I've been a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn, and a king; I've been up and down and over and out, and I know one thing; each time I find myself flat on my face, I pick myself up and get back in the race.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Americans = Gatsby = Lying to Yourself?

I have always been intrigued by F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel The Great Gatsby. Many people label it the novel that shows the great American Dream. I actually call it the anti-American Dream novel. Or a novel that shows when the American dream has gone bad or goes a  muck. If you have never read the novel, skimmed it, or only sort of read it once in high school and you are now at least in your mid 20's, I would suggest going back and reading it again. I think it will enlighten you.

Gatsby is a character that transcends all decades of American history. Why? Here is a man that was not satisfied with his situation at a very young age. Not unlike myself as a child. But instead of working honorably and hard to rise above his situation, he proceeded to create a fictitious Hollywood like hologram of himself. Very two dimensional in attributes and character. Some of this has to do with what he thinks he should be (versus what he wants to be) and what he thinks Daisy wants him to be. And of course he thinks he loves Daisy. And he never falters from that course even when he should have and maybe does recognize that he should re-evaluate his motivations. In essence, for whatever reason, he made some decisions as a 17 year old young man, and continued to "be constant as the northern star" to quote some good old Shakespeare (that is from Julius Caesar right before he gets stabbed to death in case you forgot). He lives his life as a complete lie. And my argument today (or should I say claim now because common core says I should use claim?) is that a majority of Americans are as stubborn as Gatsby and end up living most of their lives in spheres of facades trying to convince themselves that they are really trying to live for what they should be wanting instead of what they really like and dislike.

First, my simple Gatsby example. His extravagant parties. Notice how he doesn't really enjoy his parties. He doesn't drink, doesn't dance, doesn't even mingle among the guests. He throws these parties to try and attract Daisy because he thinks it is what she would like. He thinks it is what he is supposed to do and not what he really wants to do. Even having the goal of winning Daisy seems quite silly. She is married. That is like trying to buy a house that is not for sale. There are just some things you can not have. He needed to move on. But he lives his life in a lie and thinks he needs to win her back and thinks he knows what he needs to do and that will make him happy. And he is going to prove it to himself and the world. It doesn't make him happy. And we see such a loss in a human being.

How does this apply to the modern American? Oh, I see it every day. People's professions, child rearing, having children, where to live, clothes to buy, churched or unchurched, etc. Here is a great example from my science center days. I worked with a lot of folks who were just starting college and still living at home. They would complain and complain on end about the classes they had to take or their majors they were in. I had this one girl who hated living at home. I told her to move into the dorms. She was over 18 and she needed to be an adult. She wanted to, but her parents would stop paying for college. I told her fine! She was an adult, she had a job, she could get financial aid, and she could live on her own. But she did not do this because it would be hard. So I told her I did not want to hear her complaining anymore and cut her off anytime she started to complain about her living situation.

Same goes for field of study. One boy wanted to study one thing, but his parents would only pay for college if he became computer scientist. Instead of being true to himself (which indeed would have been a tad more difficult) he whined and complained, but did nothing to change his circumstance. So he got his computer science degree. I wonder how long he was going to work in that field... unhappy.

I always get grumpy around the holidays when people complain about having to visit their relatives. Why do you visit your relatives on holidays if you hate them so much? But their fammmmmmily is the common response I always hear. Who cares. You feel that you must do like Gatsby. There is some cosmic thing out there that says you have to be with relatives and family on holidays even if you hate it and they treat you bad, or it is just plain awful. Only being with people I enjoy on holidays has made my life so much better. I never feel uncomfortable and I have a super time. Why would you force yourself to do unpleasant things when you don't really have to. You are lying to yourself.

There are some people I have been very proud of that have been able to break the Gatsby mold. And in a very interesting way. And it goes against societal norms. I have known three people who were very insistent that they were going to be stay-at-home moms. They thought it was the right thing to do and the most healthy for their child, yada yada yada. They seemed to really really believe that. Baby comes along. And once they were in the 24/7 in your face, little to no adult stimulation/contact and no real work (not to say they don't have a job), these women had to face their truths and made a decision to go back to work for their health and happiness. One did it part time and the other two did it full time. This was not easy for them and was very hard. They had to face people who thought they were making selfish and bad choices. There was shame because what they thought was going to be the truth, turned out to be disaster. Now, when they realized that staying at home was not as fulfilling as they thought it would be, they could have stuck it out. Pretended all was rainbows and unicorns, but they would have been lying to themselves. How healthy is that to a child?

We live in a society where when new information is given or new experiences happen to go and re-evaluate and change your mind and do something different is considered wrong. We are a stay-the-course society. Which means we have a society of liars. So many folks are wishy washy because they truly don't know what they want. They only know what they think they want. They are trying to live to an ideal which really means they are living in a facade. I can only imagine how confusing and frustrating a life like that must be.

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