As a writer, it’s good to examine what my personal symbolism is — first, because it may provide universal symbolism for my stories. Second, because sometimes my personal symbolism is so personal that it just confuses my readers.
I feel nostalgic seeing cars driving by in the early morning. It comes from being up very early in the morning as a child when my mom had to drive my dad to a pickup point so he could get to work. Mom would wake my sister and I up early and we would eat cereal in front of the tv watching the hog futures with Orion Samuelson (this is a 1970’s Chicago area TV reference) as it was the only thing on TV. Then Mom would bundle us up for a 20-mile car ride in a blue Buick station wagon, during which we would often fall asleep. The occasional car driving by in the dark reminds me of a moment when I felt the rest of the world was sleeping around me. I don’t know that this image would speak to anyone else.
Another thing that makes me feel nostalgic is antique auctions. I spent several weekends a year in my childhood at junk auctions as my parents searched for treasures. From rain-damp backyards to big, dusty antique barns, drinking small styrofoam cups of hot chocolate and eating hot dogs for lunch. I remember feeling special as very few children got to sit through auctions with their family. I once bought a box of junk for 50 cents and later sold the cookie jar from it (a primitive with blue cobalt glaze) for $9. Is there anyone else out there who would pull up a feeling of boredom and curiosity from the images of a junk auction?
Then there’s my experience with certain rock songs that use harmonica or sax. Think “Whatever Gets You Through the Night” by John Lennon or “Helpless” by Neil Young. I remember the first time I heard the former on the car radio (AM radio) half asleep in the car on the south side of Ottawa IL as an adolescent. The first time I heard “Helpless” was on an AM radio in my bedroom, and I was a few years younger. Very prosaic memories, yet these songs call up a portentous feeling of the past.
The caution here is that I could build these into my stories and believe I am communicating such things as nostalgia, such feelings as isolation or boredom, such universal moments that the reader will experience, but the truth is that these would speak only to me and maybe a rare reader. This is why I have to be careful as a writer to not depend on instant nostalgia to speak for me.