Pearson College’s The Nostalgia Project

Pedder Bay

For two years, I went to a tiny international college in Vancouver Island on a bay at the edge of the Pacific Ocean. The idea of the United World Colleges, as Pearson College was one of I think six at the time (and now there are 17), was to take bright, promising kids from around the world and put them together in close quarters to develop international understanding, and hopefully develop leadership for a better world.

A marvelous place.

One of their current programs is to have alumni stay on campus for a period of time in a tiny house; at the moment, Trevor Corkum is the grad. I only met Trevor face to face once or twice, but he was one of those people who felt like a doppelganger of sorts. We both attended Pearson, and then Trent University. We both went to a Scandinavian folk high school. And we’re both writers. Trevor proposed a project, the Nostalgia Project, with the idea of sending a postcard to one’s former self at the college. What would you say to your younger self?

I thought it was quite a sweet idea, and in fact have participated in similar projects. For Arsenal Pulp Press’s Second Person Queer: Who You Are So Far, edited by Richard Labonté, I wrote a letter to my younger gay self.

For the Nostalgia Project. I noticed that the deadline was getting close, and discovered that you can create and send postcards through Canada Post these days. You provide a photo, or choose one, and write your message on the back. They print it out and send it. Certainly quicker than sending a postcard from Australia.

Funny thing, though. I wrote it out and sent it and didn’t even cut and paste what I wrote. As a young writer, I was obsessed with keeping everything that I wrote. It was partly connected to nostalgia and record-keeping, as well as the misguided idea that these notes might be useful or interesting someday (my old journals are far less interesting or useful than I once thought they’d be). I also suspect a genetic or behavioural link, as my father recorded everything from meals we ate to the birthdays of nearly everyone he knew. Somehow, I’ve gotten to an age where much of what comes out of daily life is not worth recording or saving.

I was rather proud of this drawing.

Still, I did have the impulse to write about it, and to write this down. While I did have lots of advice for my younger gay self, when I was thinking about what to write to my younger self at Pearson College, I had little advice or even encouragement. Certainly, I could have advised changes for the college that would have affected me; there was no real attention or understanding of well-being and mental health; and the ways they cared for and supported young students was not developed, not for indigenous students, not for young LGBT students, and in fact not for most students who needed some support.

But considering those were circumstances of the time that I couldn’t have changed, is there anything that I would have secretly whispered in the ear of my younger self? No. My social mistakes, my intensity and neediness, my sensitive and kind nature. I learned from all my experiences there. I knew somehow that life would turn out well so I don’t even think a word of encouragement or hope from a future self, while not harmful, would have been needed. So that’s what I wrote in my postcard to my former self, to simply do what I was doing, and be who I was.

It’s good to look back at a time and experience and be able to think that.

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