Tag Archives: imagination

Tools for being human, part ten: Costumes

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My birthday sits just in front of the largest costume event on the calendar. One way I mark the passing of the years is by attempting to one-up my previous years Halloween efforts. What is it about dressing up that excites me? Is it just showing off, or can it really be a useful tool for being human?

I imagine clothing started off as purely practical. Warmth, protection from the elements, a way of enabling us to walk quickly down a gravel driveway, or cross a pit of Lego bricks, or traverse the hot sands between the shade of the beachside pine trees and the cooling temptations of the blue sea.

I reckon that occasionally some new idea would provide an evolutionary advantage. The first person to carve a tread into the bottom of their moccasins, she gained a speed advantage over her tribe-mates. “I don’t need to outrun the sabre tooth cheetah, I just need to outrun Og and his sister Grog.” Sneaker envy was born.

It’s impossible to pinpoint when dressing-up as a pastime began, but I’m guessing somewhere between the development of the fireman’s uniform and the release of the Village People’s first music video. I can though pinpoint the catalyst for my own infatuation with costumes.

Costumes can transform the way I see myself

My first costuming memory is of me cutting up an old sheet in order to produce a Luke Skywalker outfit for a school production. There are many, many blessings to being schooled prior to the development of social media. An absence of record of me dancing to “We built this city on rock and roll” with my legs wrapped in tea-stained bandages is one of them. But without that costume, anxiety would have had me in the audience, rather than on the stage.

As a kid we get to try things on for size. Cowboy hats, a shopkeeper’s apron, your Mum’s high heels, your Dad’s shaving cream. We have a freedom to become.

But as an adult, we often feel a pressure to make decisions, to choose a career, to define ourselves in a number of ways. Am I guy who goes to football matches, or to the theatre? Do I believe in a God? Republican or Democrat? I’m expected to make choices, to vocalise my opinions, and to stick to both. I don’t then mention that I dreamt of being a train driver, or a doctor, or an elf. 

A costume is an opportunity to voice to a part of us that is usually heard only within the walls of our mind. We get to be amorous, vocal, smug, complicated, emotional…we get to pair up with other cat-in-the-hats, dance with John & Ringo, wolf-whistle at Marilyn Monroe. There’s a delicious freedom in the becoming, and costume can enable that. If you asked the average person in my society to play a role for an hour, you’ll invoke “fight or flight”. But if you give them a wig and a mirror…put a wig on them and give them a mirror…

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Costumes can transform the way others see me

I flew to New York City last year with two primary goals:

  1. To experience (and write about) the presidential election.
  2. To take part in the East Village Halloween parade.

A week before the world shifted under the weight of that election result, I dressed up as a Zombie Astronaut and travelled on the subway from Williamsburg to Manhattan. That journey was where my metropolitan crush began. That evening I wasn’t a white-guy tourist on a train, I was a zombie in a space suit. Lights pulsed on my back and blood ran down my neck. 

A young black family boarded the crowded carriage at Broadway.  The young daughter looked to my neck wound, then to her Mom. Mom reassured her. “He’s just playing, honey.” And for the next six stops I got non-stop acting tips from a six-year-old and her nine-year-old brother, and an apologetic shrug from their grinning mother.

I harvested hugs, hit out at high-fives, and allowed myself to be drawn into selfies. Our appearance guides people’s first impressions. When you’re obviously dressed as an impossibility, then prejudices can be nullified. As I walked up the steps up to Canal Street I wondered what the world would be like if we all shifted appearance intermittently. Where then would racism land?


Costumes are catalysts to play

My sister and her husband run a backpacker hostel in Derry, Northern Ireland, a city which hosts one of Europe’s most enthusiastic Halloween events. I love visiting at the end of October, chasing down costume accessories with enthusiastic Spanish, carving pumpkins in the basement with the Germans. 

I also love applying makeup to anxious first-timers. They shrug their shoulders, accept a glass of snakebite with a trembling hand, and sit quietly as I paint those devil’s eyes. I step away and they move towards a mirror or appreciative applause, and their demon lip curls, and a convert struts out into a city of happy terrors.

I’ve watched Elvis dance-offs, I’ve seen T-Rexes twerking, I’ve paused as NYC police lined up to get photos with the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. I spent a month doing night-shoots on Lord of the Rings, and one of my most vivid memories is of standing amongst a dozen warriors atop a castle wall, playing charades with a group of Orcs below.

Too often we designate playtime as a function of childhood, but there’s a reason that none of us wanted to be home in time for dinner. Because we valued fun over safety, over pretenses, over rules. There’s something about dressing as someone else that can reawaken that state. And I think fun is one of the most important factors in my enjoyment of being human.

Final words

Costumes can break down barriers by momentarily masking our default selves. They can disrupt our visual prejudices. They give us an excuse to play. Sometimes it is only in dressing as someone else, that you get an opportunity to reflect on who it is that you’ve chosen to be.

It’s exactly two months until Halloween. Happy days.


The places stories come from (and take me to)


Writing fiction, wow. After several months of writing from my own experience, you know, facts, I’m now free to write anything.

Of course “anything” could also be a little intimidating. Like “infinity”, or “Welcome to Subway, what are you after today?” So one of my tasks, lately, has been figuring out how to locate ideas, and then turn them into stories.

Over the past five weeks I have used a few lunch-hours (I’m still working two days a week to cover coffees and bills) to come up with a list of thirty-seven short story ideas. Of these single paragraph descriptions, I chose eight to start fleshing out into stories. And of these eight, I’ve so-far completed three. As in I’ve started soliciting feedback on them brought them from others.

So why these three stories? Where did they come from? And where did they take me?


Story one: The pub quiz

I posted the first couple of pages of this first story a couple of weeks ago. It starts with a man whose ambition and joy for living has slipped away so gradually hadn’t noticed. The story picks up momentum (and hope) when he meets a woman who might offer him a chance to rewrite his future. Is he still capable of taking it?

I love those magical moments in life when I meet someone new, and there’s this powerful frisson, this trembling, vibrating understanding that they could represent a significant, positive transformation. Occasionally though, I’ve found this feeling being almost immediately tempered by a wave of self-reproach. “Why would they want to be friends/tag-team-wrestling-partners/lovers with me?”

I’m intimidated by the degree of feeling they generate, and I start thinking about how much more terrible rejection feels, when it comes from those people I choose to raise above me. And then that lump forms between throat and heart, and self-doubt begins to eclipse hope.

Sometimes I want to make a part of myself transparent, so that this person might see the parts of me of which I’m most proud. But translucency means they get to see the shadows as well.

Writing this story allowed me to characterise that part of me, to give it a name, Gavin. Then I got to create the person who evokes that astounding feeling in Gavin. I named her Alice. Then I put them at a table at the Red Lion, on a busy quiz night, and I let them decide where the story went.


Story two: The list maker

The second story I completed is about a treasure hunt, and it is about Alzheimer’s, and it is mostly about the degree to which we let a select number of our memories define who we are. It puts the reader inside an older man’s head for an afternoon, as he attempts to solve a gentle mystery.

It was an opportunity to tell what is essentially a very sad story, but tell it from the largely positive viewpoint of an endearing old gent. It was a chance to remind myself of the importance of living life as engaged as possible. It gave me a reason to ask myself some important questions. What are the moments that I believe define me? Who will be there for me if I begin to lose aspects of myself? Who do I want to be there for, if they find themselves struggling for definition?


Story three: The first and last hours of Hector Fuego-Salamanca

I was listening to an interview with an author a couple of weeks ago, and she pointed out that there was no reason for short fiction to stick with a single character, or be restricted to a short time period. Just because you only have a few thousand words, there’s no reason you can’t tell a story from multiple viewpoints, or utilise something other than real-time. That got me thinking:

“What if I offered the first few hours of someone’s life, and then the last? And this became an opportunity for the reader to fill the gaps between?”

And so my third completed story describes the first and last few hours of Hector Fuego-Salamanca. Hector is born under difficult circumstances, birthed in the back of a stolen four-wheel drive, which is parked on the edge of an ancient New Zealand forest. Hector’s last few hours are hardly less arduous, most of them are spent blindfolded and tied, in the back of a stolen army vehicle.

The fun thing with this, is that I am a strong believer in self-determination. And so I wanted to start with an evocative (if you were raised in New Zealand) name. Then I wanted to add a sprinkling of facts, a description of a person for whom the odds have been stacked against. I wanted the reader to start telling their own story. And then I wanted Hector to transcend expectations. What would he need in order to do this? What is it that we use to fight fate, to reverse expectations, to counteract a dearth of privilege?

The short story offers an opportunity to experiment with new characters every day. Maybe I’ll spend the morning with a man peering through windows as he falls from the top of a thirty storey building. Measuring his reasons for jumping, against what he sees in the faces of those he glimpses during his descent.

Perhaps I’ll then choose to spend the evening in the moonlit company of two teenage girls as they quietly construct a series of crop circles on farmland in Cornwall. I get to listen in on their stories, their observations, and then I get to see what happens when their creative efforts attract an unexpected visitor.

Yes, endless possibilities can be intimidating. But my imagination is my most treasured of all my gifts. If shit gets dark, if I find myself at a fork in the road and I feel that either direction will lead me to a place I don’t want to go, then my imagination helps me forge a new path.

Writing fiction is yoga for my imagination. Hmm, maybe there’s a story in the naming of downward facing dog…

Tools for being human, part five: Lego

lego-3I think the two most transformative toys of my childhood were my bike, and Lego. The bicycle might earn a place in this list at some stage, but today I want to talk about magical Danish bricks.

Five things Lego taught me about life

1. Lego taught me perseverance

The sound of my hand moving back and forth between one thousand plastic pieces in a wooden drawer. A pause as I draw up a helpful looking piece. The wrinkling of my brow as I realise it is too long, or too short. The feeling of the gentle-sharp bricks against my skin as I re-sift. The presence of a dozen four by four bricks when all you want is a six by four. Alanis Morissette would sympathise. The satisfaction as I finally roll a blue one-er between my fingers, all I need to complete the periscope on Captain Nemo’s submarine. Lego rewarded perseverance.

These days the hunts for a lost piece are over wider areas: Car keys, credit cards, camera chargers. As I try to remember where I left something, that old Lego drawer could be a metaphor for my ageing brain, my consciousness trawling back and forth between irrelevant information, trying to draw out the one piece I need. Maybe I should keep all those useful things in a wooden drawer. Good idea Lego.

2. Lego taught me competitive spirit (or perhaps selfishness)

The battles to the last part. My brother, sister and I combing frantically, harvesting wheels in the race to build the most powerful battle truck. Their younger eyes, my longer arms, I lean further and further over the drawer attempting to obscure their views. Lego and a shared pack of fish and chips were the two surest way to encourage my competitive edge as I hoarded blue bricks and hot chips with the watchfulness of a lioness and the selfishness of an elder brother. I don’t think I ever wished my siblings would disappear, but I did sometimes imagine how much more simple life would have been if they’d been born with little baby t-rex arms…

3. Lego left gaps for my imagination

A brick is a wall, is a building, is a spaceship blast-door. The most powerful thing about Lego was that it left space for my imagination. Jagged brick lines became a dragon’s tail, a pirate’s whip (everyone in my imagination had whips after Indiana Jones) or a breaking wave. Spit would fly as I added a juddering soundtrack of explosions, laser blasts or dragster wheels spinning. The joy really was in the neutrality of the bricks, they were simply a stepping off point to a story. The creators of Dr Who understood that dodgy props and costumes don’t matter, as long as you’ve engaged the viewer’s imagination.

4. Lego encouraged versatile thinking

Perhaps because Lego let me imagine I could build anything, it also encouraged me to think outside the bricks. At its core it was a building set, and it played well with others. It had hinge and hooks, holes and connectors. With a rubber band I could enable a catapult to fire, or make the world’s most delicate tank tracks. One of my friends got a Pez dispenser for his birthday. I eventually swallowed my envy and built one out of Lego. Ok, my fish bowl wasn’t so successful, but the epic flyovers us kids built for the slot car set were Californian in scale, if a little third world in execution.

Lego didn’t make me an overnight engineer, but I learned that if I didn’t have something, then I could make it. So I built medieval weapons in Granddad’s workshop, tea-stained treasure maps in the kitchen, and launched hand-crafted rubber-band powered planes with Dad on the driveway. I’m convinced that a childhood of making and crafting has contributed to my conviction that I can make do with less.

5. Lego was a hardening agent and a catalyst for curses

For every miracle of Scandinavian toy creation there is a dark side. Bare footed night-time walks to the bathroom were the best way to hunt out lost bricks. Actually maybe that’s just a spectacularly good design feature, no piece of Lego was ever lost for long. Lego prepared my feet for jerky barefoot walks down gravel paths, and jolting runs over hot black sands. Unfortunately it also earned me a few scoldings for the foul-mouthed language of discovery, but other people treading on misplaced bricks did help widen my cursive vocabulary. Very useful for blending in at Glaswegian festivals.

Still, I’d much rather run over a pit of hot coals than a blanket covered in those jagged-edged plastic shards. A blessing and a curse then.

Lego as guru

Dear Lego,

You taught me of Dependability and versatility. You were an aid to my story telling. You taught me never to get too attached to my creations, as the next day they would need to be demolished to make way for whatever came next. You tried to teach me that there was no such thing as perfection, that it was ok to have an all red sports car, except for one side of the bonnet. We had to agree to disagree there.

Thank you Lego, for the part you played in my own construction. And thank you Mum and Dad, for paying over the odds for a Danish toolkit for my imagination.

Much love,

x Regan

Tools for being human, part two: People watching

temple-woman-modifiedThe old man is initially defined by the curve of his spine. He’s bent almost double by some malady, and I feel the warm prickling of guilt as I watch him roll one sleeve up, and look over his shoulder. But I’m over the other shoulder, at a window seat in a busy cafe with another dozen pairs of averted eyes. He tilts his body like a crane and drapes his hairy arm over the bin. Then he draws something upward, a brown, moist-edged paper bag. He shakes his head as he parts the paper packaging, drops the disappointment back in the bin and draws a slow, visible breath as he wipes his fingers on his chest. I warm my fingers on my coffee cup as I wonder when he last saw the horizon, what his mother’s name was, on which shore he left the love of his life, in order to chase a dream he thought she’d never understand.

I lean back a little in my stool, and steal a glance at the young man seated next to me. He folds a page of his sketchbook over gently, rests it on the counter. He leans back on his seat to lift pens or pencils from his day pack, and the end of a tattoo on his neck is revealed. Just a spiral really, a couple of twisting grey lines, but enough to allow me to continue drawing them down, over his chest. A tentacle maybe, from a squid, wrapped about a tall ship. Perhaps his father was a fisherman, but this thin young man didn’t enjoy the drawing of fish to the deck, the stomp to the head, the curl of the sea against the roll of his stomach. But cancer took his old man three years ago, and the myth of their connection now wraps about his heart.

When I was young I couldn’t imagine a world occupied by uncountable billions of people. By the last year of high school I knew the faces if not the names, sometimes a story, what type of bike they rode, their sister’s horse’s name. Two months later I found myself at university, trying to understand how I could be amongst so many people and yet feel so, so lonely. On the third or fourth day of lectures I sat in the Mt Street Cemetery, wondering what my options were. As I watched the shadows thrown by the lowering sun, I noticed a woman in a long, dark dress, walking slowly down the hill, picking her way between tombstones. She wore her thick auburn hair in a loose bun, her feet were tied into tall leather boots, and her eyes were on the sky rather than the path. And I began to tell myself a story. She knew a mermaid once, or at least a trans-gender Greek man who professed to have been half salmon in a previous life. And before she moved here to study Philosophy she had dated a musician, and hopes that she was responsible for a line in one of his songs. And for her Wellington was a temporary home on the way to somewhere she dreams of, writes poems about, draws sketches of. Probably somewhere with windmills and moats and scarecrows. She eventually passed out of view, but I remembered her as I walked to class the next morning, and I kept an eye on the crowd, my eye focused on possibilities rather than disappointment.

Some years ago I sat with Linda in a crowded outdoor market in Singapore. At first we are the only two white people in a spiral of Asian humanity. But the longer we sit, sipping at cool fruit juices, the closer the spiral twists about us. A young boy is concentrating on unwrapping a balloon string from his hand, and suddenly his eye catches mine. I smile gently, his head tilts a little and he reflects the curl of my happiness. He turns to his mother and lifts his arms, looking up at the red bubble above. Was the balloon a bribe, a gift, a location-detector? And as I pick out the faces and forms in the crowd, I feel the place seep into me. The strong brown arms of a vendor tying a rope under his marquee, his glance across at a women in the stall opposite, his motion pausing for just a second. And that brief pause is another story. When I take time to consider others in a crowd as people, as lifetimes, as part of a bigger family, then loneliness doesn’t make as much sense. Nor do anxiety and mistrust.

So I have learnt to enjoy sitting still and watching others. And sometimes I wonder if my observations are two-sided. Am I in turn being watched? Does the old woman in dark glasses at the other end of the cafe counter see something in the way I pause between writing paragraphs? Does she wonder why my eyes are drawn to this person or that? Does she notice my glances are often to younger women, but that I quickly shift to other targets? Does she wonder if I am embarrassed to let my stare linger on those more obvious attractions? Or is she hoping I leave that half croissant on my plate, that she might gently gnaw its buttery sweetness once she draws it from her pocket in another hour?

And at other times I find myself considering the other counterpoint to my scrutiny, what do my observations say about me? Why do I presume that the beautiful, artfully dressed girl carries the awkward longboard merely as a prop, an unwieldy attempt to be a part of an alternative crowd? Is it my own pretences that are the seed of this judgement? Or simply jealousy of the gentle perfection of her features, the grace of her stride? What right do I have to be so silently outraged at the three couples staring into their phones, rather than into each other’s eyes? Am I really so fortunate to have experienced uncomfortable first-date silences in the Facebook-free millennium?

I feel there is something useful in imagining myself in someone else’s shoes, or burka, or domestic dispute. If I remind myself that others have their own choices to make, their own mothers to please, their own dreams to chase (or abandon), then acceptance of difference is not so difficult. If I try sitting inside their thoughts, imagining their troubles, then tolerance is not such a stretch. And I’ve found that over time I have built the self-confidence to bridge that gap between myself and the stranger. I find that empathy gives me the power to overwhelm by traditional shyness.

I finish my coffee, lower the cup and press a finger to the counter in front of the young man’s slow-forming sketch of a big-eyed woman. His first girlfriend? Or a character from a dark Japanese horror? ‘She’s beautiful’ I say, looking to his hesitant eyes, imagining his anxiety, but also the warmth of pride. I leave the half-eaten croissant on my plate, and slide it gently in the direction of the old woman as I sling my bag to my shoulders and shift toward the door. I can’t see the bent man, but if I walk to the bottom of Cuba Street, perhaps I’ll be able to offer a kind presence, or a tray of sushi.

I met the woman from the cemetery again in my second semester, and she invited me to a party, a celebration of the release of The Cure’s ‘Disintegration’ album. She went on to study in Germany, and to write prize-winning novels. She inspired me to try out black lipstick, read Edgar Allan Poe, and to use a thing called electronic mail to send fantastic stories to my fellow students when I should have been studying. And her success in story-telling inspires my writing today.

So I dedicate this piece to ‘Cath the Goth’, to my fellow people-watchers, and to all those I’ve watched and never quite had the nerve to smile at, or wave to, or buy a coffee for.

On trying ideas on for size

Happy hour 1

I read somewhere that most people over the age of thirty never buy music by a new artist. I don’t ever want to stop trying new things.

I’m at an age where many of my friends have begun reflecting on their lives, as changes in circumstances affect their understanding of mortality. For some the onset of a middle age is unbearably significant, forty is so much more of a hurdle than thirty. Others watch the decay of their most solid relationships, too scared of what might lay beyond to end them with any sensible haste. And some simply find that their careers had been chosen to fulfil a society’s ambitions rather than their own, and it dawns on them that upgrading their BMW generates feelings of smugness rather than happiness. This is where I begin to understand how much my hodge-podge approach to personal development has helped me to transcend the fear of change. I still become broken down by the ending of beautiful relationships, and I wobble a little when I see a work position coming to an end.  But I have frequently taken opportunities to purposefully make big changes in my life and this ability to drive my existence in new directions has built a belief in my ability to endure.

