College is consistently and, quite frankly, too frequently heralded as the time of our lives. We are constantly reminded to appreciate these four years before we set out into the real world. It is the golden age of our own time. I find this exalted distinction far too disconcerting. When we graduate, we are around the age of 22. It is perpetually implied by our elders that it is all downhill from there — which I do not believe. This phenomenon can be better understood through modern-day media.
There are few Jewish men who know how to truly satisfy, or at least that is what my friends say. There are certainly exceptions, none more so than Woody Allen. Few have his power over deadpan wit. Few possess his miraculous ability to portray the ambiguity and eccentricity of what we call love. Although many feel that his standards have declined, this summer’s “Midnight in Paris” would have made even his biggest critics nostalgic. Tackling another existential plot, Allen stimulates the viewers’ intellect and philosophical desires, making them question where they honestly want to be in life.
Set of course, in Paris, the movie follows the life of Gil Pender (Owen Wilson), a self-described “Hollywood hack who never gave real literature a shot,” as he struggles to write his first novel while handling his trifling fiancee. As coined by his pompous, cravat-wearing adversary Paul (Michael Sheen), Gil suffers from “golden age thinking” — the notion that a different time period is better than the one we are living in.
Many around me have echoed this sentiment in recent days. Brown’s honeymoon period is quickly fading as this week marks the start of midterms for many students. The Whiskey Republic and Finnegan’s Draft House are starting to lose their crowds as first-years start to prematurely couple up. The Graduate Center barely smells like cannabis, and even Josiah’s has stopped playing Flo Rida on repeat.
With the mountain of work awaiting, it is hard not to question what the point of assignments are, even if doing so is simply a procrastination tool. We slowly zone out and tilt our heads up and to the right as our minds get filled with a series of dreaded what-ifs. We each have our romanticized images and time periods. I, like Pender, am a fan of Paris in the ’20s as I picture myself in a cafe in the Latin Quarter, smoking a pipe, with a Marion Cotillard-like companion by my side.
Maybe the media truly is to blame. As HBO and AMC thrive, they deliver quality historically based entertainment. The only reasonable conclusion as to why I must have a scotch everyday after lunch is “Mad Men”, while my need to maintain a mistress can be chalked up to the same.
The appreciation of the present is certainly much easier said than done. The seniors I know are all harried by the pressures of the job search, spending hours of both sobriety and inebriation ranting about the market they are soon to enter. My fellow juniors, before having even settled into a class routine, are focusing on information sessions about investment banks and consulting firms. Brown is said to be the epitome of liberal education, giving us the opportunity to hone our skills and knowledge in any area we choose. But I cannot help but feel we are prioritizing security over satisfaction.
As I mentioned earlier, I have had a particularly robust relationship with the what-ifs in my life. I spent my freshman year at Georgetown, and I do not regret it because of some of the friends I made. For the most part, I was sincerely happy. Yet there were several what-ifs that plagued me and eventually pushed me to transfer to Brown, where I assumed many of those doubts would be silenced. It returns to the notion of whether happiness is at the mercy of environment.
Our incapability to be content with what we have is one of the banes of human nature. As commonplace as it may be, the grass is greener on the other side. We have our fair share of optimists and romantics here at Brown, and I pride myself for being among their ranks. Yet it is plausible that Pender had it right when he said, “Maybe the present is a little unsatisfying because life is a little unsatisfying.”
Nikhil Kalyanpur ’13 is a environmental studies and economics concentrator from Dubai. He can be reached at Nikhil_Kalyanpur@brown.edu.