“Everything looks more beautiful in retrospect”. So says Michelle Monaghan’s character in the 2011 science fiction thriller Source Code. The film, directed by Duncan Jones, stars Jake Gyllenhaal as a US army captain who is repeatedly sent back into a virtual parallel universe in an effort to prevent an explosion on a Chicago commuter train. He tries to change history and many of us would love to do that when looking back on our own lives.
Alas, time travel and parallel universes are still the stuff of fantasy. The relationship between the present and the past is complex. Looking back can feel like being lost in a mist where the edges of reality become blurred. Memory is unreliable. Research has shown that after a while we do not remember the actual past event but more a previous memory of it. Our perception of the past changes over time, shape-shifting and misleading. The Czech-born French writer Milan Kundera described it thus; ” We pass through the present with our eyes blindfolded. We are permitted merely to sense and guess at what we are actually experiencing. Only later when the cloth is untied can we glance at the past and find out what we have experienced and what meaning it has.”
The process of writing can help our recollection and understanding of our personal histories. Time unravels like a piece of knitting. But there are still blind spots. I’ve realized that memories of some painful events from my past have been erased or diluted. Perhaps this is a defense mechanism. I have to work really hard at remembering them, removing the blindfold. As I grow older I’m periodically overwhelmed by a sense of nostalgia. Its tempting to believe that life was more real, more authentic, more fun in the past. Perhaps the younger we are, the more intensely we experience events but the fact is life was never perfect. Each day we are confronted with problems and difficulties. Satisfaction and happiness are derived from how well we rise to the challenges of life.
I took this photograph at Wick harbour. Wick is a small fishing town about thirty miles from my home in northern Scotland. In the 1800s it was one of the busiest and most prosperous herring ports in Europe. The bay was filled with hundreds of boats, the quayside lined with thousands of barrels of herring. The shouts of fish wives mingled with the cries of sea gulls and the howling wind. Today it holds the silence of abandonment. But decay can be beautiful. The old paint, fading colors and streaks of rust in the photograph are evocative of some strange interior landscape, peeling back the layers of time.