Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Flash Fiction on the Edge

For this fortnight's post, given that the topic is "edges", I thought it'd be fun to do some flash fiction.

In true flash fiction style, I'm going to spend 20 minutes writing this -- not a minute more -- and do very minor editing afterwards. (Basically just a clean up edit, but nothing in depth.)

I'm armed with my water bottle and five chocolate eggs left over from the Easter candy stash.

Ready for flash fiction in 5... 4... 3... 2... 1... GO!


The restraints at my ankles and wrists cut into my flesh, holding my down, limiting my movement. It hurts, but I like it.

All my attention is on my cock. It's so hard -- it's been hard for almost an hour now -- and Master continues to tease it... to tease me.  The lights are low and I'm blindfolded, sitting in a chair, attached to it with those restraints.  Before starting, Master had put headphones over my ears, pumping me full of a soft, droning noise -- the kind of noise that blocks out all other sounds and puts me in a relaxed state, almost hypnotic.

I can't see my cock because of the blindfold, but I imagine it's a dark and angry red.  Not only has it been hard for almost an hour, but Master has been teasing me with the edge of orgasm.  Every time I start to get the slightest bit flaccid, he grabs my cock and starts stroking, making me insanely hard again, bringing me right to the edge of orgasm and then releasing his hold on me, leaving me gasping and panting and just half a second from having gone over that edge and diving down into orgasmic release.

Master likes to tease me.  And I like to be teased.

Master grabs my cock again.  His hand is meaty and firm, surrounding the entirety of my erection in his grip.  Slowly, he strokes, gaining speed with every passing heartbeat.  It starts to hurt, having been masturbated so much in this past hour, but that hurt is soon subsumed by the rising and mounting pleasure.  I'm so close.  I'm gonna cum.  I'm going to blow my load and have the most earth-shattering orgasm I've ever had.  I'm going to--

Master lets go of my cock.

I double over, as best I can being partially restrained, gasping and panting for air.  The hormones and chemicals of orgasm are rushing through my bloodstream, heightening every single fucking thing I'm feeling right now.  My heart beats so loud it's like there's a drum playing in my ear.  All of it feels incredible, but I'm still denied the one thing that I've been begging for, crying for, desperately searching for.  I still haven't orgasmed.  My load is still sitting in my aching balls.

My breath slowly comes back to me and I don't pant and gasp anymore.  But I'm wired.  I'm so fucking wired.  I need release and I need it now.

It's this moment in an edging session where I question why I torture myself like this.  I could've stayed at home and jacked off and had my orgasm by now.

But it wouldn't be the same.  And it wouldn't be anywhere near as powerful as the orgasm I know I'm going to have when Master determines that I am finally allowed to cum.

Before I can think further on it, I feel Master's hand on me again.  This time, though, he's grabbing and fondling my balls.  He tugs on my sack and rolls each ball between his fingers, like he's testing me, assessing me.  I hope I meet his approval.  I wonder if he can tell how aching and full and tense my balls are to me -- I wonder if he cares.

That hand moves up to my cock and grabs hold of it again.  Like always, he starts off by stroking slow.  With every up and down stroke, he gets a little faster, his fingers grip on a little tighter, and my skin feels on fire from the friction but pleasure soon overwhelms everything.

I whimper.  I gasp.  I moan.  I beg.  "Please... please let me cum.  Please, Master."

I can feel myself rushing to that edge, to that point of no return where I known that if I pass over it, my balls are going to empty themselves so much that I'll be plastered in my spunk.  I can feel myself starting to go over that edge, just a second more, just one second--

Master releases my cock.

"Fuck!" I scream.  The muscles throughout my entire body contract and release, contract and release, over and over again, but that orgasm still doesn't happen.  My chest heaves as I struggle for breath again.

Suddenly, Master pulls the headphones off one ear and I hear him growl, "You think you deserve to cum?"

"Please," I whimper.  "Please, Master.  I'll do anything -- anything -- if you let me cum."

He lets go of the headphone and it slams against my ear again.  I don't know if I've earned my orgasm or not -- I don't know if this is going to end soon or if I have another hour of this excruciating torture.

Master grabs my cock again and strokes -- slow at first and quickly speeding up.  He hadn't given me time to fully recover from the last one, so I'm still gulping air and gasping for breath, my whole body is tense, my muscles clamped down and hard like steel, and I grimace, pulling back my lips and exposing my teeth as I try to bear this exquisite torture.

