Kristin Armstrong’s Column

Heather Sundquist Kristen Armstrong

In My Head


by Kristin Armstrong
Illustration by Heather Sundquist

If you are around my age, there are certain things I can say to you because you will understand. You know who Long Duck Dong is, and Spicoli, and Cousin Eddie. You know that Grandpa Fred stinks up the bathroom. You know that the Judge is a tremendous slouch and that given a choice between a pool and a pond, the pond is better for you. You know that life moves pretty fast and if you don’t slow down once in a while, you could miss it.

When we were growing up we had films to mark our journey. We had John Hughes. Sixteen Candles. Pretty in Pink. St. Elmo’s Fire. Breakfast Club. Weird Science. We had Star Wars. Grease. Caddyshack. Indiana Jones. Ferris Bueller. Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Dirty Dancing. National Lampoon’s Vacation. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

If I am surfing through channels and come across one of these gems, it is a holy moment. I stop what I’m doing and settle in, paying reverence to my childhood and all the memories these films stir up. For some of us, these movies have quotes that create banter that speak our deepest truth, without saying anything.

My brother and I can go back and forth on text all afternoon, speaking only in movie quotes, and have a totally fulfilling connection. When he asks how I am and I tell him that I wish I could be stuffed in a Tauntaun, he knows exactly how my day was. When I threw out an obscure Caddyshack line to my boyfriend early in our relationship, he later admitted that was the moment he fell in love with me for real. No Christmas season passes in our home without multiple viewings of Christmas Vacation. It just would not be right.

I’m pretty sure there are very few movies like this anymore. They were the perfectly timed backdrop to my generation’s coming of age. Most of these films weren’t about superheroes and didn’t employ CGI effects; instead they were about regular people trying to grow up and deal with ordinary life. People who were faking sick and skipping school, trying to win dancing contests, serving detention, forgetting birthdays, or going on family road trips in a wood paneled station wagon.

I always considered the films we grow up with to be the most formative and influential of a lifetime. Until recently.

Maybe it’s because I’m parenting teenagers, or maybe just because I’m getting older.

I always considered the films we grow up with to be the most formative and influential of a lifetime. Until recently.

But today I believe that the most impactful and personally significant films are the ones we craft and play in our own minds. The films where we are the protagonists and we create the story arc and craft the conflicts and resolutions. It is in these films that our dreams turn into reality, for better or worse. It’s how we picture ourselves failing or succeeding, fertilizing the roots of triumph or tragedy long before they ever break ground. I tell my daughter this, as she tries pole-vaulting for the first time — Sweetheart, you have to picture yourself flying before you will ever be able to leave the ground, you have to see it in your mind. I tell my son this before football games — see yourself making every block before you ever walk on the field. I tell my friend who is grieving — see yourself in the future, smiling and light once again. I tell myself as I prepare for an endurance trek this summer — picture yourself climbing the mountain, strong and certain, experiencing the earned pleasure of the view.

How different our life becomes if the movie we play in our head shows us hitting the bar on the pole vault, face-planting, missing our block and the quarterback getting sacked, a future mired in pain and loneliness, or falling off a mountain cliff? It sounds funny to think of intentionally creating bad movies for ourselves, but we do it all the time. We think negative thoughts and create negative feature films. Our thought life really does create our reality, just the way the actors, the script and the directors create what we see on the big screen. Our life can be an epic portrayal of adventure, challenge, redemption, healing, transformation, joy and love — but we have to envision it that way first.


Read more from the Music + Film Issue | March 2017


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