F. Scott Fitzgerald is one of my favourite “quote” people. I’ll be honest, I have only read The Great Gatsby, and can therefore not call myself a die-hard fanatic, but I find so many of his musings on life and love breathtaking. His commentary on his adoration for his wife Zelda, who battled with mental illness for most of her life, gets me misty-eyed every damn time. In a letter to someone who questioned his love for her, he wrote;
““I fell in love with her courage, her sincerity, and her flaming self-respect. And it’s these things I’d believe in, even if the whole world indulged in wild suspicions that she wasn’t all she should be. I love her, and it is the beginning of everything.”
― F. Scott Fitzgerald
There is always this intangible element of certainty in his prose. He believed in the things he loved, and he did so unapologetically, despite critique or scorn from the world that surrounded him. Perhaps this is why his words speak to me so much. They speak to the parts of me that want to move beyond persistent uncertainty. The parts that want to unwaveringly believe in something, and stick to it. As a Libran with above-average anxiety levels, I live with a lot of ambivalence. The scales that are my Libran totem are always in flux and rarely feel balanced. If I could embrace and sit comfortably with said uncertainty that would be alright, but since anxiety is the unbearable fear of all things uncertain, this does not bode well for attaining a state of uninterrupted zen.
So of late, I have found myself lost in the conundrum of “Who am I?”, “What am I doing with my life?”, “Am I being all that I can be?”, and “What will I be when I grow up?” Because despite being closer to 30 than 20, I still feel like I am still embarking on this journey of adulthood, and life, and the responsibility that comes with it.
Recently I have been thinking a lot about my ‘career’ (a word that makes me shudder), and I have weighed up my passions, and my earnings, along with the weight of other people’s expectations. (Fun times!). As I felt myself falling deeper into a spiral of misery and perceived failure because of one bounced direct debit, and a rejection letter, I found myself lamenting on another Fitzgerald quote. It is from The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, a short story written by Fitzgerald in 1922, and later adapted into a film of the same name. He writes;
This quote fills me with immeasurable hope and speaks to the endless possibilities that we as humans possess.
“I hope you live a life you’re proud of, and if you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.”
We can, at any given moment, choose to think differently about ourselves and embark on new ways of beings that defy even our most limiting beliefs. The person in my own life who embodies this belief most fiercely is my Mum, Wendy.
One morning I heard my Mum downstairs in her clinic room with one of her patients. (She is now an Osteopath). I marveled at her knowledge (she was busy casting a little kid’s feet so that she could make him orthotics) and I got thinking about all the things she has been in her life. She is my hero, and she gives me so much hope.
Her parents wanted her to study English, and when she informed them of her dream to study art, they refused to support her. She studied an art degree at St Martins College in London, and funded her studies by working throughout. Once they were completed, she worked as a designer for a while. At one point she was selling these funky illustration prints of ‘Boobs’ and ‘Penises’, but the market for these illustrations was understandably select. This was tough, and she couldn’t pay the bills, so after seeing an advertisement by the Metropolitan Police she decided to join the ranks. Thinking she would only be there for 6 months, while deciding “what to do with her life”, she ended up staying for 15 years, got promoted to Detective and headed the Serious Fraud squad. All this in the mid-80’s when the Metropolitan Police was a serious boys club, and pretty effing sexist! She is my feminist hero and I am proud. She did some wonderful things but she also saw a lot of horrors.
My Mum posing in my Grandmothers house, in her new police person outfit. So cute!
She eventually decided it was time for a change, and decided to do a medical Osteopathic degree. She studied for another seven years (while working part-time so that she could support me) as she was a single Mum. Despite her struggles, and the late nights, and a rather demanding little tot, she came top of her class. I was so proud of her at her graduation. She then opened her own clinic which has been running for the last decade, and this year she is scaling down and going back to Art School full time.
The camera turned on the artist. A portrait of my Mum during her art school days and developed in her darkroom at home.
One of her Paintings in progress.
She is truly one of my greatest heroes and makes me believe that you can be anything that you want to be, and do anything that you want to do. We are not limited or constrained. We don’t have to follow the ideas or wants of family, friends, society, or even our inner critics. We are allowed to dream, to try, to fail, to struggle and to succeed. We are allowed to change our minds and walk a different path. Life is ever-changing, and this is where the magic is.
So, to anyone reading this, (even if it’s just you Mum), I hope that you have the courage to follow your dreams, and be all the things that you want to be. Life is not linear, and we can be many things. We do not have to be the people our family want us to be or even the people we thought we were a day ago. We have the power to transform, learn, change our minds, and grow. I hope that we might all have the courage to do so. To look at the things we believed in for so long, question those things, and if we want, to change them. We don’t have to subsume into some small narrative, or one identity, because the world is endless, and our potential is infinite.
So back to Fitzgerald, and gorgeous Zelda, who was the quintessential 1920’s flapper, but also an artist in her own right, and so much more.
Fitzgerald was a marvelous writer and has been hailed as one of the greatest literary powers. However, his spelling was atrocious, and The Great Gatsby was not a success upon initial publication. These things, however, did not derail his dreams or put his passion for words on halt. Zelda trained to be a professional ballerina, and used art, and writing to help her through her mental illness. Tragically, however, she was often seen as either muse, or the ‘crazy wife’ of Fitgerald, and seemed to lose credibility in her own right. However, posthumously, she is gaining recognition for her own contribution to literature and arts, and her words so powerfully sum up the magnitude of love and possibility that our hearts can hold.
As she wrote; “Nobody has ever measured, not even poets, how much the heart can hold.”
Both these characters, while remembered for their tumultuous love affair, literary wit, and affiliation with the jazz era of the 1920’s, both held insights into the complexity of life and love. The ability to be a celebrated writer, even if your spelling sucks. To be brilliant, and talented in your own right, but to live in your partner’s shadow. To be judged and critiqued for your struggles with mental illness, but to be ignored for your insights, and contributions. We are all just human beings, trying to navigate our way through the uncertain territories of this thing we call life. Sometimes we fail, and sometimes we succeed. We learn and we live, we make mistakes, and we try again. While nothing is certain, the only thing we can depend on is the certainness of uncertainty and the inevitability of change. And this is a double-edged sword. It is terrifying beyond measure (especially for a Libran with diagnosed Anxiety Disorder), but it is also our greatest gift and speaks to the endless possibilities this life thing has on offer.
Zelda Fitzgerald’s “Fifth Avenue.”
Walt Whitman once said: “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself; I am large — I contain multitudes” and this quote hits the proverbial nail on the head. There are so many things I want to experience and be, but my self-imposed limits have stopped me from exploring them. However, our identities and dreams do not have to be at odds with each other. It’s okay to be a ballerina and to adore Heavy Metal, it’s perfect to be a feminist, and to want to have kids or stay at home, it’s wonderful to be religious, and to campaign for LGBTIQ rights, it’s brilliant to be tone-deaf, and to have dreams of learning to sing. And all of these things can exist simultaneously if you wish. Or, you can give up on a certain path in search of a more fulfilling one. If something in your heart is pulling you towards something, and no one is being harmed in the process, then why the heck not? You don’t always have to be the person you thought you were going to be.
If you could be anything you wanted to be right now, today, who would you be? And if so, what is stopping you?