Like before, I can see and feel that edge, I know that I'm seconds away from orgasming, from being unable to contain my jizz.  I start panting harder, leaning forward and doubling over, but Master doesn't stop.

Maybe this is it.  Maybe this is the time he lets me cum.  I expect him to stop at any second, to release my cock and let it twitch and throb and be unable to release its pent up energy... but he doesn't stop.

That edge is coming.  That edge is so close.  Master is going to stop now... I know it.

Still, he doesn't. He keeps going.

Master keeps stroking me, pumping my cock, pushing me toward that point where there's no turning back.  I grimace and let out a groan, which soon turns into a roar, and then a shout.

And I get thrown over that edge.  I fall over the cliff and into the depths of sexual release.  Fire and life and sex and every iota of energy that exists in my body rushes to my groin, rises through my shaft, and shoots out, splattering all over me.

It seems to last forever.  My orgasm doesn't seem like it's going to end.  I get lightheaded from the rush of energy to my crotch, from my inability to draw in a full breath of oxygen, and I feel like I'm going to pass out.

Eventually, my orgasm comes to an end and I can breathe again.  I'm spent.  I'm limp -- limp all over, not just my dick.  I slouch in the chair, the restraints barely managing to keep me sitting upright.

Master lifts off the headphones and blindfold, undoes the restraints, picks me up, and carries me to his bed.  He lays me down and cuddles with me as I drift off to sleep, simply unable to keep my eyes open a moment longer.

Cameron D. James is a writer of gay erotica and M/M erotic romance; his latest release is The President And The Rentboy. He is publisher at and co-founder of Deep Desires Press. With his erotica writers' group, he is a member of the Indie Erotica Collective (website still under construction). He lives in Canada, is always crushing on Starbucks baristas, and has two rescue cats. To learn more about Cameron, visit http://www.camerondjames.com.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Writing on the Edge (#risk #darkness #amwriting)

On the edge

By Lisabet Sarai

Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable” ~ Cesar A. Cruz

I saw the above quotation on a bag at the Strand Bookstore last week. To be honest, I’m not sure my writing deserves the label “art”. For the most part, I write to explore my own fantasies and to entertain my readers (and myself), not to either comfort or to disturb.

The majority of my stories reflect the fact that I’m a sex-positive optimist and an incurable romantic. My characters tend to enjoy themselves and each other. In my tales, erotic pleasure often morphs into love. Even when it does not, sexual experience rarely leaves a bitter aftertaste. I don’t always write unambiguously happy endings, but my protagonists usually learn something valuable about themselves and the world.

Every so often, though, I get the urge to write something darker—a story fueled by the disruptive power of intense desire. I’ll create a scenario full of risks, with characters who have unacceptable but irresistible needs. In these stories, sexual obsession leads to blind desperation. The raw force of the libido overwhelms rationality and morality.

These occasional dark stories that emerge from my unconscious definitely do disturb readersto the point that the tales are almost impossible to publish. A case in point is my short piece Unforgivable, originally written for the Grip on the theme of “Confession”. I included this dark story, which features rape and worse, in the manuscript for my lesbian collection Her Own Devices. The publisher politely asked me to remove it.

Then there’s “Renfield’s Lament”, about a henchman so overcome with desire for his vampiric master and mistress that he arranges for his own murder in order to attract their attention. I eventually self-published this bloody tale, as part of my paranormal collection Fourth World. Nobody else would touch it.

Fleshpot” also fits into this mold. That horrific story of sexual addiction did make it into an anthology—a collection of tentacle porn! I guarantee it will make you squirm.

Now I’m sitting on a new piece that seems too edgy to be publishable. “Countertransference”, a story about a psychiatrist who’s erotically obsessed with her teenage patient, has so far been rejected three times.

Here’s a snippet from this unpopular work:

Watching Alisha Al-Maghribi is not part of my job.

True, her chart reads “Under observation; potentially dangerous to herself and to others”, an appropriate notation given that she slashed her father’s (thankfully empty) mattress to ribbons with a butcher knife, then set fire to his multi-million dollar beach house. However, the orderlies and shift nurses are responsible for monitoring her, not I. It’s assumed the clinical director of a prestigious psychiatric facility like The Elms will have more important tasks than keeping an eye on one particular “guest”.

