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"...human beings are not purely creatures of reason; we are motivated in part by instinct, emotion, sentiment, and neurotic hopes and fears, not to mention the apprehension of transcendent truths that don't translate readily into 'rational' argument."

Now that is a truthful observation if I ever read one.

Hi Michael, you might view this as a 'nothingburger' post, but I found it quite powerful. One of my least favorite sayings is a 'leopard never changes its spots'. I guess this is similar to the quote by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

People can and do change all the time - often in dramatic ways. I was an alcoholic for 2 decades and at one time even ended up homeless on the streets. I am now living a wonderful life that is beyond anything I could even have imagined as a drunk. We all can have a second act in life - maybe even a third and forth.

Paul, good for you! That's awesome. I'm always happy to hear great news like that.

Michael,

That Fitzgerald quote always bothered me, too. He seemed fixated on themes of youth and transient, fragile things - as though the very best of life happened in the second decade of life and, after that, it was only downhill (no second acts). He seems to have despaired that there was anything worth living for after one's youth had come to pass. A particular quote by him that bothers me is: "It is in the thirties that we want friends. In the forties we know they won't save us any more than love did." What is this about!? What was fueling the despair that Fitzgerald yearned to be saved from so fervently? I really admired Fitzgerald when I was younger, but now I think of him as a very fragile man, who probably suffered a great deal of depression by the sounds of what he had to say.

I'm about to turn 30 in a couple weeks. Here's what Fitzgerald had to say about that: "Thirty — the promise of a decade of loneliness, a thinning list of single men to know, a thinning briefcase of enthusiasm, thinning hair."

WOW! Now, it's true about the hair - mine's been thinning probably since 24 and became more obviously so three years back, and yeah, it sucks - BUT GEEZ - the promise of loneliness on account of being in your thirties? Do you need to be upset about losing your single drinking buddies?! - How about manning up and finding more meaningful things to do and focusing on some soul-growth!? That's what I've been doing more and more over the past decade (and why I lurk around on psi-related sites). I don't like getting older - but you can learn to identify with more meaningful elements of yourself than your fading youth. You can also strive (it is harder for some of us than others, I think) to really reach out and pay attention and focus on other people and recognize that spark in them that is also in us and unites us all. You can learn to get over yourself to some degree.

Erik Erikson, the psychoanalyst and developmental psychologist, laid out several developmental stages of life in which we are all faced with various struggles to transcend. Fitzgerald clearly got caught up somewhere in the middle stages which ultimately led to him failing the final stage of ego integrity vs. despair.

Fitzgerald wrote beautifully. Too bad he too closely epitomized one of his other dubious quotes: "It takes a genius to whine appealingly."

Micheal I think we need to put the quote in perspective.

Can one change now? Of course. Could one change during Fitzgerald's time? Probably not. Fitzgerald came from the time of WW1, flappers, great depression, and WW2. In these times it doesn't seem that one could move up in life. Rather one stayed the same place or most likely moved down.

As seem in the great Gatsby, you are either born rich, become rich (nouveau riche), or poor.

If you lost your opportunity to become rich, you're screwed for life. A coal miner will always be a coal miner.

But one can always become poor.

I stumbled on this letter from Hemingway to Fitzgerald after posting, earlier. The whole thing can be read here: http://www.lettersofnote.com/2012/04/forget-your-personal-tragedy.html

"I'd like to see you and talk about things with you sober. You were so damned stinking in N.Y. we didn't get anywhere. You see, Bo, you're not a tragic character. Neither am I. All we are is writers and what we should do is write. Of all people on earth you needed discipline in your work and instead you marry someone who is jealous of your work, wants to compete with you and ruins you. It's not as simple as that and I thought Zelda was crazy the first time I met her and you complicated it even more by being in love with her and, of course you're a rummy. But you're no more of a rummy than Joyce is and most good writers are. But Scott, good writers always come back. Always. You are twice as good now as you were at the time you think you were so marvellous. You know I never thought so much of Gatsby at the time. You can write twice as well now as you ever could. All you need to do is write truly and not care about what the fate of it is.

