Imaginary Nostalgia

Let me be very clear, first: I adamantly oppose as inexcusable harassing behavior—too common among too many men—in which people are treated as objects. Yet, even as I find harassment offensive and inexcusable, I cannot precisely define the point at which indulgent appreciation becomes improper and abusive attention. That is, where is the fine line at which, once crossed, behavior transforms from acceptable to unacceptable? Generally speaking, I am referring to behavior, by males, aimed at females. But it can be the reverse, I am sure, or gender-on-gender offensiveness. I’ll stick to males behaving badly, for the moment.

At what precise point does an acceptable level of “girl watching” transform into unwelcome glares? When a man’s eyes follow a woman walking by him, at what point does his glance become a harassing stare? At what point does innocent flirting between acquaintances merit rejection as uncomfortable overture? Does there exist a universally accepted sphere of behavior that, if transcended, is recognized by both males and females as a bridge too far? Assuming such a point exists, how close does “acceptable flirting” come to that point?

The nineteenth century believed in science but the twentieth century does not.

~ Gertrude Stein ~

This is on my mind at the moment because I am mulling over a story I wrote a few years ago. It involves a relationship between the executive of a nuclear watchdog agency and a woman who works for him. Their relationship, as written, is rather flat; its genesis is weak and not sufficiently explained. I am thinking about revising the story to make their relationship more three dimensional and its ramifications more believable. But getting a better, more clearly defined, “red line” understanding of how a relationship might develop that, at first, seems natural, is important. And making a believable transition between an acceptable relationship and one in which the behaviors of both parties have crossed the line will make the story, in general, more believable. Though, in honesty, I doubt I’ll do much with the story in question. I lost interest before I finished writing it and I’m having a tough time reviving the embers. We shall see.


During the course of several years, as I have written more than once, the scent of patchouli incense conflates with a sense of serenity. Yet I have noticed an odd dichotomy involving that odor, one in which thoughts of the patchouli scent spark a rather intense, almost frantic, desire to smell that aroma…a frantic desire for tranquility.

Now, as I think about it, I wonder whether my brain has convinced itself that tranquility is assured only if my nose can confirm the presence of the patchouli aroma. And I wonder whether the ecstasy of tranquility is so powerful that mere thoughts of the Patchouli scent cause an addictive response between my nose and my brain?

This morning, as I reached for the incense cone, I felt my heartbeat hasten and flutter, as if the mere thought of the aroma caused an eruption of passion.

Biochemical reactions. Is that the simplest explanation of what we humans are? Just responses to chemicals—natural and otherwise—in our environment? Or is there something much deeper than that? I choose to believe the latter. But I cannot begin to explain just what it is.


On rare occasions, a single shred of memory bursts from the darkness—a tiny fragment of my forgotten past—to enlighten me about certain childhood moments. This morning, for no apparent reason, a memory of what may have been my first trick-or-treat Halloween experience. This scrap of memory has two parts. The first is my recollection that a very chilly cold snap had descended on the town where I lived, Corpus Christi. The second consists of my olfactory and my gustatory memories of the delightful flavor of candy corn. The sugary treat had been given to me by neighbors displayed seasonal spirit through their Halloween decorations and brightly-lit front porches. My memories are not crystal clear, but they are sharp enough to count as some of the very few real “memories” from childhood I can claim as my own.

I say there was no apparent reason for my memory. That may be wrong. I had just noticed my computer’s assertion that the outside temperature is 30°F. The chill and the fact that the middle of the month has come and gone point to the changing of the seasons. Those factors and my specific memory of a childhood Halloween following on the heels of a cold snap worked in tandem to dredge up a memory. There’s always a reason. We do not always know what it is. But it is there, waiting to be discovered.


Nostalgia projects an imprecise and incomplete memory from an imaginary past onto the real present. Though the idea of nostalgia is appealing, the reality of trading tips on coding smart-phone apps with one’s great, great, great, great grandmother is an absurdity. It’s not because the greatnth relative is stupid; it’s because the greatnth relative’s life has an entirely different context, one in which smart phone apps are meaningless.


Light is spilling from the sky, bathing the denuding-in-process forest with dim illumination. It won’t be long before the deciduous trees will be naked and the pine trees will be clothed in a green negligee. But not today. Today, the forest creatures will retain their modesty. For a while longer. Damn! It’s too cool this morning to go dancing nude in the forest. That’s true whenever it’s not too hot.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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