As indeed I do. I should be reviewing my notes for this afternoon’s therapy sessions, tackling the endless paperwork my job entails, or perusing the clinical journals stacked neatly on the corner of my desk. Instead I spend my time riveted to the computer screen, unable to resist my fascination with my exquisite and disturbed patient.

She’s calm today. Her back to the me, she hums to herself as she bends over her drawing. Her honey-colored curls are clipped into a casual knot atop her skull, exposing her slender neck. The high resolution surveillance camera—best on the market, like everything at The Elms—reveal tiny blond hairs that dust the tawny skin of her nape. An undeniable heaviness settles in my pelvis as I gaze at that graceful, vulnerable curve. I swallow the saliva pooling in my mouth. It’s easy to imagine stepping up behind her, clasping those smooth, bare shoulders in my palms and running my tongue up her spine. I can taste the salt I’d lick from her downy flesh, sense the shiver that runs through her at my touch. She’s taut, fragile, ready to bolt like a frightened fawn, but there’s a melting in her, too, a tiny core of trust in me, her doctor.

Gradual, gentle, careful not to startle her, I trail my fingers down her sides and across her rib cage, then reach forward to cup her girlish tits. Alisha sighs and lets her head fall back against my more ample breasts. I fill my lungs with her scent of cinnamon and roses. A slick tightness coils between my legs, urging me to move faster, to take her before I lose my nerve. I bury that urgency, willing myself to a slow but inexorable advance, like an incoming tide claiming the beach.

A knock on my office door drags me back to the present. “Dr. Gardner? Are you there?”

I stab the off button on my monitor, shaking my head to dispel my lustful fantasies. The images scatter, but the shame and the wetness remain.

~ ~ ~

I’m not really surprised this tale has been so difficult to place. I knew when the premise occurred to me that it would be a hard sell. It violates all sorts of taboos, including the trust inherent in the doctor-patient relationship. Technically Alisha is of age, but any reader can tell how much of the attraction lies in her youth. Finally, the ending is anything but happy. Perhaps there are lessons learned, but there is also irremediable damage done.

Despite the knowledge that this story might be unpublishable, I couldn’t stop myself from creating it. When I feel the temptation to write along the edges of what’s acceptable, I almost always give in, partly as an antidote to the sunny perspective in most of my work. Everyone needs a change, right?

Sometimes I feel that these shadow-drenched tales are better written than my more popular fiction, if only because they explore more intense emotions. I guess that in some sense, they are closer to being art.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Old Time Rock 'n' Roll... or not

When I post in here, I tend to rabbit on about either my writing or my cover art. Today, given the subject is "nostalgia", I thought I'd sidestep and talk about my musical work.

I was a teenager in the 80s, and as a result, most of my formative years were spent listening to music that was heavy on sonic experimentation, filled with strange conceptual lyrics, and more than any period beforehand (probably afterward), highly reliant on visuals. This period was all about the "now", which is as much due to me suddenly looking kind of grown up, but without any of the rights or (especially) responsibilities of adulthood. But this is not a blog about the 80s and how good it was or wasn't.

I bring up all of that to give a little bit of grounding for the true element of this blog. My favourite bands in the 80s were mostly British. I didn't mind the keyboard experimentation stuff that was going on, but I still favoured more rock-based music, though it was all stuff that was pitched at a commercial audience. I was no ground-breaker then, nor am I particularly now. The only exception to that would be the Pixies. I stumbled on to them in a record shop in Sydney, in April 1988, when the staff were playing "Gigantic". For the first time in my life, I bought music impulsively, snapping up the "Surfer Rosa" album within two minutes of hearing the song. The band was, and still is, seen as ground-breaking, though of course they had their wide range of influences, many of which dated back decades. This is, though, not a blog about that part of the 80s, nor the way 90s grunge grew directly from it.

I bring up THAT salient point to show how we sometimes need a little bit of a slam sideways in order to rejig the puzzle pieces inside our minds. It turned out, I really didn't like that album the first dozen or so times I listened. The song that caused me to buy it was an anomaly, given it was the only one on the album featuring Kim Deal on lead vocals, and the only song that was not written by Black Francis (I believe he was given a co-write credit on Gigantic). The more times I listened, though, the more the album grew on me. It's decidedly not a pretty album; not in concepts, or performance, or production. Not in artwork and photography (apart from the stupendously lovely naked breasts of the model, as visible here...). No, it's not pretty. But it's a thing of beauty.

All of these little intro points are stepping stones toward what I'm really talking about here. And that is how, for me at least, the further I move away from my actual day of birth, the further back my tastes and interests reach.

In 2007 I joined a band here in my home town of Brisbane. The band was called The Medicine Show, and it was directly influenced, stylistically, by 19th Century prison songs, talking blues, old time country and the canon of the mighty Tom Waits. We played music which most Australian blues bands didn't like, because we weren't just regurgitating a 12-bar pattern with verses that began with "woke up this morning". We incorporated found objects as percussion. And we were loud and dirty and loud.  Plenty of times we had people comment they were surprised there were only three of us on stage.

My point (yay, I finally have one!) is that it was joining that band which completed the nostalgia puzzle for me. Through that band I became an active listener to music which I'd only had a passive awareness of. And it flowed through into our look and even more so into the videos I made. With only one exception (Dig Deep), our videos contain archive footage or home movies from decades ago. Heck, with a couple of the videos (Dogs Get Nothing and, I think, Bad To The Bone), I included some 8mm film footage my parents took on their honeymoon in 1966. (I didn't use it, but they had some footage of the Sydney Opera House while under construction).

Anyone interested in viewing our little self-indulgent trip down nostalgia lane is more than welcome. The videos are here. If you see 'em, I hope you like 'em!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

A Fading Reminder of Who I Used To Be ( #Nostalgia #OldLovers #LostLove )

By Annabeth Leong

I left the cursing out of the headline, but that’s a reference to the Nine Inch Nails song, “Something I Can Never Have,” which was a sort of anthem for me when I was younger.

It’s a slippery song. “You make this all go away,” Trent Reznor sings, and I don’t know if he means that the song’s object takes away the bad or simply takes away everything. I don’t know if the thing he can never have is in the present or the future, if it involves the person he’s singing to, or if he’s lamenting that he and the person he’s singing to can never have a “normal” sort of love together.

Despite these uncertainties, a melancholy magic starts in my chest every time I hear the opening piano melody, and every time I hear his voice crack as he sings, “I still recall the taste of your tears.”

It’s a deeply nostalgic song, and also angry and sad, and I think for me those things all go together. I miss the past and those who populated it. I miss the self I used to be. And I’m also aware that I can never have those things back, and I’m sad about it. I’m angry about the things that changed, the ways I can’t stay in the same place, even if I want to, the mistakes I made, and the thoughts I had that turned out to be wrong.

My heart is rather fickle, so while I identified with the song deeply, for me, its object often changed. (In a song I wrote back then, I included the line, “And I keep thinking, ‘Maybe if you were here…’/ But ‘you’ is a face that changes more than the shirts I wear.”)

But perhaps this is part of what it means for the song to have been slippery. It could contain whatever I was feeling at the time.

At one point, the song was a lament for an abusive partner, a person I’d loved deeply and made fearsome promises to. That person “made this all go away” in the sense that he forbade me from seeing friends, demanded I sacrifice everything that mattered to me aside from him, and generally reduced me to an animal state. The thing I wanted that I could never have was the original vision of who he was and what we could be. All that turned out to be false, but yet it glittered somewhere on the horizon. Even as I knew I had to get away from him, I felt nostalgia for the way it had been at first, the feeling of being deeply in love. And because he was a very early love for me, I felt nostalgic for the idea of there being “one” love, the thought that one could marry the first person to whom one gave oneself physically.

At another point, the song was a lament for a good partner that I couldn’t stay faithful to. He traveled often, and I’d sleep with other people on the weekends he was away, though I didn’t know why I was doing that. He “made this all go away” in the sense that he made me feel like a good and worthwhile person, but he was something I could never have because I didn’t know how to behave in that circumstance. I remember the way I felt years later watching the (admittedly campy) movie Black Snake Moan, in which the main character is a nymphomaniac. I’m not saying I actually have that illness, but I do know that I identify with a particular sort of passive helplessness. Back then, if someone asked me for sex, I didn’t know how to refuse it. I had no real resolve for that, and no sense of what my own desire was and if it included whatever I was being asked to do. There’s always been a way that I could feel other people’s desires, in a sort of overwhelming wave, to the point that I’ve sometimes felt I had no choice but to respond to them. When I think now of that time and the man I was dating, I see a muddled swamp of wanting and not wanting and not knowing which desires belonged to which people. You might think I wouldn’t miss it, but there was something about the way that confusion felt that was freeing and thrilling. I was sad about the things I messed up in the process, but I’ve often wished to do that time over, to try different outcomes, to see if I could use that messy stew to figure out more about who I actually am and want to be.

