by Michael Leong
I take great joy in my Saturday ritual. Every Saturday morning, I wake up late (hopefully slightly hungover), get a shower, put on my headphones and walk as slowly as I can to Jericho Coffee. I get a takeaway short Latte, and walk, just as slowly, back to my room. If I’m lucky, the skies won’t be too cloudy and sunlight might strike the pavement; always the air is chilly and fresh. When I’m back in my room, I drag my armchair to the corner of the room (sorry Lauren!) and sit. And let the coffee and the music take me back. One of the lessons the Great Gatsby is supposed to teach us (if I don’t butcher it, that is) is that we shouldn’t try to recreate the past. All attempts to grasp wildly at that which is gone and now beyond us leads to pain, reaching back is an overly romantic attempt to deny the facts of the world and to impose our wills on that which is fundamentally beyond our control. But we don’t scoff at Gatsby, we feel for him, deeply – his story is a tragedy because his deepest desires were all too human. For all of rationality’s demands we often find ourself plunged back again and again into the past, we return – against our wills even – to memories long and far away. And why should we not? A good case can be made for returning to the past, no matter how deeply irrational it might be. Because to be irrational is to be human, it is to feel. And only when we honour the parts of us that feel deeply, the parts that care, only when we pay attention and listen – can we move forward with hope into the future.
There are few things more beautiful than good coffee tasted fully while being caressed by your favourite music. Music too, can become so closely tied to our memories and feelings that they take us back into past selves. ‘The Scientist’ takes me back to lovelorn teenage days. ‘We Are Young’ takes me back to middle school graduation. ‘Disco 2000’ to many long train rides. Beach House, which I’ve been returning to again and again, brings me back to life near the end of my service and before Oxford – Teenage Dream for my drives to work, Bloom for nights spacing out in bed and night drives with people I hold dear, Devotion and Depression Cherry for hours of sitting in my neighbourhood Café, enjoying the way trees sway and how the sun strikes the pavement, drinking coffee, reading, writing, being. Music has a way of bringing me closer to my inner selves – it channels my pensive, awkward letters to people who make me feel, it brings out feelings I’d earlier overlooked when I finally find the space to just sit and be, it helps me find the right words to say when I prepare to say goodbye, it helps me when I write about things which matter deeply.
And the point I’m trying to make is – to return to your memories is to return to your self. When I finish my coffee I might write a little, usually I’ll read whatever I feel like and whatever happens to excite me. Often I find myself returning to my favourite book. My Saturday ritual is my own little attempt to recreate the past, it is an homage to those hours spent in the Café reading only because I wanted to, writing bad poetry and soppy stories and journalling to capture fleeting feelings. It is an ode to being myself, a way to return, just for a moment, to the things that ground me. The ritual brings me a bit nearer to home, bridging the gap between reality and the fact that home and warm faces are far away.
Our past, memories and rituals are so important, because while university is often touted as a time for us to find ourselves, to explore, grow, experiment – it is also immensely disorienting. It is so easy to lose track of who you are, to be caught up in the rush and buzz and new people and the uncertainty and novelty and mountains of work, that you might find yourself alienated from your sense of telos and uncertain of who you are and of your place in the world. And our rituals bring us back, remind us that we have roots, remind us of everything that is familiar and comfortable, make it that much easier to venture out and take on new situations. It doesn’t have to be coffee, music and half closed eyes – it could be Skype calls with friends who remember who we’ve been. Often we leave parts of ourselves in people, and in our friends we have safely stored facets of ourselves that we might have forgotten existed. It could be Sunday Pains au Chocolat and warm tea, it could be late night cup noodles, it could be late night wine. It could be burgers. It could be hiding from the world and catching up on (or rewatching) your favourite television shows. It could be finding a new snuggle buddy. It could be rowing. It could be a lot of time alone. It could be late night walks or it could be late night cries. It could be poring through old group photos and sending them to your friends and telling them you 2 miss them. It could be a quick call or long overdue hours of catching up.
Of course, they’re not perfect – we can never truly recreate the past. But we can always honour it, because we’re human and will always find ourselves caught up in it in some way or another. Being human means having a past, existing in the web of the world, it is to be host to a whole range of feelings, situations, desires, habits and relationships – these do not simply disappear upon beginning university. As Nick noted, “we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” We might like to see ourselves as free for creation, but we are persons partially formed, placed on our course by our histories, and ever susceptible to old habits and tendencies. Even as we seek to find new patterns of personality and ways of living, these patterns are built off of someone, and that someone makes up a huge part of who we are. So as we venture forward looking for more – perhaps it is helpful to sometimes take a step back, and keep part of ourselves closely and intimately in touch with the rich memories that comprise our past.