Memories are weird (for me, at least)

It is a thematic sequel to this essay.

When I travel, I no longer feel the need to take photos and to buy souvenirs; it took me a while to realise that photos and souvenirs cannot bring the memories back to life.

My sense of awe when seeing beautiful sceneries, the tastes of foreign foods on my tongue, the feeling of hot or cold weather stinging my skin, the feeling of cultural shocks.

In theory, photos and souvenirs should be able to revive those sensations. But, they make me feel nothing. The photos only remind me of how fast time has passed. The souvenirs? Well, the T-shirts eventually become rags and the other souvenirs either end up as dust collectors or slowly disintegrate.

With works of entertainment, however, it is an entirely different story.

I always ALWAYS make sure I have access to my favourite books, films, TV shows, music, you name it. I always make sure they are not lost to history.

Okay, I admittedly sound paranoid. In this DNA age, it would take extraordinary events to make any works lost into history; even obscure works would still be preserved in some ways. But, that does not extend to ones published exclusively digitally.

On Youtube, there are quite a lot of Youtubers’ videos which are either made private or deleted entirely for varying reasons; they can be for obvious reasons like the appearance of unsavoury individuals and copyright strikes or they may be entirely undisclosed personal reasons. From what I observe, those missing videos are almost never re-uploaded.

And I hate that.

Unless they are taken down because of the unsavoury individuals, I miss them greatly and I hate myself for not downloading them. In fact, this makes me fearful about the future of Youtube: what happens if most -if not all- of its videos are deleted?

You can see how starkly different my reactions to the memories of travelling and watching Youtube videos are.

I don’t know why. But, it seems my mind perceives experiences like travelling as intangible and experiences like watching Youtube videos as tangible.

Travelling is all about immersing ourselves in different human and natural environments, which are impossible to describe unless we experience them ourselves. Enjoying works of entertainment is all about immersing ourselves in things stored in physical containers; for examples, stories are stored within books and, of course, digital videos are stored within hard drives.

Somehow, that’s how my subconscious defines what is and isn’t tangible. Dumb, I know.

Because of the supposed intangibility, I am content about having memories of experiences like travelling erased from my mind. I am content about the fragile longevity of the intangible ones.

Because of the supposed tangibility, I hate the prospect of losing memories of my favourite works. In my subconscious, tangibility and sturdiness are synonymous; there is no reason for my favourite works to be lost to history, at least not in my (probably short) lifetime.

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Great Big Story

To summarise the content: it is a set of mini documentaries showcasing “trivial” facts about human lives from all over the world.

In theory, I should hate the videos, being a cynical adult that I am. In actuality, it has the complete opposite effect on me.

I don’t know how they did it. But, every video successfully reminds me how the world we live in is inherently worth exploring. Every video successfully convinces me how even the most “useless” facts can enrich our lives.

No, it has nothing to do with the visual artistry. If anything, I find “shallow” videos with beautiful packaging infuriating; it is a pathetic attempt of overcompensating which only flimsy minds fall for.

So, why do I love GBS videos when they are beautifully-packaged and “shallow”?

If I want to apply Occam’s Razor to this, maybe deep down I don’t see those “useless” facts as useless. Maybe I am one of those nerds who believe everything is worth learning about.

But, that does not make any sense. Similar content is abundant online and most fail to inspire me. With that in mind, it is hard to believe I am one of those people.

I have a more abstract hypothesis: maybe it has something to do with the personalities behind the scenes.

When other media outlets make similar videos, the results feel less like mini documentaries and more like miscellaneous news reports. It seems they treat trivia as mere “fun facts” instead of things that can potentially broaden our horizons.

It is either the people behind the scenes perceive their audiences as shallow OR they themselves are shallow. It is the complete opposite with GBS, who assumed their audience are as inquisitive as they were.

Their inquisitiveness also makes me feel nostalgic. At one point as a young boy, I was genuinely curious about literally everything! I mean, my idea of fun involved reading encyclopaedia sets, watching science shows on TV and fantasising myself as a genius scientist/explorer who master every discipline imaginable!

In a way, I am being reminded that I should relive my childhood sense of curiosity and quit being picky about what I should and shouldn’t learn.

It is a shame GBS shuts down for good. Frankly, I wish it happens to CNN instead; I am sure the world would be just fine without CNN, if not better.

Oh, and one more rambling: the fact that GBS focuses on human stories also reminds me how exploration is an inherently human endeavour. Not only it is normal to be curious, it is also abnormal to not be curious.

I know that is a big stretch. But, that’s how my dumb mind works.

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Unus Annus

First thing first, I am a fan of the channel. I love the chemistry between Ethan and Mark -two individuals with distinctive personalities, the witty and surreal sense of humour, the sudden and inexplicable bouts of ominousness and even the occasional thought-provoking and emotional moments.

It is my kind of things. A Monty Python-esque comedy mixed with psychological and cosmic horror, sprinkled with a bit of drama. Difficult to categorise, has unexpected moments of depth. It is genuinely one of my favourite Youtube channels ever… and it was intended to last only for a year.

Some people express regret about missing the whole thing. But, I argue they are the lucky ones; they didn’t have to dread about the channel’s death and they don’t have to grieve when it finally arrives.

They don’t have to deal with the mess that is the human emotions.

Admittedly, I am also among those who save some of the videos. But, worry not, I won’t share them to the masses.