Another time, the “something I can never have” was an honest relationship with the girl I loved. I’ve written about her here several times before. We slept together, but I didn’t know how to be with her, not for real. She “made this all go away” in the sense that I wanted her with a sort of mind-erasing lust that I didn’t know was possible before her. After the first time we slept together, I wrote in my journal, “I had real sex last night, for the first time.” Then I tore the pages out of the book, ripped them carefully into tiny pieces, and buried them in the trash can under cat litter so they could never be found. With her, that sense of awakening and sense of shame were so deeply tied together that I still feel it now. I still have her picture. I still weep when I look at it. She had a birthmark on the side of her neck, and the studio that took the picture tried to airbrush it away as if it were some sort of blemish, and I fucking hate them for it. She had thick, curly hair that I loved intensely—so much that, recently, on the occasion of running my hands through another woman’s thick, curly hair, I shivered with recognition and longing for a person and a time long gone. I was cruel, sometimes, to the girl I loved, and that was both because I thought I couldn’t have her and a means by which I made it impossible to have what we could have had together.

And so I have a great deal of nostalgia for lovers of the past, and always did. In many ways, they now represent even more of what I can’t have. I can’t go back. I can’t make myself young again. There is only forward. That’s the hell and heaven of it all.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Trippy Nostalgia

By Daddy X

Last October, Momma X and I went back to our roots on the banks of the Delaware River. Bucks County Pa. & Trenton, (fucking) New Jersey. What a difference between the two, considering the rural charm of Upper Bucks and the stark reality of urban Trenton.

In 1955 my family moved from the city, right after the steel mill went up across the river in Morrisville Pa. (Maybe two miles as the crow flies) I was an outdoorsy eleven year-old, and quite happy to relocate to the suburbs with woods and fields all around. A lush creek ran behind our new house. Creeks bring life to an environment, and the reptiles, fish, birds and mammals that depend on the water’s life-giving properties became my new hobbies. I spent lots of time in that creek.

Currently, the woodlot downstream of our old house has somehow escaped the rampant development of the area, much of it looking surprisingly as it did sixty years ago.

For most of our recent visit we stayed with high school friends, folks who shared similar experiences both during school and after graduation. The hippie days. That pair have been a rare constant throughout our lives.  She lived with us before they got married, pregnant with her first child. We moved in with them when we were saving cash to move to California. They’ve visited us several times here on the west coast, and we visit them back east. We double-dated on a trip to Italy. He too, has a liver transplant, but his came well after mine. Could be we contracted Hep C at the same time. We were close friends. He’s on dialysis. She’s terribly overweight and suffers with a chronic cough. 

He is a talented drummer, a star of our high school jazz band. One of the best High School bands at the time—they played the Johnny Carson Show in ’63. He still plays gigs. On this trip we had the pleasure of watching him jam with friends at a restaurant in Trenton that featured a ‘jazz night’ every other Wednesday. Alas, restaurant has since been sold, and the new owners aren’t interested in music. Sigh…

 Back in the day our group was the voice, the personification of youth. We were the avant-garde. The music makers and drug takers, the dropouts, the risk takers. Now we’re lucky to get through an entire week without a doctor’s visit. Are we paying for past behavior? Probably, on some level. Was it worth it?


But as far as nostalgia goes, there wasn’t much to be found on our trip. Little had stayed the same. Road crossings, once marked by a simple stop sign, are now big, four-lane intersections with timed lights. Our favorite soda fountain at “Penn Drugs” is now a shopping mall. The fully grown trees on my old street make it appear a different setting than the picture in my mind’s eye. In fact, things that had stayed the same were not necessarily the most welcoming. Many of the changes had made life easier. It used to take three hours to drive from Philadelphia to New York. Today it would take an hour and a half.

Nostalgia is of our souls, of our memories. Memories of the times and how those times influenced our personal lives. Nostalgia is not something we can go back to. Nostalgia is in us, never to be repeated in its original form and circumstance. In spite of the need to wrap ourselves in its comforts, nostalgia is a fabric woven of threads which no longer exist. 