Happy hour 2

Over this first half (ever hopeful) of my life I have drawn myself into other cultures, dwelt in foreign lands and passed through jobs as varied as chainsaw sculpting and mushy-pea making. I’ve chased any opportunity to widen my understanding of the world, and no doubt my progress through life has looked somewhat haphazard to others. But I’m now beginning to realise the advantages of being so open to new ideas. One of the most significant of these is that I understand at a very deep level that mine is not the only world view. I am far less likely now to deride someone for their beliefs, no matter how incompatible they may appear with my own. I’ll voice a counter opinion, but I’m quite happy to have that opinion modified or undone. I cringe when others use blanket statements like ‘men always’ or ‘women never’, because I’ve talked to so many of each, often with such varied personal and cultural stories. Open mindedness is a great counter to prejudice and stereotyping.

Happy hour 3

So often it is the challenging conversations with others that draw me on to new adventures. I made one of my greatest ever friendships last year with a woman who explained that after growing up in California, and then living in Germany and the Netherlands, she had found her true home in a trailer park in Colorado. So I flew to Boulder and experienced a small slice of this existence with her, and then we went and lived in a castle in Ireland because there’s an excitement that comes with stark comparison. And of those two living spaces it is the cluster of static caravans at the base of the Rocky Mountains that I miss and hope to emulate. Without acting on my curiosity I’d never have discovered just how small a living space I needed to be happy, as long as I could step outside into nature rather than concrete. Then at the end of last year I met a new friend, and her life decisions have led me to confront my understanding of vegan and vegetarianism as reasonable choices. I still don’t think I’ll ever give up oysters or cheese, but I’m building a better understanding of why some people do, and how destructive and disruptive it is to be dismissive of their ideas.

Happy hour 5

And so I begin another year wondering what new twists will be inspired by my reading, my encounters with others and my restless spirit. I frequently fail to consider how fortunate I am to be able to consider options out of want rather than need. I get to dabble in a thousand pastimes, a dozen careers, a hundred hobbies. The offset though is that I’ve become competent at a number of tasks and yet masterful at none. And in typing that sentence I realise that I’ve just gone against the advice I gave to someone recently. She talked of having no real singular talent, and learning to be ok with that. I pointed out that it might be our somewhat tight Western definition of talent that was at fault, as she has an ability to draw forth deeper thoughts and intensity from people. She’s a magnifying receptor for people’s hidden emotions and I see that being at least as important as nailing guitar intricate solos or being one of Mexico’s foremost free runners. So maybe I too just haven’t yet recognised my truest talent.

Another issue born of a constantly evolving life is that I’m over-aware of impending ruts. This leaves me less capable of gently slipping into contentment, to relaxing into a year or two of simple repetitive rhythms. For my sanity I need to continue learning, for my creativity I need to continue expressing. I find stretches of days spent in offices on repetitive tasks whittles away at my creative drive, and even my self belief. I need to counter this by plotting new goals and reminding myself of just how much pleasure can be drawn from the little things. That being said I’m finishing a contract and boarding a plane for Bhutan in a couple of weeks and when I get back from the Land of the Thunder Dragon I’m going to be investigating getting council permission to build a yurt. Leopards, spots, etc.

I see great value in continuing to learn for life. To consider each hope or dream as a real option is to be on the look out for improvement. I think it is when we run short of ideas that we can become trapped. Ideas are hope, they are the path to continued emancipation. If we’re caught up in an environment which limits or causes us to limit our ability to implement ideas, that’s where we can become buried under life. I found the United States to be a nation in which dreams were still a viable currency, there was still enough pioneer spirit in that enormous land to enable (or at least fail to interfere with) creative living ideas. I returned home to New Zealand with a head full of goals and found a country which has allowed itself to be choked by an ever-evolving colonial bureaucracy. Our government has become many of the things that Americans fear theirs is becoming, the most interfering of states. I’ll need to work hard to find others here who have learnt to circumvent boundaries, to gather support in order to further my ideas.

A few months ago I spent a morning in the Buffalo Bill museum reading of all that this adventurer had accomplished. At first I was embattled by feelings of inadequacy, of having never achieved greatness in any one field let alone a dozen. But then the self-flagellation gave way to my desire to advance, and I wondered how long it would take to learn to use a lasso. I love taking those feelings of doubt and converting them into inspiration. Maybe there is something in that, perhaps my talent lies in turning feelings of inadequacy into fierce inspiration, and in helping others do the same.

