Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be


I stole that title from the writer Peter de Vries. Kind of nails it, eh?

I was already in the throes of this unexpected nostalgia binge when I had a crazy experience last week. On the hunt for yearbook-style pictures I could use to stand in for my three nostalgia girls, I stumbled onto an online copy of the yearbook from my own high school in 1974. I was a junior. The site let me leaf through it and magnify the pages, so it was the next best thing to holding it in my hands.

The scanned yearbook seems to have belonged to someone named Kathy. All the inscriptions were made out to her, though I couldn’t find her last name anywhere so I didn’t know if she was someone I knew or not.

I wasn’t a yearbook kind of guy. I only bought one out of the four, but if there were one I wish I’d bought it would have been this one from junior year. I was feeling more confident that year, writing for the school paper, Tigerism. I was in the National Honor Society and the Quill and Scroll Society. I took some interesting classes like Film Production and Band I, where I was learning to play the effing oboe. Good times.

I was geeky, though, and even if I wasn’t technically a nerd, I was definitely what we called a “freak.” In our school we had freaks and greasers, and the greasers were like Fonzie from Happy Days. Freaks were long-haired hippie types, misfits trying to look cool in an effort to hide their insecurities with girls.

mortifiedHere’s my head shot from that yearbook. I don’t know. If not for the Adam’s apple, I could probably be mistaken for an earnest young lesbian who’ll go on to become a lab tech or professional dog walker. I tried to put on a good face that day.

And below is a shot of me (on the right) and a classmate in journalism class, discussing the school mandate to have a story about the cheerleading squad in each issue of the paper. I preferred writing reviews of rock concerts and my favorite records and caused quite a stir once with an op-ed entitled, “Gimmicks Threaten Rock Integrity.” David Bowie and Lou Reed frightened me.


The profound thing about having a relic like this from your past suddenly reappear is that you realize your young self still exists in some ways, he’s out there continuing to embarrass you, making the same mistakes you remember making, over and over again like Nietzsche’s principle of eternal return. Scary stuff. You realize other kids from your class, now pushing sixty, are leafing through yearbooks, real or virtual, seeing your face, and going, “Oh there’s that guy! What a freak. He was like the weirdest kid in school. When he passed you in the hall, he’d hold his hand up and say ‘Greetings.’”

Yes. Yes, I did that, for a while at least. It was an experiment. A failed experiment.

I started reading the inscriptions in the yearbook to see if I recognized any names, and I found a note to Kathy from the girl who would become my first real girlfriend the following year — the dynamic redhead. Her handwriting was like a wormhole to the past. She wrote on the page that showed her performing in The Bad Seed. I spotted some other names I remembered, all saying things to Kathy like, “Well, what a year it’s been. Let’s keep in touch this summer!” A few teachers wrote stuff like, “To one of my favorites. It’s been a pleasure, Kathy!” Nothing suggested that I might have known this girl aside from the fact that other kids I knew had signed her yearbook.

Then, near the very back, I found an inscription in handwriting even more shocking than my girlfriend’s. It was mine. Apparently I did know Kathy (though I still can’t remember which Kathy this one must have been …).i-was-so-weird

The message might seem strangely sage, or like I was trying too hard to be remembered, but it’s really just a line from a George Harrison song. I was spreading around song lyrics like grass seed that year. I probably thought this particular one was empowering or deep, though I don’t why I went with “Signed, Kevin.” Maybe it was my yearbook equivalent of “Greetings.”

I think this nostalgia binge as the year winds down has been an impromptu revisiting. A revisiting in the same way we like to drive by homes we lived in as kids (which I did with my eighty-year-old mom last spring, inviting a cascade of her childhood memories). Those old  homes, and those yearbooks, revive things we’ve allowed to drift into the dark. They’re still there. They just need a little nudge to float back into view. But what I understand after indulging in this backward voyage is that I’m exuberantly happy with my present life and have everything I ever needed, including the woman I was always meant to be with. And that I wouldn’t go back to high school for any amount of money.

Be here now. Amen.


8 comments on “Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be

  1. pinklightsabre
    December 2, 2016

    “Greetings!” I enjoyed this immensely. More so than the dark and the ambient tones early morning here, my dog sniffing my ears. That’s a lot to compete with.
    I love the mini-arc you create here…just before the reveal that you’d signed Kathy’s yearbook I sensed there was something coming, so it set me up perfectly.
    And I like the comparison, the very light but deep notion of the Return, that we’re still out there somewhere, just requires a nudge, like coaxing the ghosts of memory passing by those old homes. It ain’t what it used to be, that’s good and bad.
    Thanks for the lovely story-telling this week.
    I’ll share something brief in passing here: I told you I got that 3 record set of All Things Must Pass. There was a handwritten note in it from some guy (the prior owner I assume), a paper he wrote about 17th century Scotland (Cromwell, etc.). I might have told you this…but he also wrote some poetry in it, I confused as possibly song lyrics since it was inside the record. I think the poems were his attempt to riff off the George Harrison songs because some cite a lord as its subject. It’s not that good, there’s lots of misspellings that are hard to ignore, but the fact it was written like that (this is corny) feels like a message in a bottle to me, a part of a real person, so it will remain inside the record insert, and travel from me to whomever, next.

    • Kevin Brennan
      December 2, 2016

      Glad you liked it, Bill! I still blanch at that whole Greetings thing. Ugh. Who did I think I was?

      I love that you found old writings in your All Things Must Pass. Sounds like the former owner might have been about 17 (like me in the pics) and feeling his way through language and emotion and idolatry. I like buying used books with stuff written in the margins too. Books and records as communication between times.

  2. kingmidget
    December 2, 2016

    I was on the high school newspaper staff for a couple of years. Much like you wanted to always write about music, we had a guy on the newspaper staff who always wanted to write an article, a review, anything about the group Rush. The kid’s name was Eddie Lee.

    Just a memory you’ve brought up for me.

    There’s a lot more here that tugs at the strings to my past. Well done, sir. I’m home from work today because of a head cold. I feel like I should pull out the old yearbooks, start the memory machine and see what I come up with. Just don’t know where the box with the yearbooks is. 😉

    • Kevin Brennan
      December 2, 2016

      Eddie Lee loved Rush. Who didn’t see that coming?!

      Staying home with a cold is a good time to go through some old stuff. Hope you find those yearbooks. Or old journals maybe. Have you heard of the podcast, “Mortified,” where people read from their teenage journals? It’s hilarious. Painful but hilarious.

      Hope you feel better soon!

      • kingmidget
        December 2, 2016

        Fortunately, I’ve never been a journal writer. 😉

  3. 1WriteWay
    December 2, 2016

    Well, I have to give you kudos for sharing those photos of you … God! Does that bring back memories for me of my own high school and how geeky and nerdy and dorky we ALL looked, even the “cool” kids 😉 I had my senior yearbook for a long time but must have pitched it along the way. Our school colors were maroon and gold, which I hated. As Bill already said, this has been a lovely week with your nostalgic story-telling.

  4. S.K. Nicholls
    December 2, 2016

    You were sort of Lennon-ish even then. I would have probably stalked you.

Chime in

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


This entry was posted on December 2, 2016 by in Writing and tagged , .
%d bloggers like this: