Or: Yearning for a past I never had.

Nostalgia is looking back at actual past experiences and remembering them, usually fondly, sometimes desiring to go back and relive them. Sometimes this is valid escapism, other times it's just a consequence of the nostalgia effect. False nostalgia, on the other hand, is when the past I'd like to go back to never happened. It's fantasizing about the past.

Sometimes this imaginary past is created by others, particularly the media. Anyone who grew up in the eighties will remember the John Hughes brat pack films: Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles. They helped solidify the image of what high school was supposed to be like; since my actual experiences didn't match, it created envy at the time, and false nostalgia ever since.

It doesn't help that I didn't (and still don't) take many risks. So, of course, I didn't experience much, and I never really grew up. Maybe that's why I idealized these manufactured images. Even seeing later spoofs of these movies (e.g., Heathers), and after seeing with older eyes just how shallow the whole miserable experience was, I still think I did it wrong. Of course, I can't go back and fix it, so I'm just wasting time.

More broadly, we're always fighting out of the preconceptions of the previous generations. The ideal image of a community in the USA used to revolve around the small town. Even into the 1950s, the white picket fences and June Cleavers ruled the media images. Contrast that to the increasingly fragmented lifestyle of the eighties and nineties.

My dad worked for the government his whole career. At Hewlett-Packard, I regularly see retirement parties for people with 30+ years of experience. Me? I've never held a job for longer than 20 months since I graduated college in 1995. My mom lived in the same area for the first 20 years of her life. By then, I had spent 8 years in New Jersey, a year in Louisana, and the rest in New Mexico.

Environment and climate can be a breeding ground of false nostalgia. Even if you moved a lot, you'd never experience all the possible weather and seasons everywhere. Indeed, true experience of a region's climate means that you stayed there a while, to get some feel for both the average and the exceptional.

Having grown up in southern New Mexico, I've always yearned for snow, rain, cold, and cloudy days. (Yes, dammit, I wanted winter.) Looking back at manufactured reality, these types of weather made them more desirable and more alien. A few that come to mind: the Peanuts It's a Charlie Brown Christmas; Dead Poets Society; Marillion's Kayleigh; The Sisters Of Mercy's Driven like the Snow; The Cure's Same Deep Water as You and Prayers for Rain;

Sometimes this feeling of false nostalgia comes out of nowhere; it just bubbles up from the subconscious, sometimes overwhelming us. Most of the time, it's triggered by something else. Like deja vu, this false nostalgia mixes real experiences from the past with something from our fantasies.

As you've probably figured out by now, most of my fantasy worlds are from the mass media (which might explain why I try to avoid most of it, these days). Music is far and away the most powerful of these triggers for me. As a classic example, listening to a collection of prom songs makes me wish that I hadn't been too smart for high school.

Most of my experiences with false nostalgia are a result of empathy with characters portrayed in songs and movies. Add to this a low self-esteem as a result of various defense mechanisms, and too much self-consciousness. Finish it all off with a huge desire to escape, be it through booze, work, or ... false nostalgia.