“This theater….. So replete with memories…. So full of ghosts…. Cordelia…. Ophelia….,” Dianne Wiest declares as she waxes histrionic in Bullets over Broadway. Indeed, for her character, Helen Sinclair, a grande dame of the stage, being reunited with an old stage for a new play, as she is when she makes these remarks, must bring back a flood of memories.
For me, the eternal nostalgist for nostalgia, many things serve as triggers of timess past. Just yesterday, I was throwing out some documents that were up to seven years old in an effort to let some newer documents take their place. As I looked at these documents, my mind drifted into yesteryear when the names of faces long gone, of dates remembered for this or that odd thing, flashed before my eyes. I really do wish that I could live in the past. This is not to say that I do not want time to move forward. It is to say that as time does move forward, with a headstrong momentum that the movement of my life does not have, I invariably view events past as being part of something like a giant, unwieldy novel – the book of how things once were, how happiness once felt, how the smallest experience – even the mere hearing of a song on the radio – could put me in a mood that could last for hours, days, even longer, with the mood recaptured when I heard the song again.
Roger also once wrote that what happens in life is not nearly as important as how we remember it. What he really meant was that what happens in life, we do not remember with as much CLARITY, as how we remember it. This is partly because our memories of events past are enriched – sometimes warped and distorted – by the present, which demands that we produce certain emotional responses to certain triggers. My present now demands that I treat going out with a friend to, say, a bar, as a moment to cherish since I do this so infrequently. The dictates of my mind in this regard has caused me to remember past gatherings with friends at bars with probably more fondness than I felt as I experienced these events. Thus, I am in a sense getting off on the manufacture of false or exaggerated memories. Is this healthy? I suppose that on some level that it is not, but my knowledge of why this manufacturing occurs allows me to feel more comfortable when my mind engages in it: I create happy memories of the past because the human mind – my mind – instinctively is repulsed by the idea of dwelling on unpleasantry all of the time. If my mind does not have something happy on which to fixate, it will make something up.
Sad in a way, isn’t it, that happiness, as experienced in this manner, is felt vividly only when the circumstances that surrounded it when it was experienced are no longer present. Their absence, I think, lends a certain security that ensures the happiness will persist; these elements are gone and no one can go back in time to steal them, thus to pervert a happy experience into a sad one.
I almost have forgotten what it feels like to feel the happiness one feels as one contemplates a positive, possibility-filled futue. The future is something that I conceive as something that will just arrive one day; maybe happpiness will arrive with it, but I am not betting on it.
In a way, I am thankful that the mind can create retro-happiness and retro-continuity of happiness. Doing so may constitute a mental cheat, but it is the amusement provided from this cheat that allows me to go forward. And it has done so since I was a student in the 5th grade. At that time, I had to construct a pictoral history of “my life” (I had to select pictures from various prior points in my life that were meant to signify personal growth, oft-displayed feelings, ANYTHING that revealed what made me or my development”unique.”). As I pored over the completed product, I experienced feelings of nostalgia -and of oldness – for the first time. I’ve been borrowing, re-shaping, basking in, cursing, and entraced by, these feelings, ever since.
So here is to memory – which so often can provide what real life cannot.
“How very poignant is the passage of time,” Roger Ebert once wrote