Sunday, September 25, 2016


I love nostalgia. I’m a nostalgia junky. Nostalgia becomes a refuge in old age, a place to go for resource and renewal in order to meet the challenges of a time that no longer make sense.
But then I have to remind myself that nostalgia isn’t a place or a time it’s a mood. It’s a feeling. With images attached.
Many of the images have faded over time. One of the strongest is completely inconsequential: I’m listening to a Donovan album and gazing at a ridge of the nearby Santa Cruz Mountains. I’m living in Los Gatos, California, and attending San José State. I’ve been married for about a year though during this particular interlude of window-gazing, I’m alone. I’m alone with a window and the Santa Cruz Mountains and Donovan’s angelic voice singing “Wear Your Love Like Heaven” and feeling wonderful, one of the few times in my life I remember feeling that good.
Probably because I was also drinking wine. I loved drinking alone. I was my favorite bar and bartender. Drinking alone was wonderful. I got a lot out of it. It’s how I became an alcoholic. Alcoholism became a vocation from which I eventually retired.
I had to. The hangovers were excruciating. William Blake said that the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom. He was right. Sobriety became my palace of wisdom. Though much of the time it feels drafty and weird.
I miss wine. It’s one of the things I’m waxing nostalgic over.
I miss my youth. That is quintessentially what I’m feeling nostalgic about. Who doesn’t? I mean, come on! Your body is supple and strong, the skin smooth, the eyes clear, the ears alert, the future ahead of you limitless.
Or so it seemed. When you reach 69, you realize down to the marrow of your bone that time is fleeting and cruel.
In the future I’d imagined for myself I was another Richard Brautigan. I was writing imaginative, playful, eccentric prose and selling millions of books from which I derived a comfortable income.
That didn’t happen. I didn’t begin to earnestly submit work for publication until I was in my mid-40s. I don’t like rejection. But if I didn’t start handling rejection, I’d never achieve anything. I got a lot of rejection. It got to a point that I dreaded hating opening the mailbox. Finding a response from a publisher, feeling that combination of anxiousness and excitement that comes with opening an important letter, then reading the rejection, however courteously framed, was like getting punched in the face.
I did, however, manage to publish a lot. None of it sold enough to make a living. Not nearly.
Nostalgia slices through me exquisitely when I hear a song that was released when I was in my late teens and early twenties.  “You’re Gonna Miss Me” by the 13th Floor Elevators. “Paperback Writer” by the Beatles. “Get Off Of My Cloud” by the Rolling Stones. “Pscyhotic Reaction” by the Count Five. “Hey Tambourine Man” by the Byrds.
It was a colorful time. Feelings were intense. Intensity itself became a value. Exultation, delirium and a carnivalesque atmosphere of jubilant freakiness à la Arthur Rimbaud were celebrated. It was often drug-induced. I remember buying some Dexedrine from the drummer of the Count Five and falling in love with the Unseen Power of Shelley’s “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty.” I had a relative, my mother’s cousin, a big man with a walrus mustache who lived in Cupertino and at whose house I stayed for several weeks in the summer of 1966 who worked as an engineer at Lockheed and to relieve stress worked in the garage on building a sports car from the chassis on up to the windshields and steering wheel. I sat in the living room reading about Buddhism and immersions in the transcendent glories of the mind. It was all about consciousness. Raising consciousness. Expanding consciousness. Liberating consciousness. Squeezing alchemies of golden luminosity out of the brain.
Always  -  ominously, sinisterly  -  the war in Vietnam and the prospect of getting drafted permeated everything with a poisoning anxiety. It was obvious the war had nothing whatever to do with defending the United States from the threat of communism and everything to do with war profiteering.
And here we are again. Endless War. The more things change the more they remain the same.
How can an ideology be a threat?
It can’t. Ideologies are to be argued and weighed and evaluated and debated. I think of Hugo’s hunchback embodied by Charles Laughton laughing maniacally as he swings back and forth on those giant bells in Notre Dame because he’s discovered romance. Ideas can be more intoxicating than any drug. They’re powerful motivators. But they can also imprison.
Walk anywhere in the city these days and all you see are people in zombie trances staring at smartphone screens. There’s no courtesy. No sense of shared experience. Only in the rock stadiums or political rallies where spectacle arouses the masses.
What happened?
Shit I don’t know. A paradigm shift. Commerce triumphed over spirit. Commodification triumphed over intellect. But I’m still fighting. Still resisting. Here in my own personal underground.
Her name is G, L, O, R, I,A. I’m going to shout it every day. Gloria. 


Irakli Qolbaia said...

One more great piece by John Olson, crystalline ideas seem to carry the words along. I love it how it happens in Olson's work, that you think you're looking at something formal or quirky at first ("prose poem") but then suddenly you feel a true emotion creeping up your spine. Then you're blue. Your heart is broken. And this, as so often, contains phrases one will classically say about: "I wish I'd written them!"

"...nostalgia isn’t a place or a time it’s a mood. It’s a feeling. With images attached."
"I was my favorite bar and bartender. Drinking alone was wonderful. I got a lot out of it. It’s how I became an alcoholic. Alcoholism became a vocation from which I eventually retired."

John Olson said...

Thank you so much for your generous comment. Much appreciated.

Irakli Qolbaia said...

Thank you for your work!