Go on and write."

I really think that one line is big clue to Fitzgerald's psyche: "You are twice as good now as you were at the time you think you were so marvellous."

Fitzgerald was always looking back. There was some instant he was fixated on - some Eden-like period of his youth that he felt cast out of - that gnawed at him.

Very good comments. Congratulations to Paul for his inspiring story! It perfectly illustrates my point.

Passenger, I disagree about social mobility in the time period you describe. The 1920s were actually a time of great social mobility and social change, spurred by astonishing technological developments (radio, autos, phones, movies, and commercial air travel all came into their own in that decade). It was one of the most transformative decades in American history, similar to the Internet revolution of the 1990s. Social mores changed too - the flappers and speakeasies and dance clubs brought about liberated attitudes toward sex, gender roles, and even drugs. It was an exciting time, though of course it all came crashing down in 1929.

Anyway, there were many opportunities for people to reinvent themselves during that period, and after. But I agree with Philemon - Fitzgerald had a self-destructive obsession with youth and saw middle age as an inevitable decline. Personally I think the truth is closer to the opposite: As most people age, they improve considerably in terms of maturity, social and professional skills, emotional balance, self-awareness, empathy, patience, and wisdom. For perfectly sound biological reasons, young people tend to be narcissistic and self-absorbed; they are, after all, seeking to outcompete their peer-group rivals in the struggle for status. Older people usually start to shed those qualities; they typically (though not always) focus less on rivalry and status seeking, and more on meaningful relationships and personal growth.

In short, older is better!

Yes, consider the last line of the Great Gatsby:

"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

I don't know why you don't draw the obvious conclusion: fiction is a pack of lies. :)

Makes a person wonder why so many folks get all reverent at the mention of Ayn Rand!

Ayn Randites irrationally believe they are Vulcans, when Vulcans are generally more charming.

This is a good point that sometimes people give too much credence to literary greats. These people had no better insight into life philosophy, they were just really good at writing about their poor insight.

Being taught philosophy from a depressed writer is not going to make a person less depressed than the author who thought it up.

"These people had no better insight into life philosophy, they were just really good at writing about their poor insight."

It depends. Some writers, like Shakespeare, show penetrating insight into the human condition. In the case of Tolstoy, he had many keen observations of particular details and subtleties of human behavior. He just tended to overreach when formulating grand statements, as in War & Peace, when he pontificated on the illusion of free will.

"Makes a person wonder why so many folks get all reverent at the mention of Ayn Rand!"

There is a cult-guru quality to Rand that derives in part from the absolute certainty with which she expressed herself. No doubts, no hesitations, no caveats. This is very appealing to some people. Also, whatever her faults as a writer, she did have a very strong sense of drama, and she knew how to set up a confrontation and then play it out for maximum effect. Her skill at manufacturing fictional characters and situations can make her ideas seem more plausible than they really are.

I've read a couple of other "takes" on Fitzgerald's quote along the lines of the one below, which I agree with. It's similar to Wilde's (?) quote about America going from barbarism to decadence with no intervening stage of civilization. (I.e., no second act. Plays have three acts, typically.)


"Fitzgerald did NOT mean there are no second chances in American life-but that American liveS tend not to have middle acts, when the fruits of our early labors can be appreciated, before going into the inevitable decline of old age."

Read more: http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_did_Fitzgerald_mean_by_there_are_no_second_acts_in_American_lives#ixzz1wjLkvNmS

Interesting, Roger. That interpretation may be correct, though the second act in a play is typically where the crisis deepens, so I'm not sure the metaphor is very good.

I've read a lot of Edith Wharton, who was Fitzgerald's rough contemporary and a member of the upper class. Everything she wrote indicated the exact opposite for the 1% of the time, who seemed to be constantly divorcing, remarrying, losing fortunes, gaining fortunes, as in "The Custom of the Country," where it's almost comical. For the lower cases like Ethan Frome though, it was a different story - once you got stuck, you were stuck.

