The challenge to live in the present

Nick Vlcek

An old man said to me last month, "Mischke, people say, 'You can't live in the past.' Well, they're dead wrong. You can live wherever the hell you want."

I've known him for years and have been aware of his conscious effort to keep his mind in a favorite period in history—mid-20th-century America. The music in his home, the furniture, his clothes, all seem to fit that era. Last week, as a gift, I bought him Eckhart Tolle's best-selling book The Power of Now and, with a Magic Marker, altered the title to read The Power of Then.

With the reports of impending mass extinctions found in the science pages, the sobering assurances of our own government that terrorist attacks with dirty bombs are not a possibility but a probability, the exploding population, predictions of water shortages, and the daily warnings of climate change, I don't know of any books coming out titled The Fun of Future. But there must have been a time when people were excited about tomorrow and couldn't wait to greet it.

I was never one of those. Not because of any fear; I was simply infatuated with the mystique of the past, with its alluring yet elusive qualities. I wanted to feel, as much as one could, certain periods in history. Antiques surrounded me, old films fascinated me, and walks in pristine quarters of the natural world could leave me believing I had been jettisoned to the 19th century.

Much of it was an aesthetic preference, a belief that, visually, the past presented more uniformly inviting vistas. The graceful, elegant, or quaint photographic images of the Twin Cities in the 1920s contrasted mightily with the architectural horrors inflicted post-World War II. The past was represented by the St. Paul Cathedral, the present by the Mall of America.

Given this, it's surprising to me the great shift that's underway with my arrival here at City Pages. Something is happening that's shaking a deeply held perspective, and it's catching me slightly off guard. It may be difficult to understand how an innocuous job change could alter lifelong interests, but the fact is there is something of a Rip Van Winkle effect in waking up to a new position at a medium with a very different focus. I have come face to face with a group of people very much interested in today, its possibility, its energy, and its beauty.

While other media outlets will claim the same, the truth is, if questioned, most of the staff there will talk wistfully of better days gone by. I don't hear that here. Yesterday is, perhaps, an interesting book to read, but that's it. It's something to reference in song lyrics but then move on. It can be the setting in a play, a painting on a wall, but it's not where the mind rests. The mind rests happily, excitedly, and with great passion and interest on today. Such perspective is infectious, and it's probably what my slightly worn mind needs at this stage of the game.

When I was a boy, my father took me to a museum where I could see a cut-away slice of a giant redwood tree. Several of the hundreds of rings had small labels next to them describing briefly what was happening in the world when the tree was that particular age. My young mind was in awe. I gingerly touched several of the smaller rings, feeling as though I were planting my feet in the very soil of that day, able to look up and actually see the faces of pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock. I shuddered.

That was then. I'm decades older, and for the first time in a long time, I don't seek to study any of the trees. For the first time in a long time, I'd really like to plant one. 

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