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

What's that in old money?

My husband is a jigsaw fan. He loves them, the harder the better. He even does those ones where the finished picture is not the same as the image on the box. Incredible if you ask me. As if life is not hard enough…

Jigsaws leave me cold, as you may have realized, but recently he received one for his birthday which intrigued me. It was a picture of sweetie memories from the 1960s – all the brands and colourful packets I used to spend my pocket money on. This gave rise to a rare wave of nostalgia as I recalled the magically seductive flavours and scents of those gorgeous confections.

It was not just the eating, though I suppose at the time that was the highlight. What sticks in my mind now though is the experience of purchasing those sweets.

As the more diligent historians will know, the currency in the UK went decimal in 1971, when I was thirteen. Consequently, though by the time I was a teenager I tended to buy my cigarettes in the new currency, most of my sweetie-purchases were made in ‘old money’. It was grand stuff, that old money, though I suppose rather weird. But it never seemed so at the time. We had pounds, shillings and pence. The old pound and the new one were the same value, but the old version was made up of twenty shillings, each of which was made up of twelve pennies. So, there were 240 old pennies in the old pound. The new currency was simpler, so they said, just pounds and pennies, and there were now 100 pennies to the pound.

The coins were sort of nice, idiosyncratic I suppose. And I think it can be no coincidence that the new pound coin introduced a few days ago bears an uncanny resemblance to the old thruppenny bit.

I remember spending endless hours at school as a small child practicing sums with pounds, shillings and pence arranged in three neat columns which I carefully added up, only to have all that work swept aside and a new system taught. I think my brain rebelled because I retained perfectly the old system and struggled for years to assimilate the decimal version. Converting from the old to the new was difficult, despite the best efforts of a succession of well-meaning and determined teachers. ‘What’s that in old money?’ was the familiar refrain in shops for years after the change, and I still find myself doing the mental arithmetic even now.

Anyway, back to those sweeties. My favourite was a Cadbury’s flake and that cost 4d in old money (old pennies always had the symbol ‘d’, don’t ask me why.) I had, usually, 2d a day to spend so had to save up for a flake. I would go to the shop along our street on my way home from school to purchase my daily ration, and spend ages studying the range of options, though it rarely changed. The fun was in the choosing, the careful weighing of one delicious possibility against another. Fruit gums were cheap, just 2d, and would last a long time. I might even have some left over by tomorrow. A bar of chocolate was expensive and would be gone in minutes. A packet of sweets would need to be shared, probably, with my younger brother but the chocolate would be just a memory by the time I got home. Chocolate usually won out.

Crisps were another possibility, always a favourite but at 3d they also involved a bit of saving up. Occasionally ice cream, though that was usually bought from a van that came around the streets playing raucous, tinny music. The ice cream van conjures up a whole new set of memories …

Not normally given to nostalgic reminiscing I was somewhat surprised at the powerful memories evoked by my husband’s jigsaw and perhaps it is telling that my impressions of the money are every bit as strong as those of the tantalizing treats I could buy. I was always a mercenary at heart … pity that writing doesn’t pay better.

At least now though I can manage to buy a packet of cheese and onion crisps without having to turn out all my coat pockets so I suppose that counts as progress.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Nostalgia for All the Selves I've Been

Sacchi Green

For some reason my quirky mind has been pondering the similarity between the words “nostalgia” and “neuralgia.” Both have an ending referring to pain, right? Neuralgia, obviously, is nerve pain of a particular sort, although one would think that any kind of physical pain would involve nerves. Never mind that now. With some riffling through online dictionaries (not as pleasing to the senses as riffling through the pages of physical books, but faster) I discovered that “nostalgia” originally meant “home pain,” better known as homesickness. It was in fact, considered at one time a medical condition, a type of illness among soldiers far from home.

Nostalgia still can have an underlying note of melancholy, but generally we think of it these days more positively as a fond remembrance of things past, with perhaps just a slight regret that those times are past, and a fleeting wish that we could return to them. Given the choice, which is of course impossible, I think most of us would have more sense than to choose to relive our past, even though it might be interesting to see how accurate our memories are.

