If you are of a certain age, then you’ll recognize this as the Holy Grail of mass market pens.
Long discontinued, this BIC pen was the one that kids swiped from teachers and parents. The ink just flowed differently, if unevenly, from this pen. It wasn’t like those boring pencils or regular pens. Even the clicky pens couldn’t hold a candle to this one. With a single pen going for $14.00 on eBay, I’m certainly not the only one feeling nostalgic.
Nostalgia is a complicated feeling. It makes us yearn for the past. But as L. P. Hartley said, “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” When an object makes us yearn for a simpler, happier time, it is because we are seeking a release from the current pressures and stresses of our lives. But that imagined idyllic past is forever out of reach.
The BIC pen reminds me of someone I was before the world made too many demands of me. A time before hormones changed my body and my brain. Before Parkinsons claimed my grandfather. Before a fall changed my grandmother. Long before cancer stole the most fundamentally decent person I have ever known. A time when all paths still seemed open to me.
How I wish that like Robert Frost’s traveler, with those paths open before me, I could claim that “long I stood” contemplating the paths. I didn’t though. I chose paths instinctively, thoughtlessly. Only Hindsight, that most clearsighted Siren, as shown me “how way leads on to way.”
Remember Ella Winter’s words: “Don’t you know you can’t go home again?” We’ve left the places of our past, but those places have not stayed in the past — they too have changed. Revisit any of the places of your youth: you’ll certainly find echoes of the familiar, but much will have changed.
Until the 19th century, nostalgia was classified as a mental disorder, and it still carries traces of that classification. Nostalgia as a fleeting memory of a happier time can be a pleasant remembrance of our past and of what we’ve lost or outgrown. Nostalgia as a deep yearning to return to an imagined happier time can be corrosive and depressing.
If you get nostalgic for a happier time, try to recall why it was a happier time. Some object may have triggered your nostalgia, but if you examine that feeling and that memory, it is unlikely to be the object itself that made you happy.
Time moves in one direction. The present devours the past before itself being devoured by the future. Respect your past, but don’t cling to it like a talisman. Let your past inform your present and your future.
Chart your course in the full knowledge of where you’ve been and where you want to go. Don’t let nostalgia for an imagined idyll blow you off your chosen path.