What American Dream?

October 28, 2014


This thing happens as one gets to be a human of a “certain” age.  We look both forward and backward simultaneously.  We become reflective.  We consider what is and what might have been and we ask our oldest friends “is this how we thought it would turn out?”  Those older than us likely scoff – you girls have no idea – you are not yet in the last chapter.  There is much you still don’t know.  We do know though that it’s not going to get any easier.

Like those of you still in your youth, we, in this profession really wanted to be artists, musicians and writers.  We dreamt that we would align the right colors, words, images and sounds and that the world would listen up.  We thought that we might “work for the man” for a while and then use our “free time” to pursue our “art.”  Turns out the man takes lots of energy and time.

Like those of you who worship the written word and the finely crafted sentence, my own time became devoted to earning a living while mutually in search of the writers who were the greats.  And yes, like you, I too had the Fitzgerald and Hemingway obsession.   Meeting great writers has become a pastime.  To engage with (up close) those men and women who were good and committed enough to dedicate their life to their craft.  They were also selfish enough.  Scott and Ernesto may well be the most selfish among them.

NPR book critic Maureen Corrigan’s new tome So We Read On is a verbose commitment to the concept that Scott’s The Great Gatsby really is our Great American novel.

Scott Fitzgerald knew how to craft the most compelling sentence, build the most memorable characters and create works that would be relevant to English classes for decades.  He also understood the Great American dream.  He knew (as a very young man) that we Americans were destined to pursue happiness, but not likely achieve it.   Corrigan espouses that Gatsby is really about that which we want that is just beyond our reach.  Scott knew that it would elude (most of) us and that our lives might well be lived in quiet desperation for that which we can’t have.

While it is an “in” concept to practice mindfulness, it is not natural to “we” Americans. We want, we want, we want.  We are not practiced at gratitude.

Depressing? Heck yes. Yet, in the middle of “working for the man” and writing business plans rather than poetry and novels, we live our lives.  The man, the agency, the corporate entity, the non-profit and others pay us for our contributions.  And we raise children and families and live our lives.

Or as great playwright Stephen Sondheim wrote in Into the Woods, “can’t we just pursue our lives with our children and our wives?” He and Scott may have been competitors and friends.

By this “certain” age, we most certainly have seen some of the bad stuff.  We vow to not attend more high school reunions – because while seeing those folks who knew us in our most hopeful years – we might learn how it really turned out.  Living in denial can sometimes be healthy.

Are we fulfilled 24-7? Heck no.  Are we contributing to the GNP and to our own clan? Handily. All is not lost. Do we see our share of sunsets, tall mountains and panoramic vistas?  If we take them time to look – they are there to be inhaled.

No, we didn’t think that it would turn out like this.  We envisioned a little more meaning and a little less slogging.  Yet we never knew either how wonderful our children would be, how rewarding our relationships could be or the wonder and miracle called living.

Maureen Corrigan dedicates her life for parsing the written word.  We write it.  Not as pretty as we thought it would be, but the word none-the-less.  And while we all read on, we live on too. And in our better moments we are grateful, and yes, happy.

Or as Hemingway reminded us in The Sun Also Rises “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”