It’s a beautiful sight – downtown Bozeman Montana on December 7th of just about any year– it’s everything that a thoughtful artist would put into a painting if his aim was to inspire a childlike naiveté in a Christmas cynic. It’s like the first verse of the song Silver Bells. The crowded sidewalks are covered in snow, every window is lined with decorations, every door has a wreath, every lamp post is dressed with a bow, and hanging above the stoplights on every corner, is a giant centerpiece made of brightly colored lights and garland.
Just three weeks ago today, I was rolling through this scene getting ready to set up my gear and play at a bar on the corner of 2 major downtown streets. It was my first show ever at this particular place – a local favorite Irish pub complete with its own fantastic decorations, two very sexy cocktail waitresses, plenty of cozy armchairs, and a crackling fire for the rambunctious group of skiers to crowd around and share their rarely accurate stories from the epic powder day.
My mind and heart were racing: “this is it!” I thought, “I’m finally here! I’ve wanted to get back and do my thing here for so long and it’s finally happening!”
Let me explain…
I’ve been playing music for a living in the valley of the Sun for a while now. But nostalgia took root several years ago, and for a variety of reasons I could never get back to my hometown of Bozeman for more than a prolonged visit.
If I could have, I would have, because my memories of good times there were so vivid and strong that it had become irresistible. I remembered sitting at my favorite coffee shop sipping joe and conducting my daily music business. I remembered good nights on the town with friends and strangers ending up at someone’s house at 6AM feeling like it had been days since the night started… evenings in with my amazing roommates, watching a good movie or show, making a delicious dinner in our undersized kitchen… there was sledding and skiing in the winter… hiking, volleyball at the “beach”, and floating the river in the summer…
In my mind, going back there and being able to make a real living as a musician while living there among my roots and my close friends was the dream or at least a big part of it.
So there I was 3 weeks ago having just rolled into town, and as I was unloading my car in the face-numbing cold, several things occurred to me at once. I was no longer the kid that left town a few years back – a lot of my memories were based on tiny moments that would never happen again – and I had grown up ten years in the last year, was in the middle of a bunch of real responsibility and progress, and had probably made a decision that would put my future on hold.
I brushed these thoughts off and played a great show to a bar full of my friends, and there were moments where I felt at home.
But when 1AM rolled around and I was alone with my thoughts, I started to REALLY understand something for the first time. *Nostalgia always lies* period. There is nothing that you or I remember fondly, that we will EVER have the ability to return to. Time marches on, and the experiences we try to recreate from six months or a year or three or five years ago, will never measure up to our memories.
For a moment in the dark, the finality of that reality was devastating to me. “I can never have all that again. I can never be that guy in that world again. In fact, I don’t even care about or want the kinds of things that would make that fun anymore.” Maybe all of this is obvious to you… hell it’s practically a cliché! But it was the first time I had ever felt it to this extent and it was scary and suffocating.
Then – before I could even get to sleep – it occurred to me. That could be great if I look at it right – fantastic in fact. All of the things I’ve ever looked back on fondly have always been followed by better things. And this is NOW! And now is new – and someday… this time right now and all these crazy adventures will be memories that I’m looking back on fondly.
Despite the fact that my move to Bozeman was intended to be semi-permanent, it didn’t take me long after that realization took root to return to Arizona. The dream of living in Bozeman was carried on the wings of lying nostalgia, and despite my love for the town and my close friends, who sustain me and give me strength, I’m building a music career and Phoenix is a far better place to do that. And for sure… there’s a good chance I might want to live in Bozeman again someday… but if I do, it will be for new reasons and new adventures. Because I know for sure I can never go back to any other part of my life. And that knowledge makes all the difference.
Now the picture isn’t all so pretty. In my mind, what I learned that night was that I had wasted a lot of my emotion during great times of my life thinking about how great it would be to get back to a time I remembered as being better. Even if it was better in a lot of ways, I think that reminiscing to the point of making the present less relevant is always a mistake. Why not focus on what I’m passionate about now and how to grow from that? Why not think about how I can enjoy my life now and maybe even intentionally create little moments along the way so that this part of the journey becomes something that nostalgia begs me to return to?
In a year…I hope I’m looking back on this time in Arizona and I can’t help but fondly recall the walk I took last night in my neighborhood; the sunset while I played guitar on the patio; drinks with a new friend; the feeling of conquering the world I get from driving around town meeting with managers and owners at prospective venues, knowing it’s only a matter of time till I’m playing every night again. I hope this becomes a time I can think back on with that same naiveté that inspired an unnecessary attempt at a move across the country.
Oh… and wherever I am when the next wave of longing for some part of my already distant past sneaks out of a rainy morning or late-night radio tune, I’m gonna smile at that pretty little liar nostalgia, and thank it for making my life so damn beautiful in memory.