False Starts (on Past, Future, and Now)

Fifty-four post drafts currently sit in my Writing Through the Fog dashboard — an intro here, a paragraph there. Untouched, some since the 2011.

I know myself. I won’t finish any of them. Instead of letting them rot in unpublished limbo, I’ve lifted each draft — each false start — and pasted them below, one by one. Perhaps together, these fragments might create something.


I recall watching The Jetsons as an elementary schooler in the mid-80s, intrigued by everything, from flying cars and moving walkways and one particular detail in their home that fascinated me: a machine that produced their meals in capsules.

I also think about the world of Blade Runner, the augmented vision of The Terminator, the hoverboards and digitally projected ads in Back to the Future Part II.

The future was exciting.


As I drove to work one morning, the DJ on the radio asked: “What do you miss that we’ve lost in the San Francisco Bay Area?”

Someone mentioned Circle Star Theater, the wee performing venue in the city of San Carlos, that for a long while had attracted legendary performers until it closed in 1993. Another listener said she missed a local drive-in. Had I called, I would’ve said I miss the Marine World Africa USA that was in my neighborhood where I grew up, where the Oracle Corporation’s skyscrapers now stand. Or the ice skating and roller rinks on the Peninsula I used to go to with my friends.

A shiny new bowling alley, Lucky Strike, opened in San Francisco. A few weeks ago, I called to book a lane, but was told the wait time was four hours, and I could wait at the bar or in the restaurant until a lane was ready. Four fucking hours? I no longer wanted to bowl. The lanes there aren’t even long enough, and the pins dangle from strings! And then I thought of the old, long-standing bowling alley near my parents’ house. Growing up, I thought it was dingy and uncool, but now, I am quite fond of it. It’s practical. It’s old school.

I must admit: I long for things of the past.


The past is everyone’s darling.

In so many posts I’ve read in 2012 about Instagram, the app is described as a photo sharing platform for nostalgia, with its filters that manufacture the ’60s, ’70s, or whatever corner of your sunny past you choose. I understand this desire to revert to a simpler, unspoilt time, to conjure a golden era, to long for the good old days.

And yet all this talk of fabricated vintage and authenticity — whether on Instagram or “cabin porn” or something else — makes me think, instead, of the future. We’re all about life and memory curation now, forced by our Facebook Timelines to look back, to document and archive our personal and collective histories. Like many, I’ve been sucked into Instagram, in love with X-pro II and Amaro and Earlybird, contributing to our collection of instant nostalgia.

But I wonder when this shift occurred: when I went from looking forward to the future to pining for and fetishizing the past.


I’ve been slowly falling for Los Angeles, bit by bit, trip by trip, over the past 15 years. I lived there from 1997 to 2001, but the bubble of college restricted me to certain parts, and so I experienced a version of Los Angeles I now realize was skewed and caricatured. On recent trips, I’ve stayed in Echo Park with my friend and ex-roommate from Cannes — a film editor in the biz — and have explored pockets of LA I didn’t know existed.

Earlier this year, my friend took me to breakfast at Home, a Silverlake spot channeling the past with vintage home appliances scattered about. The place felt fitting for our conversation: we talked about all the new ways we consume and share information, how today, more than ever, is about remixing and recycling the past and creating wardrobes that borrow and cherry pick and fuse everything but nothing at once.

I told her I was really falling for LA.

She said: LA is whatever you want it to be.

I realized, after many years of living and leaving and visiting Los Angeles, I’ve begun to understand: yes, it is made up of many worlds, but it’s ultimately a blank canvas — a place where I can construct my life, my future, to be whatever I want it to be. But not in that I’m-moving-to-Hollywood-to-become-somebody kind of way, but in a way that may not be possible here in San Francisco, where my family and friends live, where my roots are, where my path feels plowed for me.

That sense of pure creation in a new place.

Los Angeles is strange and vast and flat. I can drive for miles and miles, half an hour in any direction, and feel like I’ve driven through absolutely nothing. Strip mall after strip mall, concrete and overpasses and never-ending avenues. As I pass through the nondescriptness, I wonder where the extraordinary and glamorous Hollywood stories unfold — where now happens.

It is at once ordinary and surreal. Beautiful, too, in both its uncertainty and possibility.


I’m still thinking about now: What it is. How to document it. What happens when I run a filter over it.

I love how I can freeze perfect moments in Instagram, using its filters to seal in the good and disguise the imperfections. I’m reminded of glazing a clay creation and baking it in a kiln. I’ll admit I find the #nofilter tag annoying — why must you make it a point to tell others that your shot is au naturel? Does that make it more “authentic”? Should we give you a prize? If, say, I took the same picture as someone else, at the exact same time and angle — and used Lo-fi or Valencia while the other person used nothing — what does that imply? Will I be penalized for fakery?


Recently, I had a conversation with my husband about Instagram. We got to talking about people who post non-mobile camera shots to their Instagram feed — who email a photo to their iPhone, for example, run it through a filter, and publish it to their stream. For a while, I followed a few photographers who did this, primarily to see what they were posting.

It’s an odd practice: in one day, a person posts a photograph from Paris, and then a few hours later, posts a picture from Bulgaria, and then in another few hours, posts an image from Italy. And they tag the shit out of all of them. These photographs are stunning, yes — but ultimately, where’s the story? What’s the point of an Instagram feed without an organically unfolding narrative? I’m not saying I want to see the picture of your lunch at 12:30, and then your dessert at 12:55, but I suppose the most interesting Instagram streams are the ones that provide some context — about one’s day, about one’s life.

Published by Cheri Lucas Rowlands

I am an editor at Longreads. For over a decade, I've worked on curation, editing, and storytelling projects across Automattic, including WordPress.com.

3 thoughts on “False Starts (on Past, Future, and Now)

  1. It’s interesting to read this post after seeing the post today about your interest in writing stories about more recent times. I appreciate the arrangement of fragmentary texts — it’s aas if a unifying theme or themes arise in my mind as I read, whether or not such themes (of time’s weirdness and of a sense of searching) were intended.

  2. I hate cluttering my dashboard with drafts; I get overwhelmed and distracted. So my drafts are sitting in text documents in a folder in the cloud … away from my little published piece of the Internet, but still just as loud and accusing as they can be: “Finish me!!” “Do you still feel this way?” “How did this experience from 2008 compare to the same experience in 2014?”

    I may do the same thing you’ve done with this post. It’s a great idea, and it was interesting to see the themes — different yet similar, of longing for the past yet happy with and curious about the present — running through each of your otherwise random thoughts.

    Thanks for the interesting post and mental workout!

  3. A great post Cheri. I feel the same about all the photos, negatives and slides I have in boxes and files. You’ve inspired me to take them out of that same “limbo” 🙂

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