Nathaniel Hawthorne. F. Scott Fitzgerald. Hunter S. Thompson. David Foster Wallace.
These are my mentors, the writers in my life who have shaped my thinking, my narratives, my words. They are the familiar community of comfort, the places I visit when I’m lost.
That they tell, in some manner, stories about the American Dream — at different times in America’s existence — is something that I’ve only recently started to put together. Maybe it’s been obvious to others. (Fitzgerald and Thompson are easy in this case.)
That they all tell of the existential horrors of that Dream as it manifests onto their own lives — some through fiction, some through narrative non-fiction, some through non-fiction — is comforting. Because I feel like I experience America from the outside, looking in. An uninvited guest to the party, watching through the looking glass. Listening to the side conversations. Trying to put it all together.
Only to find out that I don’t speak the language. So I’ve missed those subtle, hard-to-translate idiomatic phrases that make the difference between understanding and idiotic behavior.
These ideals — this Dream — is idyllic in nature, but I can’t help but quantify it as the goal. I can’t help but believe it is absolutely attainable. And each interaction, each new parcel of information, each new experience. I expect each of these to live up to that ideal.
To this time be the moment where it all comes together.
Invariably it doesn’t. Probably can’t. Maybe shouldn’t. I’m not a deep enough thinker to believe I know the right answer to that.
So I’m fooled every time.
A fallen optimist. Who believes in that Dream, the idyllic principles that you can work hard and be judged on your merits, believe what you want and exist with others who disagree with you peacefully and intelligently, achieve whatever you allow your mind to dream with encouragement from others.
I think that’s what it takes to write. Well. A deep personal belief that we have the capacity to do better. That we should do better. That we are built with the capacity to be better.
But that we — most of the time — can’t. And that we — most of the time — won’t.
The ability to be completely devastated. Razed. Then wake up the next day. And believe again.
It’s in that space, between the heart-burning desire to see the capacity for greatness that we have and the soul-crushing sadness to see the smallness that engulfs us in failure, that the writer has to exist.
Standing in a dim forest/In the West Egg/On a shark hunt/An infinite jest.