In thinking nostalgic thoughts I do tend toward the melancholy—going through box upon box of old family photographs saved by my mother is certainly a trigger in many ways, including seeing myself at different ages. But I have my share, probably more than my share, of pleasant memories. The older we get, the more we have to be nostalgic about.

Judging by recurrent dreams, which may or may not be a reasonable measure, I’m most nostalgic for the three years I spent in northern California and the thirty-nine years I spent as a retail store owner in western Massachusetts. Quite a spread, certainly the majority of my so-called adult life, but both now firmly enough in the past to qualify as nostalgia generators.

Ah, California in the late 60s. San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, Sausalito! Golden Gate Park, Redwood Park, Mt. Tamalpais, Muir Woods! Plus Mendocino, Point Reyes, Sonoma, and for adventures father afield, the Sierras and Yosemite! I loved them all, even though I was homesick then for New England. Now, once in a while, I’m homesick—nostalgic in its original sense—for those places, at that time. Time. There’s the rub. I’ve been back to the Bay area on visits a few times, but of course things have changed. You can’t go home again, because the place that was home has changed, and the you that felt at home there isn’t there any more.

I could go to, say, Yosemite again, and I would if I had the chance, but these days you have to tour the valley by bus, not your own car. The campground I knew has been washed away by the Merced River. And the two-year-old who built his very first snowman not far from Ansel Adams’s gallery isn’t there, and in fact has just turned 51, with a daughter of his own.

I could go to Sausalito, but the hippie handcrafter vibe of the late 60s is long gone from there. Muir Woods may very well be the pretty much the same, though—Sequoias are about as close to forever as complex living organisms get. I suppose some other places haven’t changed all that much, either. The wild mushrooms mycologist friends taught me to harvest may still grow in Redwood Park above Oakland and Berkeley, and the Mendocino coast to Point Reyes may still be as wild, though by its nature ever-changing, but the root of the matter is that I would be seeing all those things through older eyes than I did way back then, and the very act of observation would be colored by nostalgia.

Nostalgia for my former business is a somewhat different matter. It’s only been six years since it was sold to former employees, and one year since they closed it. But it was a huge part of my life for a very long time, as much home in a way as the house I live in, and I’m nostalgic for  myself, for who I was then, the identity it gave me, the interaction with generations of people. It wasn’t uncommon for me to come across people when I went to trade shows in New York who remembered my store from when they were at UMass or Amherst College, and a few in recent years who told me that their own kids were now at UMass. In Northampton and Amherst these days, where my two stores were, I feel as much like a ghost as I do when I visit the campus of Mt. Holyoke College where I went to school.

Well. I meet people in the supermarkets or the libraries or even on trails in the woods who recognize me and ask how retirement feels, and I tell them truthfully that I’m as busy as ever with various things. I was offered the chance to buy back the business four years after selling it, and I turned it down, for many good reasons. But I’m still intensely nostalgic for it.

I suppose some people are more susceptible to nostalgia than others, and maybe age has something to do with it. As I said above, the older you get the more you have to be nostalgic about. It surprised me not long ago (and makes me wonder a bit about myself) when I realized, going down the stairs to my basement, that I felt nostalgia for all my younger selves going down those same stairs through the years, whether just on my way to get food from the freezer, or to go out to my garden, or, quite a few years ago, to make candles in a corner I’d outfitted for the process of melting the wax, coloring it in various original ways I’d worked out, pouring it into molds, sometimes using a propane torch on cooled candles to reveal colored chunks inside. I sold candles in my own stores and some others, fairly successfully (except that some stores that sold that kind of thing would suddenly disappear without paying you on consignment.) Before I had my own stores, in fact, I worked with a group called the People’s Craft Co-op, which tells you something about those times. Ah, more nostalgia, although the frictions and stresses that eventually developed in the organization didn’t make for particularly happy memories.

As writers, though, what would we do without those memories? Without those times in our pasts that made enough impression on us to inspire nostalgia now? In Thornton Wilder’s famous play Our Town one character, Emily, who has died in childbirth, is given a chance to return to just one day in her past, and chooses her twelfth birthday. This return to her past, nostalgia fulfilled, turns out to be painful, but shows her that every single moment of life should be treasured. She asks the character of the Stage Manager if anyone truly understands the value of life while they live it, and his answer is, "No. The saints and poets, maybe—they do some."

The poets. That could mean us, once in a miraculous while. We do some. Without the capacity for nostalgia, we couldn’t do as much.