“I never met a man with such hope. I doubt I ever will again.” Nick Carraway.
Mr. Jay Gatsby clearly didn’t thrive on this plane. He was bigger than life, above earth, to many who knew him. Knew of him. Men, women, actors, senators, commissioners, vagabonds, freaks, all ages, all shapes, the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful, the pimple-faced kid who delivered the freshest produce every mid and end of week who stuck around a bit too long to catch a glimpse of mystery.
Clearly, everyone was aware of Gatsby, or at the least, the image of the man formed over years of discipline, sacrifice, study, focus. Amazing, blinding focus. The thousands who entered the masterful iron gates of his 40,000 square-foot mansion on weekends, who took advantage of the endless flow of hospitality, each one, had a story. To Nick, Gatsby seemed like a soul ready to dance on the edge of tragedy. Stripped of protective barrier, Gatsby was a mere boy playing adult games. There was a story which circulated, cut deep through the heat of party goers and the lights. So much light. It blinded Nick.
“I heard he even killed a man.”
Gatsby never belonged in the present. His closest friend, if Gatsby held a real friendship, observed the inner distraction, perhaps a bordering on obsession.
Nick was convinced: Something outside this world was eating Gatsby alive. At least that’s what he believed.
Looking down, Nick observed Gatsby’s rich leather shoes. Always polished. He laughed. It was his way of knowing Gatsby existed in the physical realm. One day Nick would imagine, he’d look down and Gatsby’s feet would be hovering about a foot off blue lawn, like a spirit ready to speed off to another planet. A Godly mission perhaps?
Nick wondered: Where did Gatsby’s heart rest? Standing majestic, always dressed for perfection, looking into him, Nick would observe, feel the distance, beyond the deep blue of Gatsby’s eyes. Who was Jay Gatsby anyway?
A spy? A killer? A hero? Did he even remember?
Nick asked himself repeatedly – “Who owns and chains Jay Gatsby’s soul?”
Nick noticed how Gatsby would uncomfortably shift to and from the current. He was much like the white water which ebbed and flowed along a lush, personal beach.
Nick was fascinated. There existed a beautiful sadness, a breathless longing, a waiting in a smile that caught itself before completion. There was true genius here. An honesty, a passion locked deep. He knew things you didn’t. You didn’t want to know.
Depending on the conversation, Nick could release the child-like innocence who was Gatsby. Gatsby before all the trappings. The hungry one. The one who felt.
Behind wispy delicate beauty purchased from wealth, lived a man awaiting release. Or redemption. A better life. Completion. Forgiveness, perhaps. Nick would write feverishly in his journal – “Heartbroken. Distracted. Innocent. Mysterious spirit. Dangerous.”
“Yet hopeful. Always amazingly hopeful.”
Immersed in overly decadent trappings of the richest mahogany and purple-blue carpet which felt like crushed velvet under foot, Gatsby was a polished, preserved shell draped in the finest light linens and deep silk vests designed solely to fit his swimmer’s body, snug. From the calloused fingers of artist-immigrant tailors at Herbinger’s of New York City.
Stuck rich between youth and maturity, estrangement and engagement. Waiting for a bridge to be built between past and future – One vital piece remained untethered for the polished yet raw of Jay Gatsby.
“Gatsby turned out all right at the end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of men.”
Every reserved step, each over-the-top party, the plethora of salt breeze which swirled over Long Island Sound direct through his open balcony door, sought to embrace him. It felt best not to touch. The salt-air felt thick, solid – yet it played teasingly gentle with billowed drapes. Silk flown in directly from Singapore, woven by hand, wrapped Gatsby in the future of a dream not yet realized. He raised a manicured finger. Lowered his head. Sandy hair once coiffed, now tussled by wind. Breathing in and out.
Pointed forward. Eyes closed. The pain of her. Her absence radiated from deep his chest.
Traveled on emerald bright.
A salvation: His salvation.
Where the woman, a human light, who held his soul captive like a seirene, for half a decade now.
Danced gleefully behind the green light. Where she lived.
Little did Daisy know when she spun on the dock like a little girl, with the green light as beacon, Gatsby felt her. He felt nothing deep except her presence.
The lights from his mansion across the water,most of the time launched in Technicolor, was designed to capture an elusive star. The music, the crowds, the fireworks. All for her attention. A tactic designed to push a love, Daisy, back to where they started. It was five years. To Gatsby, it was yesterday. Everything stopped unless Daisy was part of the equation.
Thought across the water, he would focus on the only shine that mattered to him. The green. The calm. The pure of color messaged him. It was code to his soul not yet released. His heart to join past and present rode on a wave of robust hope.
He created an elaborate stage – a world of players he observed but never touched. Except for Nick. There was a difference about him. He reminded Gatsby of a brother he left a life ago.
And for all Gatsby appeared to his those he played to, his foundation, his emotional as well as financial footing was shaky. Perhaps we love this timeless story because perfection is born from imperfection.
However, you can never run from who you truly are. As well as you dress, as elegant as you speak, there’s something tragic about all of us. Gatsby couldn’t touch the imperfect. It was a realization how truly flawed he was.
Daisy Buchanan was smart enough to accept her station. Her willingness to party, her vacuous nature, was truly who she was. Gatsby tried to acquire her. He created an inner image of her. An image he could control. And wanted so badly to believe. Who he loved wasn’t Daisy. It was his wish to save her, perhaps possess her. A projection. A feeling lost he needed returned.