Ethan Frome certainly got stuck. But there were plenty of people who headed west to make a new start, or reinvented themselves in other ways. Even Ethan could have made a fresh start if not for a tragic accident.

Geographical and social mobility have always been a big part of American life. The saying "from rags to riches" reflected a real phenomenon, as did its counterpoint, "from rags to riches to rags in three generations," indicating that social mobility could go in both directions.

"Ethan Frome," by the way, is one of the most painfully tragic things I've ever read - a true classic, but heartbreaking in its hopelessness.

it's been a great honored to comment here i really admire your writing i hope you can teach me some tips how to do a great outline.

Did F. Scott Fitzgerald really believe what he wrote? Seems to be so narrow-minded and over-generalized. Reminds one of a lot of the intellectually bankrupt views tossed about today in books and/or movies. The only difference is today its takes 2 hours on film to convey the same as was said in a single sentence by these earlier writers.

In each, there is "truth" according to each authors narrow window of reality, according to their own personal religion, be it Ayn Rand's or F. Scott Fitzgerald's, or Steven Spielberg, or whomever, but their mistake, and ours, is to ever elevate that "truth" beyond the pulp or film on which they are printed.

OK, I've pondered a bit and am going to weigh in.

I think fiction writers like Shakespeare, Tolstoy, and Fitzgerald convey truth to us by aptly observing human behavior and events. I think fiction is ill-suited in general to "teaching us stuff" directly. If a writer has some big truth s/he'd like to convey, I'd much rather have it "spat out" directly in the form of a poem or an essay.

I think one exception is sci-fi, which can be (yet certainly need not be) an excellent vehicle for exploring the implications of an idea.

When Fitzgerald, Tolstoy, and Rand make philosophical pronouncements, they are not really operating in their role as authors, and their philosophy should be judged qua philosophy. If a character in a book makes a pronouncement, same thing.

In general, I like stories to be stories. I read philosophers for philosophy.

BTW, can I get grilled mushrooms on my nothingburger?

I was thinking something similar, Matt, but then I changed my mind a little.

I read for different reasons. One reason is that I want to learn while I am enjoying a distraction from my work-a-day life. For this I read non-fiction history or fiction that adheres closely to accepted historical facts and wherein the author has gone to great lengths to ensure that all details are accurate for the period in which the story takes place.

The other reason I read is to be taken on an emotional trip. For this purpose I may select pure fiction. Here I don't mind if an author injects a philosophy, even if I don't agree with it, as long as the philosophy and the story line remain consistent and without internal contradictions.

In other words, it is interesting to me to see how a philosophy or fundemental belief plays out in the story. What are the results of the characters living by - or failing to live by - the belief structure. This gets me thinking at the end of the book; how realistic was the story, the outcomes? is life really like that? Could it be? What if it was? I may ultimately reject the foundational perspective, but I may have enjoyed following its impact on the characters and events of the story.

It's just a story after all and writers are just people that spinning a yarn for our enjoyment.

Mostly I prefer music over reading. I heard an interview with Jackson Brown a while ago. He was talking about how he believed in the lyrics he wrote 30 years ago, but now when he listens to his own stuff from that period he sometimes finds himself wondering what the heck ke was thinking. In a similar vein, Bob Dylan has said a lot about how people should not look too deeply into his music for ideas about what is true or not true or for direction in life. He says he is often just playing with words and ideas.

I imagine most writers are the same.

I read for different reasons. One reason is that I want to learn while I am enjoying a distraction from my work-a-day life. For this I read non-fiction history or fiction that adheres closely to accepted historical facts and wherein the author has gone to great lengths to ensure that all details are accurate for the period in which the story takes place.

