The concept of nostalgia has been around for hundreds of years. At one point considered an actual disease and now more of a philosophical or cultural phenomenon, its varied definitions have always carried with it the association with homesickness.
Nostalgia has often been understood as something that happens unintentionally, but with the arrival of the digital age, it has become an active process. Rewatching old YouTube clips, movies or television shows, recreating a lost recipe, finding a piece of clothing that your grandmother used to wear – the internet has made a return to the past easier than ever. It has also allowed us to share nostalgia with others, as the word that was once all about a lost connection to the past, is connecting us to others in the present.
The pandemic has led many people to return to childhood favorites, bringing back the past and rediscovering old loves. So, we decided to reflect on what we have been doing during the pandemic that offers us comfort and reminds us of home or just another version of ourselves.
The Bradley Brown Design Group Nostalgia Tour
Longing for our past gives us comfort during unsettling times, as we remember when things were not so complicated.
In an article by the New York Times, Dr. Valentina Stoycheva, a clinical psychologist, says that while trauma “has the danger of creating this longing for the before, when things were maybe safer, and when we were unaware of all of this and protected by our naïveté, there’s also something about nostalgic behaviors — fashion, clothes, movies, music — that serve as a transitional object.”
During the Summer 2020 lock-down, we were looking to create an outdoor space to share with family and friends. We already had a stone patio, so we worked feverishly to enhance it with a socially distanced conversation area, a fire pit for warmth, and paving stones for ease of walking around. We planted and planted and planted, which gave us the most enjoyment of all.
Nurturing plants reminds me of my childhood. My parents knew that plants teach children about patience, accomplishment, and respect for the environment. When I was a child, my parents bought our entire family gardening gloves, spades, rakes and watering cans so we could help them plant. Digging in the dirt and seeing your plants and flowers grow and blossom has a soothing effect. The small amount of care and tending given to a plant improves my well-being, and adding blooming flowers to any space can help you to relax.
My love of nurturing plants and flowers was a true comfort during the pandemic, as it both created a space for self-care in my day as well as brought to life a beautiful outdoor space filled with colorful flowers, hummingbirds and butterflies to be shared with friends and family. And the lessons I was taught as a child were very welcome once again, and a good reminder of what is important moving forward – always continuing to grow.
Without being able to run to the zoo, pool or park over the past year, I have shared with my kids how to create games and activities without leaving the yard.
We played old classics like Red Light/Green Light, Hide and Go Seek, Jump Rope and more! I brought back my old favorite of Tag, and it was amazing to watch my kids discover their favorite games, which turned out to be Hide and Go Seek and playing with chalk.
We also started to appreciate a walk around the neighborhood and just observe nature. Playing Eye Spy created a new tradition for these walks, while bringing back fond memories.
My kids were eager to learn and had a blast doing it. Seeing my kids playing games that I enjoyed as a child, knowing they can pass them on to their own children, definitely created a special moment for our family.
Over the past year, I’ve certainly returned to the process of “working by hand.”
From keeping a written, paper journal to home improvements like renovating my office, painting my front door, and building workbenches for my shop in the basement.
These experiences and projects have been a very intentional exercise to support my goals of being mindful in the present moment, appreciating the additional time being spent at home, improving my concentration, and separating from distractions (social media updates, iPhone notifications, breaking news, etc.). Basically, time to myself.
And what all this really means is “designing my everyday experiences.” From setting my intentions for the day (journaling) to adding my own creative style and personalizing the spaces I live and work in everyday (home improvements.)
The results are staying positive every day, a sense of gratitude in general, and having a renewed appreciation for creativity outside of graphic design. And interestingly enough, the contrast of working by hands vs. designing “digitally” has provided a new, refreshed feeling in approaching graphic design projects.
With everything at a standstill, waiting for new shows on Netflix and Prime was painful after being so spoiled prior to the shutdown.
We started the year with Tiger King, and then faded into re-watching shows and movies that were first aired in college and high school.
One TV series in particular from the past year on Netflix is Cobra Kai. It first aired in May 2018 and is based on the 1980s/90s Karate Kid movies. The key cast members from the movies resume their roles – just as adults with kids of their own. I found it hysterically cheesy in the best way possible. Having watched the movies repeatedly as a kid – it was comical to have the TV show reflect the same scenarios decades later.
At the same time that we watched the series in Pittsburgh, my four nephews were watching it a hundred and fifty miles away. During FaceTime calls, it was something fun we could all talk about. Seeing how far into the series everyone was and what they thought about episodes. I got to see some very funny karate poses and moves. The most nostalgic part was when we talked about how my brother and I watched these movies a lot, and how we went to an actual video store, to rent a VHS tape, to play in a VCR, and if someone else had rented it that week then we were on the waitlist. This concept is completely foreign to my nephews as they’ve always lived in a world with internet and streaming services.
