P091: You Can Go Home Again, It’ll Just Be Worse Than You Remember

I took a trip this past weekend to Kirksville, Missouri with Jen and Sam just to see what all had changed in the 13+ years since our graduation. For those unfamiliar with the upper midwest, it’s safe to say that Kirksville is something less than a booming metropolis. It’s an old, poor town in the middle of nowhere that just happens to host a highly regarded liberal arts university.

The contrast between the town and the school is stark: ramshackle rental houses, empty lots and abandoned buildings surround the pristine brick-glass-and-ivy campus on all sides. Students pursue the life of the mind in freshly renovated, architecturally significant temples to learning just a few miles from persistent standing water in the always-packed parking lot of the town Walmart. Only the school’s reputation as a great value (shoutout to smart kids from modest means) keeps this from being a full on haves-and-have-nots type narrative.

I look back on my college experience with great fondness: I learned so much about the world and about myself. I met and fell in love with the woman who would become my wife. I made great friends, read great books and partied waaay too much. But after seeing Kirksville again, there’s part of me that wonders if my rose-tinted recollections didn’t spill over into my objective remembrance of what day-to-day life in that town was actually like back at the turn of the millennium.

A Shoebox of Blurry Memories

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the accuracy of memory and the value of nostalgia and this trip played right into that maudlin sensibility. Now, I’m certainly not the first person to put forth the idea that trying to relive your youth is a fool’s errand but I think we might be starting to see a subtle shift in the way we experience the past.

I’ve always been very interested in documenting my life – my dad’s a photographer and that came naturally to me as well. When I was in college I had a really awesome Kodak Advantix C650 camera and I shot as much as I could afford, what with the cost of film and processing and all. I’ve got a few photo albums and a couple shoeboxes full of photos from those years and while I do treasure those memories, reliving that time involves:

  1. Trying to remember just where in the hell the photo albums are,
  2. Flipping through them to find the right one,
  3. Being subtly disappointed about how that shot is out of focus or that person had her eyes closed or whatever.

On the other hand: my cousin, a sophomore at Truman, has an amazing camera in his pocket at all times, can shoot dozens of photos of a scene, pick the best one, clean it up, put it on Facebook in 10 seconds, tag all his friends so they know the photo is there and back the whole thing up to the cloud indefinitely. If nostalgia is the pain from an old wound, the ubiquitous accessibility and high fidelity of modern memory making will ensure that those wounds never heal. What does that mean for us as a society? Only time will tell. But if I could short the college-town tourism industry, I would.

Periodically yours,

Bob Sherron