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'90s Nostalgia Essay

I Grew Up in the '90s and I Suffer From "Clinical Nostalgia"

My name is Matt Boren — I suffer from "clinical nostalgia."

I am the proud innovator of a term you likely have not yet heard of, but one that may very well apply to you, too: clinical nostalgia. Of course, I self-diagnosed. You may ask, what are my symptoms? My condition starts with a lifelong romance with the past that includes TV, music, musicals, fashion, and movies, mostly from the '90s. In my case, clinical nostalgia has fueled, haunted, inspired, and basically driven my entire career as a writer. It has provided for me a balance in the modern world to raise my children with a respect for being connected beyond technology. Webster's had no term that defines what some may say ails me . . . so I made one up.

The DNA of My Nostalgia

I come from a mother and father who suffer from major cases of the remembers. I guess this makes it genetic. They have shared with me every detail of their lives — from birth to present day — so much so that I may, in fact, be equipped to write their memoirs. In elementary school, my need to get the new of-the-moment Nike sneakers would trigger my dad's own clinical nostalgia, reminding me that when he was my age, he "walked to school in sneakers that had holes." He was proud that his family of six accomplished a lot with very little, my favorite lesson being that to him, what may have appeared to be a little wasn't a little at all. It was everything he needed, if not more. And that mindset made him — and to this day makes him — nostalgic for that time.

In those mornings before school, when my dad left with his briefcase en route to his job in Boston, I would jump in my parents' bed as my mom got ready for work. She would always play the Barbra Streisand records from her teenage years, and I would find out some time later that she loved those mornings because she got to go back in time and for a handful of morning minutes, reconnecting with her teenage self and the world she occupied back then. Clinical nostalgia.

It is no surprise that at 9 years old I got addicted to General Hospital. The entire town of Port Charles navigated their present directly according to the love and pain from their past. Kind of like life. Exactly like life.

My Symptoms

Take my parents' chronic devotion to the past and multiply it by a billion and we get me. I have every handwritten letter I ever received from overnight camp through college. Every folded note passed in high school. Every photo from childhood through college in New York City to my early life in Los Angeles. Sadly, everything beyond that is in some cloud I can't remember the password for.

I think a huge part of pining for the past is the fear of what has become of the now.

The inspiration for the TV shows, movies, plays, and books I write is drawn from my hometown, camp experience, and my years surviving high school in New England. I bought a used boombox (yeah, I said boombox) on Ebay to listen to my hundreds of mix tapes made by friends with love and purpose. Mix tapes that were the soundtracks of our lives. While I have the classic love-hate relationship with Facebook, my love for reconnecting with childhood friends always wins out. I say yes to any party thrown at an '80s or '90s club (and I hate clubs). I watch vintage early-'90s episodes of General Hospital on YouTube on the regular because it gives me respite from this insane world we are living in. I still have every series of my Garbage Pail Kids (mint condition) and I look at them often. I have recurring dreams of my childhood house in Framingham, MA, and in those dreams I reunite with my younger parents, my teenage friends, and myself. I tell my young daughters every single story I can remember — of which there are many — of my life back then. They know all the players now. They, too, could likely write my memoir.

From the above, you might diagnose me as a hoarder. I'm not (and I'm not being defensive . . . fine, I might be a little bit on the hoarder side) . . . but really, I'm just a man, standing in front of his entire past, asking it to love me. Whoa! Wait a minute! Is that what this is all about? Do I live so much in the past that I transpose the past in order for it to fit the narrative of it loving me? I have so many questions for myself . . .

The Cure

Having learned (through therapy and personal growth) that the key to my personal contentment is being fully present, how do we stay fully present when the influence and all the feels of the past have such magnetic pull? I had a brief stint where I tried forcing my daughters to listen to everything from Van Halen to New Kids on the Block, Madonna, Debbie Gibson, Beastie Boys, and Bobby Brown, but they were like "emoji, emoji, NO . . . we like Hits 1." So, consider me a Taylor Swift, Cardi B, Ed Sheeran, Demi Lovato fan now. And while my kids have some serious screen and tablet time restrictions, I can't shove them back in time to when we just got our first cable box and MTV played music videos.

We had call-waiting, VCRs, and no internet back then. If you wanted a phone number, you either looked in the phone book or called 411. If you wanted facts, you went to the library. Now there are alternative facts and the library is Google, which is chock-full of alternative facts. Yes, life in the early '90s was better. We went to high school and, save a cafeteria fight or three, we came home alive. I think a huge part of pining for the past is the fear of what has become of the now. But I know that I can not infuse my children with either the wonderment of the '90s or the fear I have of 2018. What I can do is continue to share the history of my '90s life with them and pray to god it rubs off on them. And what I can do for me is to keep researching what it is about the past that seems so incredibly magical.

Matt Boren is an actor, screenwriter, and author of the novel, Folded Notes From High School.

Image Source: Matt Boren
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