Happy hour 6

Putting nostalgia in its place

Cowboy haunts

Over the past week we’ve been travelling through landscapes which acted as backdrops for my childhood dreams. The canyons here in Colorado and Utah, the wildish west, are adventurous tales brought to life. The vulture monitored ravines that once harboured black hatted, unshaven gangs, are now a sanctuary for the ghosts of their notorious deeds. They make it so easy to slip back into the imaginary world of the eight year old boy or tom boy, casting a wary eye over the crevices and ravines, and stretching the fingers on gun hand. But it’s not just gunslinger territory. Scattered amongst the seismically ruptured landscapes are the physical evidence of dinosaurs, dream feeders for all us overly imaginative kids that wished for dragons, but were willing to settle for thunder lizards. All I needed was a couple of jawas and I’d have encountered the holy trinity of my childhood.

Nostalgia is an incredibly effective editor of our past, triggered by our senses and our emotional states. I’ve found it is at its best when unprovoked. Hearing “Pour Some Sugar On Me” and being drawn back to a long hot summer mowing lawns, attempting to accelerate mullet growth through sheer will power, and scamming beers from liquor stores. When I try to engage nostalgia on command, the results are usually underwhelming. Introducing a younger girlfriend to The Dark Crystal was seven levels of uncomfortable. At its lightest it is pleasant, fuzzy recollection, accompanied my a half grin and a half stare back at a version of the past. But it can also be a powerful distraction, thanks to our memory’s ability to summarise chunks of our past in the same way a movie studio makes a film trailer. Take the highlights, the most evocative shots, the funniest lines, the flash of half-nudity, and add a stirring two minute soundtrack. The highlights of old relationships, road trips with the boys/girls, and your first gig, are recalled with 92% higher frequency than the negatives. Probably.

I think there are problems though when we begin to yearn for the past with more passion than we can muster for creating a fulfilling future. I remember being told that my high school years were going to be the best of my life, and I am so glad that this wasn’t the case. If that’s actually true for anybody, what the fuck happened? Did they take their foot off the fun pedal the day they left the prefabricated classrooms, arbitrary rules, and inadequately enforced stress on conformity? Did the responsibility of making their own decisions, and owning their own failures take the sheen off the rest of their lives? Most of the fundamentals of who we’re to be, are decided by the first seven years. And then I swear I learnt so much more of life well beyond my teenage years. The thirteen to eighteen year stretch was a volatile time, decisions magnified by hormones, choices made with too much consideration, or none at all. They were days spent combating insecurities with bravado, then watching the bravado wilt, crushed by one harsh comment from a teenage witch.

Another powerful nostalgic diversion is that pseudo romantic favourite, lost love. An entire relationship can have its defining memories drawn from the few sublime punctuating moments, rather than the seemingly endless low-on-passion, high-on-drudgery hours/months/years that drew you towards a tearful/noisy/embarrassing conclusion. If I’ve been having troubles in a relationship I admit at times I’d get teary eyed reflecting on prior romances with piss poor recollection. “It was so much easier with [name omitted to protect the innocent], maybe we should never have split up…” Of course if you then mix in two jugs of ale and a functioning mobile phone, Queen Nostalgia’s destructive powers are revealed. Then again, one of the quickest ways to correct any misconceptions over why you split up with your ex, is to call him/her at 2:00am, drunk, and ask them for an explanation.

If we tie ourselves up  too much in what has been, or what could be, we will lose momentum, we become less dynamic, less capable of making decisions at least partially informed by instinct. And I’ll happily invent a statistic that reveals that if we’re in a state to listen to our “heart” or “instinct”, or “Women’s intuition”, then the resulting decisions are considerably more likely to be super positive. We can’t recapture our youth, our first loves, the thrill of that first stage dive. We can though retain our youthfulness, have the courage to leave a destructive relationship for the right reasons, and relearn how to listen to hearts in order to discern how we should move forward. And never stop crowd surfing. Ever.

Nostalgia has its place, ideally behind me when making decisions, but leap frogging to the present to remind me that my life’s been blessed by many astounding moments, beautiful friendships and roller coaster relationships. Of course that won’t stop me scouring thrift stores today for cowboy boots and ten gallon hats, in preparation for a foray into “The Badlands”, South Dakota…