In the novel The Second Coming, the book's protagonist, a man named Will Barrett, struggles with finding happiness in his life. Sure, Will has had a lot of tragedy in his life--as a child, his dad committed suicide while hunting and also tried to shoot and kill Will to keep his son from experiencing life's pain. (Uhhh...thanks, but no thanks, Dad!). Then, Will later lost his wife to an early death. However, Will had a lot of great things going on too--he made a ton of money at his job, allowing him to retire at an early age to just take it easy and play golf. Clearly, Will is a guy who's been able to overcome a lot of emotional challenges in his life and become an American-made "success". But then why do we find him depressed and alone, in a cave, taking drugs and contemplating death? Who, or what--if anything--can help him figure out how to be successful at living a happy life?
Walker Percy dealt with similar issues of success and happiness in his own life. His grandfather committed suicide when he was a baby, his father killed himself when Percy was 13, and his mother drove her car off the road and died two years after that. Not exactly a picture-perfect childhood, huh? Yet despite losing loved ones and constantly being shuffled around to live with different relatives, Percy found success in school, graduating from college and getting into the prestigious Columbia medical school.
Things were looking up for a hot minute until, as a med student, Percy contracted tuberculosis when he was performing an autopsy on a corpse that had the disease. Unfortunately, this happened in the 1940's when there was still no treatment for the disease, so Percy had to take several years off of school to rest and recover. It's during this time of healing that seriously began to question the meaning of life through reading, writing, and religion.
As both Will Barrett's and Walker Percy's lives show, you can be smart and successful and still unhappy. Learning to be happy is a life-long process. Just like Math or English, happiness is a subject that many people struggle to master.
Renegade Thought of the Day: What do you think it means to "flunk life"?
What do you think it means to do well at "life"?
Renegade Challenge: What is one thing you need to work on this year that will help you do well in life beyond school? (i.e., practice staying positive and patient during hard times)
Bonus Video: Watch Stephen Colbert's farcical video making fun of celebrity life style blogs that try to tell us that if we just buy what they like, we'll be happy.
"New friends can often have a better time together than old friends."
Rich Americans living in Paris in the 1920's liked to have parties and they had a tendency to invite every single interesting person they had ever heard of. The result of inviting all of these magical people was that everyone was always meeting someone knew and learning something new and the parties were never boring. (Is anything worse than a boring party?)
In F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel Tender is the Night, a book he called his masterpiece, one of the main characters, the handsome Mr. Driver (married) throws a party and when the lovely young actress Rosemary (single) who says she's in love with him arrives, they find a quiet moment together and he tells her, "New friends can often have a better time together than old friends." Uh-oh. You can already tell this party is gonna start a lot of drama!
Since I'm currently reading this book and I'm new(ish) to Seattle, I decided to host my own random renegade dinner party last week. I invited 5 people I wanted to get to know and 3 were able to come. One person was my neighbor, a self-proclaimed cheesemonger, who brought over a Norwegian cheese called Gjetost (pronounced "yay toast") which reminded me of butterscotch fudge (you should try it!). Another guest told amusing stories about the two ferrets he owns, Stinky and Stanky. Great names, right? The other person, an up-and-coming nutritionist, is becoming a rock enthusiast and has just found a stash of geodes that she plans to crack open. I hope I can be around for that! My point is, we didn't really know each other before the party, but after eating a bit of Gjetost and playing this crazy fun card game called San Juan (an easier, gentler, and shorter version of Settlers of Catan which you can check out here), we were laughing together like old pals. It was kind of amazing.
But back to Fitzgerald's lines. Did I have as much fun with my new friends as I have with my old? Hmmm..., that one's a toughie to answer. But I do know this--I definitely had a blast and can't wait to get to know them more. I also can't wait for my next random dinner party adventure!
Renegade Thought of the Day: What about you? What do you think Fitzgerald's lines mean? Can you think of a time when you've had fun with someone you'd just met?
Renegade Challenge: Share a laugh today with someone you barely know!
"And so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."
Title: The Great Gatsby Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald
Your yoga teacher. Your meditation practice. Your therapist. The friend you always turn to for advice about that same problem you keep struggling to deal with. Even Gatsby's friend Nick. They all suggest the same thing--stay present and let go of the past. As if it were that simple, right? Perhaps that's why I love Gatsby so much. Despite his wealth and parties and success, he struggles with this basic human problem of moving on from a painful past. And who among us hasn't looked back and idealized a moment in our past--a moment that, upon honest reflection, we'd have to admit probably wasn't quite as perfect as our rose-colored glasses would have it seem?
Renegade Thought of the Day: To what moment in the past do you tend to be ceaselessly thrown back?
Can you identify the "current" that knocks you back there?
In what ways is your memory of the past helping you?
In what ways is living in the past haunting your ability to stay and live in the present?
Bonus video: Official Trailer for The Great Gatsby: here's a hint of the crazy drama that can happen when you have trouble letting go of your past.