Interestingly, the channel reminds me about those lost works. You know, lost films, lost TV shows, lost books, lost music, works that we will never immerse ourselves into because no known copies of them survive.

I naively thought the problem lied on reliance on physical copies and digitalisation was the solution. But, I was wrong.

Even before Unus Annus, I already realised there were such thing as lost Youtube videos. There are Youtubers -some of whom I personally adore-, who have their videos either privated or deleted for various reasons; some even remove almost the entirety of their catalogues.

If they were deleted because they featured individuals who were eventually exposed as unsavoury, I won’t miss them. But, if they were done for other reasons, I will miss them dearly.

But, it is disheartening how a significant chunk of Youtube is already lost to history, despite the website being less than two decades old. Regardless of the videos’ quality, an extensive Youtube archive will benefit the future generations of internet users, many of which will surely become creators themselves.

Yes, I am one of those nerds who think history can serve as precautionary tales. Radical, I know.

Actually, I am being a hypocrite here.

While I do think preservation is important, me downloading Unus Annus videos have nothing to do with that. If that is the case, I would have downloaded every single one; instead, I only downloaded my personal favourites.

So much for the good cause, eh?

As preservation is not a concern, I still don’t know why I spent hours downloading them. Months before the deletion, I already knew watching them as mere MP4 files would not be as enjoyable. After the deletion, my concern was proven right.

I tried watching them. But, I miss the feeling of watching videos on a platform where they were also watched by millions of fellow viewers. Even though I barely interact with any of them, even though this is not my only fandom, I still miss the sense of belonging.

It is obvious how the channel is impactful to my life. I already miss the past even though it is still less than two weeks old (as the time of writing this sentence). I am actually grieving its demise, despite knowing the date of death beforehand.

Don’t get me wrong: I will be able to enjoy the videos again. But -and it is a big but-, I have to stop watching them for many years. The longer the wait, the more I will likely to forget them. The more I forget about them, the more nostalgic it will be. The more nostalgia I have, the more positive emotions I will experience.

I am confident with my speculation because I have personally experienced something similar. The more I forgot about my childhood films, TV shows, music and books, the more enjoyable it was to re-visit them as an adult.

While I am sure the outcome is worth it, I doubt I would deliberately make the effort.

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Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus: unexpectedly nostalgic

Yes, I will spoil it. But first, I want to talk about its genre.

I was searching for magical realist novels recommendations on Google… and an article suggested this book. I bought it, I started reading it…. and it is disappointingly not magical realist. It is fantasy.

Don’t get me wrong: I still enjoy fantasy. I am disappointed because I want to read more magical realist novels as I find the genre interesting and the article’s writer clearly did not understand it enough.

If one reads novel and does not pay much attention, it does seem every character associated with the circus sees magic without any sense of wonder. Every time we enter their perspectives, the depiction of magic does feel matter-of-fact.

And that’s the thing: their perspectives.

The public -the rêveurs AKA the circus’s admirers especially- see the circus as an otherworldly entity instead of something one expects in the everyday life. That breaks the illusion of mundanity. If they don’t have that sense of wonder, the novel would definitely be a magical realist one.

And now, for the nostalgia….

I am surprised the novel compels me to feel nostalgic. Yes, it is a story about a magical world and my young self loved magical stories. But, its ending is rather gloomy.

Yes, Marco and Celia do not have to kill each other and Bailey stays with the circus which he has loved since he was young. But, Marco and Celia also end up living as ghost-like entities who cannot leave the circus… and Bailey -despite being young and still has his life ahead of him- chooses to be magically bound to the circus for eternity.

It is less sad and more bittersweet. But, my young self would still hate the ending; he would want an entirely sweet one.

My childhood fantasies also involve lots of actions, good vs evil physically embodied. Contrast that with this novel which is more dependent on the dialogues and the atmosphere.

To make it more confusing, I have read Harry Potter books; despite being more aligned to my childhood fantasies with their happy endings and actions, they do not feel nostalgic for me.

Maybe it has something to do with my maturity.

The older I get, the more I am not into happy endings and action-driven narratives. The former can deceive us by hiding the bitterness underneath. When excessively made, the latter can be sensory overloads and -unlike the more immersive ‘quiet’ scenes- they can distract us from the actual story-telling in the name of ‘not being boring’.

But, even if Harry Potter is less sentimental and more dialogue-driven, I doubt it would evoke the same nostalgia.

The most common criticism regarding Rowling’s worldbuilding is its clumsiness. While I do agree with the assessment, I also feel hers is a bit too unconcealed, too transparent. I mean, if you intend to explain almost everything, losing the enigmatic atmosphere is inevitable.

In The Night Circus, the magic is unexplained. Characters associated with the circus perceive it as a mundane entity while the outsiders perceive the magically-enlivened circus as something to be simply impressed, baffled and haunted by. The magic is mysterious.

Young me also loved mysteries… and I still do. They compel me to be curious about the world I live in and they encourage me to explore it. When it comes to fiction, I want the revelations to be subtle and polished instead of dry and excessively expositional. I want them to be aesthetically pleasing instead of feeling like I am reading a textbook.

I am hesitant to say if I have definitely found the cause of the nostalgia. The combination of my personal growth and my love of mysteries feels inadequate as a hypothesis.

But, for now, I am satisfied. This is an abstract topic in which I am trying to decipher my own personal feeling. As long as it makes sense to me and I am not projecting myself onto others, the explanation is valid enough.

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