The future will never fascinate me as much as the past. Its immense possibilities and progress will never fill me with the same sense of awe as something that has been resurrected from decades lost or forgotten. Call me nostalgic or a sentimentalist or a sufferer of ‘golden age thinking’, same as my beloved protagonist Gil is diagnosed in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris.
While Gil, portrayed by the ever whimsical Owen Wilson, loiters though Paris as an unsatisfied writer, he comes across a time and space loophole and is teleported to the Paris of the 1920s, where he mingles with luminaries such as Ernest Hemingway, Salvador Dali and Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.
It is hard to explain my fascination with the past; it has been there since I was a little girl. Just as the future presents possibilities, so does the past; it is filled with lessons to be learned, it is filled with beauty and a simplicity of something that cannot be relived. Yes, I sit through episodes of That ’70s Show, hoping life could be so simple again, and yes, I wish I could be the muse of a young Leonard Cohen and yes, I wish I could have been there in the pit of free love that were the 1960s. Surprise surprise, I am a history major.
While the present and future are fluid and subjective, the past is still and beautiful. Although we try and imitate it and recreate it – for example, with film adaptations – some things cannot be recreated. No one can recreate the Stanley Kowalski of Marlon Brando as no one can replace Elvis’ title as The King, or to quote Ted Mosby, the new Star Wars films could never be as good as their predecessors.
Nostalgia is one of my main influences as a writer – when writing creatively, it’s always dull to write from the present point. Why not instead write in the time of breathtaking style of the 1950s, embodied by the beauty of Ava Gardner? Nothing says romance like the now obsolete letters written on Underwood typewriters.
Similarly, Edie Sedgwick will always be cooler than Lindsay Lohan, who could be her equivalent today. Why is Edie so adored? She is so loved because in death she has become an icon of beauty and innocence lost, just like James Dean.
Nostalgia has the exasperating ability to file away the flaws and imperfections of the past and leave behind the golden memories; hence it leaves us chasing the impossible. Yet, through music, films, art or literature of history, there is a warm comfort knowing that the smiles and beauty of people long forgotten and long dead can be fresh and alive and meaningful to others. I guess that’s one of my principal wants a writer, to know that through your contribution, you will live on. It is comforting to hope that in 50 years time, people might find peace or empowerment through your words and wish to know what kind of person you were. It’s either the nostalgic in me or my ego.
So while people buy the latest iPhone, I would rather spend my money on first edition books to accompany my 1913 Dante Gabriel Rosetti book of poetry of search for nanna knick knacks to remind me of days long forgotten.
Midnight in Paris ends with Gil realising that it is easy to idealise the past and not face the problems of the present. Instead of staying in the 1920s, he reclaims himself and starts afresh in the present. While I don’t don a Victorian ensemble for a trip to the supermarket or a flapper dress to pump petrol, I am thankful to live in the here and now. Sure, the present can be a little unsatisfying and dull but at the end of the day, if we look hard enough, we can see that it too is filled with awe that one day we will reminisce on.