Santa Cruz Good Times

Wednesday
Apr 01st
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Lost in the Past

Lisa_JensenNostalgia is denial!" proclaims the smug pedant played by Michael Sheen in Woody Allen's terrific new movie, Midnight In Paris. He's poo-poohing the craving of protagonist Owen Wilson for the bygone era of Paris in the 1920s, a Mecca of creativity and artistic ferment idealized by Wilson's character, Gil, a Hollywood scriptwriter with a Pinocchio-like urge to become a "real" writer.

Does it count as "nostalgia" to crave something you've never actually experienced? Lots of people (especially those of us who write historical fiction, and the majority of those who read it) do feel sometimes like we were born in the wrong era. Who doesn't occasionally have a pang of yearning for some simpler past time when communication wasn't so instant, media wasn't quite so mass (or massive), and a person had time to, you know, sit and think once in a while?

Allen sets us up to resent Sheen's pomposity and cheer on Gil when he escapes into his fantasy of '20s-era Paris: talking shop with Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein, clinking champagne glasses with Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. But guess what? The joke's on Gil (and the audience) as the movie progresses, and escape into the past proves to be no solution for problems in the here and now. When Gil meets a Frenchwoman in the '20s who longs, in turn, for the belle epoque Paris of Toulouse-Lautrec and Paul Gauguin, Allen suggests that obsession with the past can become the serpent that swallows its own tail, an endless cycle of turning backward as opposed to facing the present. Gil has to make the decision to stay lost in the past or turn the page.

There are two kinds of people in the world. No, not male and female; not even Red and Blue. There are those who habitually look forward to the future, and those who are perpetually gazing backward to the past. Those in the former category are the most engaged in life, with new plans and new projects compelling them onward every day. But the latter group, those who long for the past as an alternative to everyday reality, are the most likely to get stuck in time.

I'm not talking about people who have managed to make the past their profession, local historian Ross Gibson, say, or musicologist Ukulele Dick. For curators, historians and preservationists, the past is their present, and their future. I mean people in the grip of longing—and this is what I think of as nostalgia—for a time in their own past in which they remember feeling more secure, happier, and/or more in control of their lives. People unduly fixated on their glory days in college, or their military service, or the long-gone days of their children's babyhood often seem to be the least able to adapt to the present day. Remember when they used to say the best years of your life were in high school? Think how awful that would be if it were true.

Art Boy and I have just come back from a week in the Midwest at a family reunion—four generations of siblings, cousins, spouses and children, doing the delicate Dance of the In-Laws at close quarters. (Ten adults, one bathroom, no homicides; who says there are no miracles?) By far the happiest people in the group were those who were excited about the future: the architect brother with a slate of challenging new projects ahead of him; the sun-worshipping sister with a new community services job in the Virgin Islands who's building her dream house on St. Thomas.

But the proof of the pudding is Art Boy's mom and clan matriarch, Helen Aschbacher. Six years a widow, she astonishes the family with her perseverance. At age 90, she still drove her own car, worked as a seamstress, and went to the gym. At 91, she got rid of all but her most  cherished things, sold the too-big house in the Illinois suburb where her family had lived for three generations, and moved north to the tiny hamlet of Spooner, Wisconsin, to be closer to relatives. She was determined to do this "before I get too decrepit," when she could still be of use to someone. She's spent the intervening year fixing up her beautiful little duplex apartment, getting her Wisconsin driver's license, locating a new church (and a new gym), and getting on with her life. She always has a new project in the works. She is never bored.

“The past is prologue,” as Prospero says in “The Tempest”;  it shapes and nurtures us, but it was never meant to be the entire scenario of one's life. How can it be? It's over with the turning of each new second; the minute you started reading this column is already a memory. Time only moves in one direction. We can't go backward, as far as we know. (If we could, wouldn't someone from the future have dropped in on us by now? Hmmm ... well, considering the state of our present, maybe not.) We can only go forward, or else run the risk of coming to a screeching halt. The past is a great place to visit, but who wants to live there? Old memories are to be cherished, but new memories are just around the corner, ours for the making.


Trade scenarios with This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , or read my blog, Lisa Jensen Online Express, at ljo-express.blogspot.com.

Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

Best of Santa Cruz 2015

In 40 years of publishing, Good Times has seen a lot of “bests.”

 

Spring Triangle: Three Spring Festivals—Aries, Taurus, Gemini

The Spring signs Aries, Taurus and Gemini constitute a triangle of force that sets the template for the nine signs that follow and the template for the entire year (Spring 2015 - Spring 2016) ahead. Aries initiates new ideas, Taurus stabilizes the new thinking of Aries and Gemini takes the initiating stabilized ideas of Aries/Taurus and disperses them to all of humanity. It is in this way that humanity learns new things, with the help of Mercury, the messenger. As Spring unfolds, three elements emerge: the Fire of Aries (initiating new ideas), the Earth of Taurus (anchoring the ideas of God through Mercury) and the Air of communicating Gemini. These three signs/elements are the Three Spring Festivals. They are the “triangle of force” forming the template (patterns) of energy for the upcoming new year. After these three we then have the soothing, calming, warming, nurturing and tending waters of the mother (Cancer). Cancer initiates our next season under the hot suns of summer. Planets, stars and signs create the Temple of Light directing humanity towards all things new. March 29 is Palm Sunday, when the Christ, World Teacher, was led into Jerusalem (City of Peace) on a donkey (humility). Palms waving above His head, signified recognition of the Christ’s divinity. Palm Sunday is the Sunday before the Easter (Resurrection Festival). Palm Sunday begins Holy Week, the week of capture, imprisonment, passion, sacrifice, crucifixion, death and resurrection of the christ. All events in the Christ’s life represent events (initiations) that humanity experiences through many lifetimes. We turn our attention to these holy events this week. Their concepts portray and reveal to us greater spiritual understanding. Then, Aries, the “light of life itself” shines through us.

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Best of Santa Cruz 2015 Editor's Picks

BEST NIGHT CAP WARSAW MULE AT SHADOWBROOK
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Spring Spirits

Sean Venus’ gin straight up, remembering Rosa’s and a tasting of Hungarian wines

 

What’s your favorite most recent outdoor discovery in Santa Cruz?

A hike that’s across from Waddell Beach. I didn’t realize you could go across the highway and do a super simple loop, and it’s beautiful. You can see the coastline. Liz Porter, Santa Cruz, Community Outreach

 

Martin Ranch Winery

Muscat 2012

 

Front Street Kitchen

Pop-up spot attracts paleo crowd with locally sourced low-carb meals