I hear you. I read a lot online, which is of course mostly non-fiction. I don't read a lot of novels, although I've read two by Michael in the last year (good stuff) and just bought two more to read. I typically read poetry, as at base I consider myself a poet and there's always something new to learn and enjoy.

In other words, it is interesting to me to see how a philosophy or fundemental belief plays out in the story. What are the results of the characters living by - or failing to live by - the belief structure. This gets me thinking at the end of the book; how realistic was the story, the outcomes? is life really like that? Could it be? What if it was? I may ultimately reject the foundational perspective, but I may have enjoyed following its impact on the characters and events of the story.

I think most of the time, writers *do* have a point of some sort if they are not just dumb people writing a book. For example, you'll find Mark Twain's worldview throughout his novels and short stories.

I'm not on Michael's level--I've published 11 short stories and done 4 plays in community theater in NYC--but I know I put my own worldview into my stuff. I never try to make it "just a story." I don't know if I could. But that's different than being didactic, trying to teach the world something. A prime example of this is our friend Ayn Rand, who was trying to advance her whole objectivism bullcrap.

Here's another distinction I make. I don't like poetry, short stories, and novels that are "meaningy." You know, there's this type of MFA poetry where the writer is not really saying anything, yet there's still this stifling perfume of "hey this is MEANINGFUL" about it. Whereas, having an actual "conceit" or "thesis" in a poem will get you crucified by these people. Or like crappy post-modern lit where you have a bunch of depressed characters with a bunch of everyday problems, and it drones on and on, and somehow that's meaningful too. Vomit.

It's just a story after all and writers are just people that spinning a yarn for our enjoyment. Not always, see above. ;)

In a similar vein, Bob Dylan has said a lot about how people should not look too deeply into his music for ideas about what is true or not true or for direction in life. He says he is often just playing with words and ideas.

Dylan is what I would call an "intuitive artist." If you listen to or read his speeches from way back when, whoa boy. He sounds mentally deficient:

http://www.corliss-lamont.org/dylan.htm

I'll stand up and to get uncompromisable about it, which I have to be to be honest, I just got to be, as I got to admit that the man who shot President Kennedy, Lee Oswald, I don't know exactly where —what he thought he was doing, but I got to admit honestly that I too - I saw some of myself in him. I don't think it would have gone - I don't think it could go that far. But I got to stand up and say I saw things that he felt, in me - not to go that far and shoot. (Boos and hisses) You can boo but booing's got nothing to do with it. It's a - I just a - I've got to tell you, man, it's Bill of Rights is free speech and I just want to admit that I accept this Tom Paine Award in behalf of James Forman of the Students Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and on behalf of the people who went to Cuba. (Boos and Applause).

Uh huh. But then his songs are brilliant because he's writing from the gut and channeling something, I believe.

I think it's much easier to be an intuitive artist in music than in literature, but there are some poets who were not technically great but managed to get great things down on paper. Emily Dickenson is one. Have you ever looked at her complete works? There's a heck of a lot there, a lot of it is the same stuff written over and over (she liked to write about bees, go figure), and 99.9% of it will make you turn red out of embarrassment for her. But then she wrote like five masterpieces or so, and that was enough to make her famous.

Then you have writers who are very cerebral. I think Shakespeare falls in this category. I think people in general, no surprise, have a vulgar understanding of Shakespeare as this wise old bard writing about LOVE and all this BS. In fact, and to a large degree reflecting the spirit of his age, Shakespeare was very cool, ironic, detached, and often flirting with hopelessness and even nihilism.

I imagine most writers are the same.

I think it varies widely.

In the case of Tolstoy, he had many keen observations of particular details and subtleties of human behavior. He just tended to overreach when formulating grand statements, as in War & Peace, when he pontificated on the illusion of free will.

This. It's a complicated issue, and I haven't done it justice with my blathering above. Writers can have this base level of Truth in their stories that comes from this keen observation, but when they try to roll it all up and come to some grand conclusion, they often falter. So there can be a kind of contradiction in which we admire a writer for his/her wisdom and at the same time find their big pronouncements incorrect, inept, or even embarrassing.

