I did not learn right and wrong from the very confusing Old Testament stories the pastor read in Sunday School as a child. I learned it from Samwise Gamgee, a gardener with the courage to storm Cirith Ungol single-handedly. I learned it from Master Yoda, who showed me that the oldest and weakest of us have the greatest power of all: wisdom. I learned it from Captain Picard, who taught me that all creatures have the right to their own experience, even if we cannot understand it.
Most of all I learned from my parents, who shared these stories with me that were so influential to them. That is what nostalgia means to me. The preservation of that which made us who we are and the way we communicate that to all who could learn from us.
Does a trinket represent that? Absolutely it can, if it was made with this philosophy. Objects can have as much or as little meaning as we imbue them with. Wars have been started over carvings of cows and symbols of gods have brought crowds to their knees. Objects have a very powerful effect on our thoughts and feelings and I believe it is truly noble for the most beautiful of our trinkets to represent the best of our thoughts and feelings.