The rental store is such a vivid memory for me. It was a small town store, locally owned on the second floor of a building built in the 1800s. The walls were covered in orangey tan with a mottled green shag carpet. It always smelled of lemon pledge and sun warmed wood paneling. The owner was a friend of my mom’s, and we got to climb up on the carpeted counter top that ran along the one wall while they chatted. I haven’t thought about that store in years and years.
A few months after the March 2020 shutdown, I had streamed countless hours of ad-riddled music platforms.
So, I purchased an Audio-Technica turntable. At first it seemed like a silly investment —I didn't have a single vinyl record to my name. But something about it felt right.
“Sentimental music has this great way of taking you back somewhere at the same time that it takes you forward, so you feel nostalgic and hopeful all at the same time.”
― Nick Hornby, High Fidelity
A Return To The Past. As a child, I can remember sitting cross-legged on the floor (intentional Chicago reference), pulling the vinyl LPs out of their sleeves, placing the needle down, poring over the poster-sized images and liner notes as I tried to decipher the mythology behind the bands and the music. In many ways, it was my first introduction to "graphic design" long before I knew what it was. For my predisposed design mind, these artifacts were fascinating— verbal and visual, type and color, art and form, music and sound.
Being Present.When you play a record, there are no screens, no alerts, and no ads ruining your flow. Listening to an album means pausing only to switch from side A to side B. As the needle creeps through the grooves of the vinyl, it weaves a narrative that stitches each track together chapter by chapter and gives you the space to activate your imagination. For me, it is an escape from the distractions of an ever-growing digital world. The warm hum of the speakers and the crackles and pops give a certain romance that you don’t experience in a sterile digital medium.
Future Adventures.As I grow my record collection, I’m always looking for hidden treasures. Rare jaunts down to the record store (my favorite is Attic Records in Millvale) have become a guilty pleasure with new discoveries and great conversations. Here are some of my favorite albums, perfect for the turntable.
- Tom Petty, Wildflowers
- The Rolling Stones, Exile on Main St
- Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Deja Vu
- Fleetwood Mac, Rumors
- The Beatles, Abbey Road
- Willie Nelson, The Redheaded Stranger
- Rod Stewart, Every Picture Tells a Story
- Paul Simon, Graceland
- George Harrison, All Things Must Pass
- Marvin Gaye, What’s Going On
- Bob Dylan, Nashville Skyline
- Faces, Snakes and Ladders: The Best of Faces
- Gram Parsons (and Emmylou Harris), Grievous Angel
I believe that a good cup of tea can fix anything.
A bad day. A cold. A rejection. A paper cut. I imagine this comes from my grandmother, who always made me tea whenever I stayed with her – and I thought it the most delicious tea in the world. For some reason, I can’t ever remember it being cold. All I recall is the warmth. And a slight lemon flavor.
But with the demands of life, as I grew up and went to college, then grad school and then began working – my usual daily tea turned into a coffee (or two), and if I did make tea, it would often go cold at my desk. I hadn’t just forgotten her tea or its taste; I had forgotten what it was like to just sit, relax and drink.
With the shift to working at home and constant access to a turquoise tea kettle, I began to dive back into the world of tea. Trying new flavors, forgoing coffee in favor of a brighter, fruity taste. I shared suggestions with family and friends and built a little tea library in my kitchen.
Serendipitously, one day, I had a new tea – Lemon Zinger. And the first sip brought me back to my grandmother’s house, the old green and yellow crocheted blanket between my fingers, a Disney movie on the small television, and a warm cup of tea between my fingers. The flavor was just right – and while it is not the exact same kind she used – it reminded me of how I fell in love with tea in the first place. And reminded me to relax, breathe, sip and enjoy.
I've always loved to read. And as a kid, I read a lot of fiction.
The classics of course, some Sherlock Holmes, and anything that was scary. But as I got older, the enjoyment of escaping to a fictional realm waned. I read to improve, to excel and to make money in the real world.
The pandemic and lockdowns have nurtured a yearning to return to the imaginary worlds of my youth. I went back aboard the Nautilus with Captain Nemo in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I ran through the jungle on The Island of Dr. Moreau and the woods of the Yukon in The Call of the Wild. I faced Dracula. And I looked for my Personal Legend alongside Santiago in the desert of The Alchemist. And, since we were already living it, I finally tackled Stephen King's The Stand.
A positive has arisen from the lockdown. Life has slowed and created time, and space...to escape.