“I KNOW. I’ve been everywhere and seen everything and done everything…Sophisticated – God, I’m sophisticated.”
Writer’s note: Daisy was a pompous twit. But she knew it. Admit when you’re a pompous twit, people will hold a greater respect for you.
Everything Gatsby built, everything Gatsby sought, everything he had become, born of incredible focus. (Was. For. One. Person. And. It. Wasn’t. Him.)
Ostensibly it killed him. Death after going so deep, was the only answer. It was the only conclusion F. Scott could have come to. Gatsby was so mired in his dream, so far gone, only death could release.
So what can we learn from this classic?
1). Gatsby’s parties and trappings were a horrible return on investment. If the elaborate wealth was bankrolled by Prohibition then what would happen when it all ended? And Prohibition did indeed, end. Gatsby surely spent more than he took in.Only a matter of time before Daisy being as spoiled as she was, would depart. As soon as the cash ran dry. I have no doubt Gatsby as a fighter, would have found another way to build a fortune. To recover. Unfortunately, his true focus for it would have long exited. And possession should never be every reason to acquire wealth, especially when it comes to the acquisition of a heart, love. A feeling. Gatsby loved how he felt around Daisy. He was willing to pay anything for that feeling. He was paying with his life and she really wasn’t concerned. If Gatsby was able to spend more time in the present, he probably would have figured this Prohibition thing was going to conclude. He held enough contacts to uncover this information and ostensibly work to protect his wealth.
2). Gatsby suffered from abhorrent emotional and cognitive biases. First, he lived in the past. Only the past. I’m sure hindsight bias troubled him. I’m sure he obsessed over past investment mistakes because in hindsight, he knew they were going to fail or do well. He needed to control so much of his projection, his journey, his capture of a love that died a long time ago, he could have never admitted he was wrong. As Nick wisely told Gatsby: “You can’t bring back the past.” Can’t repeat the past?…Why of course you can, old sport!”
“He wanted to recover something, some idea of himself perhaps, that had gone into loving Daisy. His life had been confused and disordered since then, but if he could once return to a certain starting place and go over it all slowly, he could find out what that thing was.”
Writer’s note: His love for Daisy was the love he lost for himself.”
Gatsby was inflicted by regret aversion. He held on to lots of “losers,” much longer than he should have. All his party goers, the people he provided a “respectable front” for business dealings, DAISY (biggest loser as it cost him his life). Don’t hold on to losing investments thinking the’ll recover. Forget holding on to feelings, or hope that someone you loved will return. A bullet in the chest and a float in the pool are the results.
“They are a rotten crowd,” I shouted across the lawn. “You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.”
I’ve always been glad I said that. It was the only compliment I ever gave him, because I disapproved of him from beginning to end. First he nodded politely, and then his face broke into that radiant and understanding smile, as if we’d been in ecstatic cahoots on that fact all the time.”
3). Find and then appreciate your Nick Carraways. The true alliances, the objective financial partners who will provide truth even when it hurts, those who make up your inner circle. The ones who listen, care, the ones who truly feel your pain. So much it changes them. And you. Those who embrace who you are now. Learn to love the Nick inside you, too. For some odd reason, Nick was Gatsby’s true salvation; he just couldn’t make the pieces fit. Your human outliers, the ones who think outside the box, but are pure of heart are worth more than any Gatsby-like fortune. Write down who those people are. Call them. Write. Tell them now what they mean to you. Cherish. Thank them for sharing the brutal, beautiful truth. These people provide clarity.
“Everyone suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known.”
4). Understand Gatsby was dead before he hit the water. The bullet was merely release. A method to move on. Forced by the hand of another. We, on occasion, are moved forward by the force of another. Harsh realization from a past love, an illness that sets you back, a business failure (which is not a defeat), depression, an inner disappointment. Let’s face it. Daisy wasn’t going to return to Gatsby and for him, it meant all he built was false, mere illusion. It was time for him to deal with the demons. And they were powerful. He made them so. Death was a good way for Gatsby.Majestic. Full of story. Bigger than life. It’s not yours. Remember the bullet that caused you to move forward, bleed, then drown. Time to emerge. Remember what you’re made of. Some dreams are not fucking healthy. They hold you captive. Daisy wasn’t going to call. She was long gone. Years back. She knew how to work the Great Gatsby.
“He must have felt that he had lost the old warm world, paid a high price for living too long with a single dream. He must have looked up at an unfamiliar sky through frightening leaves and shivered as he found what a grotesque thing a rose is and how raw the sunlight was upon the scarcely created grass. A new world, material without being real, where poor ghosts, breathing dreams like air, drifted fortuitously about…like that ashen, fantastic figure gliding toward him through the amorphous trees.”
5). Know when your light goes from green to red. To much hope will blind. The blinking beacon, your overwhelming focus, will trick you. The light you seek should always be green. The light inside you should be red. Somewhere between is where reason should flicker. You’ll then know when to change the path to the green light. Or perhaps you’re focused on the wrong dock. The wrong light. There’s more than one green light out there. Find them all. Know when to change the bulbs, change the focus, move to other docks.
The phone will ring. You’ll attempt to exit the pool, complete the illusion.
And that may be the worst possible outcome.
Gatsby died with hope, from eternal hope.
Create life through hope. It’s healthy in doses.
Realize when hope is not enough.
Run faster, stretch your mind, move past your comfort zone, stretch your arms.
Know when hope creates illusion, self denial.
Because then you’re in the pool.
And going under.
“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter- tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…And one fine morning-”