The Perks of Being Nostalgic

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.

  • Erica Malanga

    Great article! I was also greatly influenced by Midnight in Paris especially Gil. I, like you, often find myself yearning to live in a simpler time. What I took away from MIP was that today will be as exciting to the youth of 2050 as the 1950’s are to me. We are living in exciting times whether we see it or not!

  • Maggie Jankuloska

    Exactly, to quote Midnight in Paris, “That’s what the present is. It’s a little unsatisfying because life is unsatisfying” but there is beauty in it also. Yet I will still long for vintage floral patterns, sepia photographs and obsolete typewriters haha

  • Annie Hatmaker

    Love the picture of Lulu from Pandora’s Box. Such an interesting movie! And great article–I think everyone has something to admire in the past, and remembering that there are amazing things in the present can be difficult. Thanks for the reminder, and the knowledge that I’m not the only one who indulges in nostalgia!

  • Lauren Scharf

    Loved Midnight in Paris. I go through the same problems as Gil every time I hear a Cole Porter song or see a great film or doc from the 60s. I’ve always believed I was born in the wrong decade, but I can’t even decide what decade I should’ve been born in. They’re all too great.

  • Michael Lee Elmendorf

    We tend to romanticize about the past as if it were better, superior. It isn’t. I read an article about this a few years ago, in, i think LA or OC Weekly. They used Disneyland as an example. “Tomorrowland” was once very popular, because of the what the “future” may bring. Now, it is not so popular. Themes within Disneyland and California Adventures now cater to those who believe the past, better. You see this now in the new 1.5 billion remolding within California Adventures. Our memories are very selective. It is easier to remember the details of the good, over the negative. Sometimes, when I wish to feel better, out of reflex, I reminisce, and dwell on the “Good ole days”. Following the disciplines of Zen and just being aware, I then stop myself, and remember, “No. I was more of a mess in my 20s, than I am now. Maybe I could surf better back then, but I was extremely unhappy and depressed” Sorry the past is not better. People live much longer today, then in the 20s. There are more opportunities. There is more equality. There is an African American “president” (However, I do not like obama, politically) Woman have more rights. And, I have an Disneyland annual pass, And, and, and, I am running 26.2 miles this Sunday in the Long Beach Marathon. Now is the best time.

  • Kimberly Kosydor

    I Love This.

  • Lisa Ashley Hale

    Oh, how I love that Louise Brooks.

  • Beth Cook

    Midnight in Paris is a great movie!

  • Ramona Falk

    I think you just described my life.
    Forever a nostalgist for the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s :)

  • Cristina Koen

    Well, the other positive aspect of living in the here and now is that, as women, we have it way better than we did in the past. Just think about it. Could we really have been our today selves, if we had been born not just 100, but 50 years ago? I think not.

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