It's 9:30 pm and it’s the same routine as it has been for the last three Mondays. Scratch that, last three weeks. Hip-hop music blares at a drowning volume from a Spotify playlist. Its on random, but most of the songs are likely to be off a Vince Staples or Tyler the Creator album. A stack of comics, some as old as the Silver Age and some just hot off the presses, lie on a coffee table waiting to be voraciously pored over in all their magnificent detail. My eyes are glued to a large TV screen as I play the original 1998 Metal Gear Solid on my PS3, infiltrating the foreboding Shadow Moses Island for the tenth time in my life. This is normal and standard for me. Its repetitious and numbing. It’s the greatest and most widely accessible legal high and its not even a chemical, it’s a feeling. The feeling of nostalgia.
Despite what you may think, nostalgia is a trip. It leads you down the ever-so-tempting path of memory lane; a path which can take you to a utopian and euphoric version of past events, even if the feeling at the time did not quite match up with your newly idealized perception of it. Some people try to avoid their past and forget it as much as possible, but I’d argue many of us find more solace in it than in our present conditions.
Popular culture in 2017 so often messages to us the value of nostalgia. Major Hollywood blockbuster franchises, including Star Wars and the various Marvel movies, use our nostalgia for the bygone epics of our childhood to sell a rehashed artistic product every year. Even the populist politics of Brexit and Trump which define our modern age are rooted in feelings of nostalgia. Nothing ever feels new and we’d be lying if part of the reason behind it is because we secretly want it that way. Cathal Kelly described our lust for nostalgia as a form of “reliable fortune telling,” in that we are “there at the end of one thing (the past as it was), and set the terms for the beginning of the next (the future as predicated on the past).”
When one of my friends said “lets dip out of gentrification nation,” I was very happy to oblige.
I know I certainly want it that way or at the very least am addicted to the feeling of reliving a glorified past. Repeatedly living out a completed adolescence feels far better than the uncertainty and anxiety that comes with moving forward as an adult. Nostalgia is the pillow which I can rest my head on after a long day of lifting heavy pieces of flooring at work or nervously overanalyzing script ideas for my pending film school program. Aside from relieving me as I overcome these daily grinds, nostalgia provides me with a numbing distraction from the existential crises which wrack my brain.
Of all these existential crises one of the most nerve-wracking is the fear that I will never be able to live independently within the increasingly unaffordable Greater Vancouver region. The Lower Mainland is the only place I’ve ever known as a home. While I have travelled to many different countries around the world and have spent time on my own while travelling abroad, it was always for short intermittent periods. Independent living for me was only ever possible as a taster. As soon as I returned home, I was immediately reminded of the outward impossibility of accomplishing such a feat.
A year ago, while heading to a Mac DeMarco concert with friends, we decided to cut through Kitsilano as it was the quickest route to the outdoor venue. Recently developed condos and exquisite housing dotted the landscape of this previously “unknown” Vancouver. I call it “unknown” because I had never spent time in these newly developed neighbourhoods before. The moment I stepped into them I felt unwelcome. It wasn’t a gated community, but we still felt like we had trespassed on someone else’s property. By no means were my friends and I poor, but we weren’t people of wealth either. Our clothes were older and shabbier, and we were openly smoking cigarettes on a block which probably considered it a justifiable reason to call the police. As we walked by, the wealthy sons and daughters of home owners gave us odd glances like we weren’t supposed to be there. When one of my friends said “lets dip out of gentrification nation,” I was very happy to oblige.
Alongside myself, a legion of other young men and women in Greater Vancouver are gripped by the same existential crises.
It was a mere sliver of a moment in my life, but the memory resonates with me till this very day. Every time I’m in a conversation and I hear the magic words of “housing prices increase”, “youth displacement”, “gentrification”, or “lack of affordable housing”, I’m drawn back into that memory. I realized the city I was born in was starting to feel more and more alien, and that this may not be a home for me after all. I realized that as an artist I may never be able to live and work in Greater Vancouver, and that mine and others’ displacement was to be considered a necessary casualty for profit on the part of greedy municipalities collaborating with housing developers.
I dream of living independently constantly. To me it symbolizes more than just an emancipatory feeling. Its living proof that you as an individual are capable of facing the world with fortitude and that you have made the transition into adulthood. Even though I am legally an adult, I constantly feel more like a “boy” than a “man”. As much as I love my parents, I still feel trapped in the realm of adolescence and nostalgia. I feel like this never-ending cycle of doing the same thing repeatedly just perpetuates my own anxiety of not having truly obtained “adulthood”. It affects everything in my life regarding self-perception, forming relationships with others, and a sense of security.
the knowledge that “you” as a member of the common masses shall have your happiness and security sacrificed on behalf of the designs and desires of a wealthy elite
When I visit friends living on their own in apartments, I can’t help but feel green with envy. They seem much more confident, able to direct life at their own choosing, and are far more successful in forming mature relationships with the people around them. And while I’m sure they are gripped by their own anxieties that are equally if not more difficult than my own, I can’t help but wish to trade places, to have what they have. They are the “adults” and I am nothing but the mere “adolescent” granted the title of “adult” only due to legal standard.
The only comforting thought, is the reassurance by my family and friends that I am not the only person going through these issues. Alongside myself, a legion of other young men and women in Greater Vancouver are gripped by the same existential crises. They too feel increasingly alienated and overwhelmed by the slim chances of forming an independent existence within the only place they have ever known as home. Perhaps that in and of itself is an inaugural experience into adulthood; the knowledge that “you” as a member of the common masses shall have your happiness and security sacrificed on behalf of the designs and desires of a wealthy elite. It’s a cynical lens through which to look at these issues, but it is a sensible one.
If you are looking for a comforting conclusion to this piece, its with certainty that I say I cannot provide it. For I too lack that certainty of where the path shall take us alienated millennials of Vancouver. Maybe that’s a part of what being an adult is, accepting uncertainty and trying to move forward despite it? In perseverance, we can forge a real future for ourselves, as opposed to living in the comfortable delusion of nostalgia. Perhaps our adulthood is not defined by our social status and economic independence from our parental guardians, but rather by our willingness to face the future, whatever it may hold, as opposed to playing pretend in a romantic past that never was. Perhaps we need to accept discomfort and use that as energy, instead of cushioning ourselves in the metaphorical pillows of the familiar. Or perhaps…this basement dwelling millennial is full-of-it and needs to go to bed because he has work in the morning. Perhaps all I need is a good night’s rest to face the daily grind and persevere without hanging onto all the nostalgic baggage.