Prostalgia and the Hardest Month

by Ben Carter


When I was in college, I invented a word–prostalgia–to describe a feeling for which I’m not sure there is another English equivalent.[1] A portmanteau, prostalgia combines “present” and “nostalgia” to capture the emotion of being nostalgic for an experience that is happening at this very moment. The emotion is cousins with gratitude and joy, distantly related to awe. The distinguishing feature, though, is an awareness–in the moment–of the moment’s fleetingness.

A melancholic knowledge pervades the prostalgic moment. It is infused with an understanding that this moment–this beautiful, delicate, precious, painful, loving, poignant moment–will fade, will pass like all other moments into oblivion. Prostalgia, unlike ecstasy, is rooted in time. Time dominates the motion. In ecstasy, a man loses his connection with time. In prostagia, a man’s connection with time borders on oppressive.

If prostalgia had a month, it would be October.

October requires us to live in beauty while surrounding us with reminders of that beauty’s haste.[2]

The geese.

The leaves.

The chill.

The impossibly clear air–possible only because things are about to die. October’s natural beauty is enhanced because, more than any other month, it reminds us that this beauty that surrounds us will not last. The sugar maple’s greenredyellowbrown explosion will falter and fall.[3] This awareness that this beauty will not last gives October an emotional potency that other months lack completely. Try appreciating June.

October fills my heart.



And breaks it.

October rips my guts out and strews them–yellow, red, and green–among the crisp leaves. They will be eaten at night by a stray cat.



This is as it should be.


I need October. I need to remember that the geese will fly north, the sap will return to the roots.

Prostalgia is important. Necessary.

I am so good at avoiding unpleasant emotions. What I spent years doing with booze, I now do with Apple products, the NFL, perpetual busyness. There's no escaping October. It rips me from distraction with its beauty. It drenches me with beauty. I am drowning in October. It insists upon being appreciated, honored, revered. October gives me religion. 

It’s not that prostalgia is an unpleasant emotion: it fills me with gratitude, an overwhelming sense that life must be cherished. My breath is precious. Prostagia is not unpleasant, but it is hard. It reminds me that my breath will one day merge with the wind. October requires religion. 

God, October hurts.


It hurts, God.

  1. Obviously, if there is a non-English equivalent for this emotion, I would love to hear about it from a reader. I’m sure German has a word for this. Paging Howie Cockrill ↩

  2. My friend Jesse has proposed an October playlist. Allow me to expand on that list with songs that are brutally beautiful, filled with prostalgia.  ↩

    "Get out the Map" by the Indigo Girls

    "Halloween" by Matt Pond PA 

    "Farmer Chords" and "I Will Follow You into the Dark" by Death Cab for Cutie

    "Our Town" by Iris DeMent

    "Turning Over" and "Albuquerque Lullaby" by Dan Bern 

    Anything by Iron and Wine

  3. I have written elsewhere that the sycamore is my favorite tree. The sugar maple in fall is just a spectacular runner-up. I will not argue with a sugar maple lover. The air will turn colder, too cold. The sun that warms our sweater now is losing power.  ↩