American Dream?

Go alone: crawl–stumble–stagger–but go alone.” -Charles Rennie Mackintosh (Art Nouveau architect extraordinaire)

Gaudi and his buds are awesome; Mackintosh was a genius, to be sure…but is that really sound advice for anyone?

The whole narcissistic quality of individualism kind of scares me. I mean, being “different” or unique seems great and all, but let’s be honest; it’s not exactly plausible. Not everyone is a Mozart, however arrogant they might be. Not every tortured soul out there is a great artist. If everyone were, then nobody would stand out. I’m not saying that all of humankind is just a homogenized mass of mediocrity (although sometimes it may seem so), because I’d agree with most people that everyone has their own singularity about them; perhaps what really gets to me is the association of ‘specialness’ with celebrity. Being famous is another way of telling the world that you’re different from everyone else who’s *not* on tv, *not* in the papers, that you’re special. And that kind of notoriety, merited or not, goes much farther than a nobody from the street/suburbs saying that they’re exemplary. Grrr. Whenever I have to be evaluated by other people based on semi-arbitrary guidelines (helloooo grad school…), I get nervous.

I am also reminded (of course, as I am a child of pop culture), of one of the classics of our generation, Dead Poets’ Society, in which Robin Williams’s idealistic character defends the right of high schoolers to create, dream, and otherwise delude themselves with napoleonic dreams of grandeur, sounding their barbaric “yawps” to the world. But I suppose that learning to think for yourself isn’t quite equatable with individuality, even though all the “carpe diem…make your lives extraordinary” shit comes quite close. I don’t pretend to be so jaded as to side with the cynical administrator: “Show me the heart unfettered by foolish dreams and I’ll show you a happy man,” but I firmly believe that out of context readings of Thoreau and Emerson can have quite a warping effect on one’s world-view. Literature (and movies, for that matter) should inspire readers to be passionate, arouse some sort of heightened consciousness, and even allow modern cynics such as myself to escape for a little while in lovely words, but “that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse?” Isn’t that just a little too trite?

Left without a solution in the end, as usual, but one more quote before I go: John Keating: “Sucking all the marrow out of life doesn’t mean choking on the bone.”

Back to the unfinished essay; why is it so hard to convey sarcasm in writing? Perhaps irony is best left out of grant proposals, as dear to my heart as it may be.


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