There are two books that I have read more than any others: "1984" and "The Great Gatsby." "Brave New World" would come in a somewhat distant third, probably.

I think "Gatsby" did as well as he did because Fitz combined the cerebral and intuitive functions perfectly. The novel is very well-written and paced. The details really stick with you. The characters are iconic. He also writes about the 1920s *in* the 1920s in a very interesting way that brings this interesting period to life today. He's got iconic images, such as the optometrist's billboard in the valley of the ashes. But all of this isn't enough to make a masterpiece. When he's talking about the hope of the new world in the last paragraph of the book, he's making a grand pronouncement that works because it's coming from the heart and not the brain. The whole book is about this great illusory hope that is at the core of the human experience. I think Fitz felt that, channeled that, and got it down on paper in a way that few else have.

In his best work, I think Shakespeare also goes beyond the cerebral to channel something bigger. My fave Shake play, probably no surprise, is Hamlet. Again, there is something to this play that makes takes it beyond a very well-written play to a masterpiece that expresses *something* uniquely. What is this something? I think it's very hard to say. Harder to express than the something of "Gatsby." But I would say that the play is infused with this desire, this compulsion, this inexorable desire to transcend ordinary limitations that is also a big part of the human experience. Hamlet fails, but we can see what he is going for. All occasions do inform against him, and we know what that's like, and we know what it feels like to fight against it.

Hey, Matt, that is cool that you have published!

"Here's another distinction I make. I don't like poetry, short stories, and novels that are "meaningy.""

Neither do I.

Your point re; Ayn Rand is noted. She definitely was writing to promote her philosophy and, thus, not just spinning a yarn.

"I think most of the time, writers *do* have a point of some sort if they are not just dumb people writing a book. For example, you'll find Mark Twain's worldview throughout his novels and short stories."

I am not a writer at all. My artistic expression has always been as a musician (guitar) and I am definitely of the inspired/channeled type (though I will spend time figuring out bridges and changes using intellect and music theory to some extent). Once in a while I get inspired to write down a line or two of lyrics, but generally I am not good with words; only sounds and rythm. So I have a hard time imagining what it takes to even start to write a novel short of paranormal automatic writing :-O.

That said, I am fundementally a blues player. Blues was my first love and blues is what I worked to master for years. I can and do play other genres, but the blues always comes through. It's always coloring the playing.

What I'm getting at is that maybe the blues is my world view that I can't help but express when I am expressing myself, just as Mark Twain couldn't help but revealing his world in his writing. This seems natural and unavoidable.

Furthermore, excepting overt Ayn Randesque preachiness, maybe when a writer like Tolstoy makes a statement about happy families it's a just a riff that he is going to play off and that will spin into a story, just as a musician might start off with a five or six note riff that evolves into an entire song. No one questions the validity of the musician's riff because it's just sound and beat that either feels "right" to us, or not. Yet when words are involved, unless the words are poetry in which case they are treated as music, it seems we are compelled to demand verifiable validity. We move beyond entertainment and pleasure and seek "truth" in the words. Why are writers of novels held to different standards than musicians?

Very interesting thoughts, no one.

BTW, I am a huge blues fan too and play blues harp. Blind Willie McTell, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Willie Johnson (anyone who's blind I guess), Robert Johnson, Slim Harpo, Bessie Smith, the list goes on.

Matt, Nice! You, Bruce (on the 88s) and me..... we could get a band together, "The Paranormals" or something.....any drummers around here?

BTW....ever notice that Blues lyrics (especially Delta versus Chicago) contain frequent paranormal references, mojos (working or not) and voodoo and working roots, etc

I don't know, but I think some writers got life right, in an almost uncanny way, including Fitzgerald in "The Great Gatsby." When I read some of this kind of work, or hear certain music, I think maybe people who say great art is channeled from a higher source are right.

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