Midnight in Paris
I used to think people who liked Woody Allen films were pretentious. You know the type–charlatans, participating in Hollywood snobbery at its finest, who only watch art movies and don’t appreciate good story telling. I used to not like Woody Allen films because I thought it they were all angst-filled one liner comedies with no story. But I’m beginning to see I was wrong. He is a brilliant story-teller. I didn’t appreciate his movies before because they didn’t make sense to me. Truthfully, I hadn’t lived enough when I first saw them.
The latest film of his I watched was Midnight in Paris. In the film, Owen Wilson plays a writer trying to reinvent himself during a family vacation in Paris. He begins to take walks at night to clear his head and soon realizes that if he arrives at this certain corner at midnight, he gets to travel back in time and spend the evening with some of the more entertaining and captivating people of the past. He begins to look forward to these evening escapes into days gone by. He meets a number of interesting characters trying to find their way as well. Some even wanting to leave their present to live in a more ideal past.
At one point in the movie, we hear a quote about nostalgia that has stuck with me since I first heard it:
“Nostalgia is denial – denial of the painful present… the name for this denial is golden age thinking – the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one ones living in – its a flaw in the romantic imagination of those people who find it difficult to cope with the present.”
Real comfort is found in nostalgia. After my wife got me hooked on Pinterest, I quickly made a ‘nostalgia’ board that I filled with pins that reminded me of my past. I found pictures of old TV shows I loved and goofy fashion trends. I thought about the good ol’ days of TGIF, Toys R US catalogs, and Uncle Jesse. The more I pinned these fads of the past, there was this feeling of sadness that came over me, like there was a part of me that was gone forever and had died with those forgotten years.
This led me to look up old TV shows and cartoons that I LOVED when I was younger. I logged onto my Netflix account and found these old shows that I used to watch on Disney and Nickolodeon. I also found old nineties movies that I thought were ‘classics’ and I watched them. In my head I compared everything today with what I thought was so great from the past. And then something unexpected happened: I realized that most of the movies and shows I thought were so well acted and wonderful from the past, were actually the exact opposite. The symbolic glass shattered in my mind. And I understood something about nostalgia and how flawed it can be.
The truth is, nostalgia is usually an escape mechanism. It is our tendency to look into the past with rose-colored glasses. Midnight in Paris teaches us that we tend to miss what we have now when we our focus is on what was.
So how do we live in the now? Here are a few ideas I’m mulling over:
1) Allow the past to influence you, but not define you
History is our greatest teacher in all things. Look back often, but do so in a way that helps you live differently today. Our past–whether good or bad or a little of both–is full of life lessons to learn from. Learn from where you were but don’t let that define where you’re going. Part of being a leader is actually leading people into the unknown. If we’re stuck in our past, how can we lead others into the future?
2) Identify Romantic Imagination
When we find ourselves thinking overly romantic about the past, confront it with reality. This is not to downplay what was or the good memories we created, but rather to not lose hope for the present. Life was good. But let’s not forget it is still good.
3) Help others live in the present
When I hear someone talk about ‘the good ol’ days’ what I’m really hearing is someone who is frustrated with their life now. This could be unhappiness or even anger that things have not turned out the way they planned. Help people see the beauty of their present life, not by downplaying their past success or fond memories, but by painting a picture of the life they have now. Sometimes we all need reminders to focus our energies in the present.
Question: What are some of your fondest memories, and how have they helped you step into the present?