[3.5-min read] I’ve been sifting through a folder of iconic high school knickknacks. I’m pretty sure my mom secretly abandoned it guilt-free in my garage on one of the times she passed through my city en route to living in a new town. It takes me back to a conversation I had about Simple Minds. Their song, “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” is on the soundtrack for the 1985 film, The Breakfast Club, which is about a motley sampling of high school students. They both have a distinct vibe—the movie and the band. I’m not one to dwell in nostalgia, but that’s what they make me feel.
One recent Saturday morning, I walked into my original favorite Minneapolis coffee shop and “Alive and Kicking” was playing over the sound system. “Oooh. I love this song. Wow. This takes me back,” I said to the barista. “I’m a little older than you and it was on the soundtrack to the 1980s classic film, The Breakfast Club and I graduated in the 1980s,” I blurted. She smiled and walked over to an iPad, looked down at it and read aloud, “Simple Minds.”
“I could have told you that,” I gushed.
“So, what do you miss most about the ‘80s?” she asked.
“The limitless energy of youth,” I said, laughing and waiving my arm above my head in a dramatic gesture. After a pause, I added, “That’s a hard one. I’ll have to think about it.”
Hers was a timely question for me. If you have parents (and stepparents and aunts and family-like friends) who are in their 70s, you’ve likely come into the possession of whatever it is they can’t bear to part with—other than to pass it along (or back) to you. “These are important! Don’t throw them away!” my mom has instructed for sentimental items that she’s forwarded to me because she apparently can’t trash them herself.
The *important* items tucked into the folder are: a school paper I wrote while attending seventh grade in Berkeley, California. It’s titled, “Marijuana and Legalization,” and the opening paragraph states, “All of what I say throughout this composition just depends on what kind of person you are. You will understand after you read it.”; *priceless* pictures of band members of Mötley Crüe and Van Halen that I cut out of music magazines and then taped onto the college-ruled pages of a notebook; a computer printout with my name (misspelled) and “FRESHMAN” at the top, followed by the explanation, “Here they are at last!!! The computer has, after cogitating at great length, produced the names you have been waiting for.” Following that is a list of “ten best boys,” their class, and a number representing their compatibility score. At the bottom of the page, it reads, “The computer match is sponsored by student government”; a handwritten account of a span of time during which my closest girlfriends and I first experimented with partying and fooling around with boys, including the names of who fooled around with whom. (Side note: I had to Google the meaning of cogitated. None of the names of the boys I fooled around with appears on that “cogitated” list and for the record, the word was used incorrectly, the computer anthropomorphized.)
Now for the answer to what I miss most about the ‘80s. The folder items listed above are fertile with implicit options such as an obscene amount of free time, David Lee Roth, and boys. (Not.) But during that era, there was also a degree of cultural absurdity and ignorance that has since been topped to an extent I couldn’t have imagined. What I miss most is my dashed assumption that we wouldn’t repeat history because we had learned it. Decades later, I know from experience that history most certainly repeats itself. I also recognize that what I learned in history classes in the late ‘80s was grossly incomplete and even inaccurate. Several positive standards of society that I was (naively) optimistic were unshakable, have proven to be vulnerable, along with my unflinching optimism.
I wouldn’t call it a resolution, per se, but I am leaning into an evolution from what I grew up with as magical thinking, toxic positivity, and spiritual bypassing, to an exploration of the paradox of living as both ebb and flow, positive and negative, heartbreaking and joyful. It’s a hot topic in some circles, this learning to work within the tension of duality, as Brené Brown discussed during an interview with Barack Obama. They described it as a skill: to be able to exist in—not flee—a space where two seemingly conflicting elements are concurrently true.
I’m not encouraging my older friends and family to unload their precious memorabilia on me—I now live in a condo, so it would take up space I need for furniture. I will say, however, that marveling over personal evidence of the absurdity of a decade has been fun. It’s the sort of fun I haven’t had since, well, the 1980s.