"Attaching myself to some of the memories of my youth forces me to confront the fact that seven years have passed"Justin Timberlake/Youtube

For the second half of this term, I’ve listened almost exclusively to a Spotify playlist I made called ‘shitty pop’. In particular, Justin Timberlake’s What Goes Around... Comes Around and Cry Me a River. It’s Timberlake at his most glorious: frosted tips and low-rise jeans. When I listen to it, I feel as if I’m 13 years old again, listening to the car radio. It is, by all accounts, bad music. And I can’t turn it off.

In my third year at Cambridge, I keep reaching for reminders of times long gone: listening to early 2000s hits, absentmindedly watching Gossip Girl episodes. I’ve started making a toasted bagel with butter and cinnamon sugar for breakfast each morning as I did when I was younger (which my friend recently likened to a recipe for a heart attack).

People often talk about the preemptive nostalgia for Cambridge that hits you in final year, and of the inevitable yearning for university life once you’ve left this place. But nostalgia isn’t material, and often, it’s not clear why an attachment to some memories feels more real than others. I don’t yearn to be 13 again — I don’t think anyone does? But I’m still going back to some of the habits I had then, the sounds and tastes that I associate with a period from my life I’m so far distanced from now.

It’s difficult to pinpoint why I’m feeling this attachment with time long gone by. I think I’m looking for the familiar. With an unsettling feeling of what’s to come, the low-lying uncertainty of what the hell I want my life to look like, I take solace in fleeting glimpses of memories past.

Much more than when I was an impatient 13 year-old with claustrophobia and big ambitions, I want simplicity again. I want, for a second, to feel detached from the burden of deciding what I want my life to be, or to look like. It’s too weighted. Even though I know that it’s not a calculus I need to solve in the next year or even the next five, it feels as if I do. Doors will slowly start to close, after all.

I think most finalists are feeling unsettled right now, even those with a fully-formed plan of what they’ll do post-graduation. Like many others, I feel far happier with the person I am than I did when I was younger, but there’s still something comforting in returning to a time where it felt as if my life hadn’t really started.

Being in school helps you to forget that your very finite life is going by. But it is. Right now. Blink, and you’ll miss it.

And once graduation happens, as a twenty-something, life will feel very much like it’s underway. As the newness of teenage years fade, the path forwards is less certain. There aren’t easy goalposts left standing that you can focus on once university’s over. What do you want your life to be? How do you want the people who know you right now to remember you? What’s important to you about what your twenties look like?

I want, for a second, to feel detached from the burden of deciding what I want my life to be

My friend asked me a couple days ago, “If you knew that you would die suddenly in one year, what would you do in the time you had left?” It’s an impossible, paralysing question. I thought that I would want to do something with my time that felt meaningful, but what does that look like? I'm not sure yet.

Maybe, though, it’s also a question we should ask ourselves more frequently. Maybe ask it to yourself quietly in your college room, as you ground yourself with the music of your early teens blasting from a speaker.

I could get hit by a bus tomorrow, or in one year’s time. None of us know when this strange, unsettling, beautiful little life will be abruptly cut short. Every decision is loaded. We tend to avoid these questions of the finality of our existence, edging it out of our minds. How would we get anything done, otherwise?

Especially in times when life itself is in flux, I think it’s instinctual to want to feel settled, and, for me, that’s involved reaching for memories of my early adolescent years: processed sugar, mindless tv, and bubble-gum pop bangers.


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When I feel settled again, maybe I’ll start listening to ‘good’ music again, or watching television that doesn’t somehow find a way to grasp onto every trope of American teenage life.

In a way, though, I’m glad I feel unsettled (and, of course, glad for JT). As paralysing as they are, a part of me wants to be asking myself these questions about what I want my life to look like. Attaching myself to some of the memories of my youth is also forcing me to confront the fact that seven years have gone by.

Time keeps passing, too quickly. And this strange, unexplained nostalgia for the familiarity of my adolescence is just another reminder that what I’m doing right now is shaping this finite life. So what else do I want from it?

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