Thursday, November 10, 2011

Why Does Utopia Bore Us? – The Adam Syndrome

For the last two years I’ve been reading the top 100 novels of all time.  I read a couple of hard ones (requiring a lot of concentration, like Ulysses) then I throw in a Hemingway novel, which are quite easy to read. Presently, I’m reading Islands in the Stream.

I was introduced to fiction by two sons, Ramsey and Tyler. Both of them are great fans of Hemingway.  Tyler in particular seemed to be infatuated with the bohemian lifestyle of Hemingway and his friends (pictured above in a Paris bar).  His fictional stories mirrored his real life at that time, living in Paris (or other exotic places) and hanging out with his friends all day long and not working a 9-5 er.

I have found myself now being lured by that mirage of utopia.  I mean, if God told me to create a New World (or Heaven if you prefer) it would be a small village on the sea (like I live in now) or in the Alps.  In that village, I would have no responsibilities, but to get up and come down to the café and sit and drink coffee.  Now Hemingway et al, consumed alcohol . . . but alcohol has never been one of my vices . . . yet.

But that would be my utopia. No meetings that I HAD to attend.  No one counting on me to do x, y and z . . . by tonight and if I don't do them, I'm just an asshole.  Just good coffee, beautiful views and real, deep, meaningful conversations with true friends.  These would be friends that accept me warts and all where I would wear no mask.  I have no friends like that right now, but I have had a handful in my life.

But I’ve noticed something;  a common theme in all of Hemingway’s books, and in many other areas of life.  For example, I just restarted my film club. On our first night we had 13 people.  We watched, The Adjustment Bureau.  In that film the men in the “bureau” (who worked for the chairman, who may represent God or god) made an interesting comment. They said they controlled (in a fatalistic way) humanity for most of their history.  Twice, when things were going really well, they took off the controls. The first time people were in control of their own destiny, people left utopia and created the terrible Dark Ages.  The second time they stepped back, humanity created WWI, the Holocaust, WWII, then to the brink of nuclear holocaust . . . so they stepped back in to fix things. Of course that is pure fiction.

But in fiction, and in reality, the Hemingway et al gang couldn’t leave utopia alone.  Here they lived on the beach or in Paris and all they have to do is, like Solomon recommended, was to enjoy the fruits of life . . . but they had to screw it up . . .  each and every time.  In the Hemingway novels, the characters always messed things up by having affairs with each other’s wives, killing someone in a drunken, jealous rage.  Then suicides would come.  Then in his fictional mirror and in his real life, alcohol washed the beautiful canvas into a blurry mess. What's wrong with us?

I think one of the greatest gifts, and lesson from Solomon, is to learn to accept utopia . . . leave it the hell alone, and enjoy each taste of good coffee, each sentence in a deep conversation with a dear friend.

My children are my best friends because they do know me warts and all.  I savor those moments in the coffee shop, which are becoming rarer and rarer these days, as my piece of utopia.  But in the life to come, I will spend my days walking in high mountain meadows, listening to beautiful music, sipping coffee with dear friends, and learning to leave utopia alone. If only we could do that now.  If only. Crap, I've got to finish my coffee and go catch a plane to Phoenix for a meeting!


Jaimie said...

Wow, your son got to live in Paris and not work at all? Dang, that is Utopia.

Jaimie said...

Oh you mean Hemingway. No idea how I messed that up. Hahaha.

I lately read a book "Hemingway on Writing" which was excellent. Hemingway never wrote a book about writing (he preferred to stay largely silent on the subject since writing is so finicky an art and differs person to person), but someone compiled all the small things he'd said about writing in letters and interviews and whatnot. Really good.

Anonymous said...

Just a little unasked for advice: Leave the alcohol alone. It's really great for anxiety relief. For awhile... then one day, it's got you by the gonads and your anxiety problem is ten times worse, and then you're in a real pickle. Been there and done that. Your mileage may vary.

TruthOverfaith said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
jmj said...

Truthover . . . whatever, I've deleted your post again. You are welcome to come here and have meaningful conversations, even about not believing Christianity is true, but I won't allow anyone to come in with a flame-thrower just for the sake of it.

jmj said...

My sons, both of them, wish they could just live in Paris, Rome, Athens . . . anywhere exotic, and not work. Just do a painting or write a book every year. Of course most painters I know, and I know some very good ones, can barely support themselves . . . unlike the Hemingway characters, living in high-end hotels.

Anna A said...

I wonder if part of the problem is our bent toward sin, and a failure of imagination.

When I taught kids in Bible study, I would sometimes write playlets to go with the story. I always found it easier to write the bad guy or the hurting person than I did Jesus.

PRS & ALS said...

Maybe it's just me, but when I had time on my hands, no place in particular to go except the coffee shop to be with friends, I ended up wasting a lot of time in front of the TV. It became easier every day to stay in my PJ's later and later and lay on the couch. I had good intentions, but with no particular plan or accountability, I let days and weeks pass me by. I think it's partially my personality, but also for me it was a lack of purpose and schedule.