We’ve been doing a lot in GHEnglish class lately about the idea of “carpe diem” (see my last post for some carpe diem inspired rambling) and to finish off the unit we watched Dead Poets Society and wrote an essay about our views on carpe diem. This essay is a little different than the traditional 5-paragraph essay that we normally do in high school, it’s a JOT (jump off the text) essay, and I’m proud of how it turned out and excited to share it with people outside of the classroom!
As a student making her way through her high school career, one common question that I’ve been asked increasingly more often is, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” which is often followed by other questions like, “What colleges are you thinking about?” and, “Where do you want to live after college?”. Honestly, I have no answer to these questions, and that fact is terrifying to me. Knowing that someday I will be in charge of my own life and knowing that I’ll have the power to make my own life decisions scares me. Life becomes infinitely easier if someone tells you what to do and gives you an answer to life’s questions, but my future has no answers. In the crazy, uncertain world that we live in, this lack of answers only brings on more questions, and how we find the answers to these questions defines who we are and where our future will take us.
Realists and romanticists illustrate two different ways in which people find the answers in life. Realists are those who need structure, something to guide them and give them conventional, easy answers to life’s questions. Romanticists are not satisfied by conventional, they look for the answers that take time and research and effort, because those are the answers that provide value to life and make it full. Is there a right way to answer life’s questions? Is it better to be a realist or a romanticist? In Walt Whitman’s “O Me! O Life!” poem he writes:
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?
That you are here—that life exists, and identity;
That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse. (1891)
Whitman leads us to believe that there is not, in fact, a right or wrong way to answer life’s questions. Just living and knowing your place in the world is enough, but realists and romanticists define themselves in different ways. Romanticists take the uncertainty of life, of being human, and allow that to fuel them to make their verse in life exciting. Realists are more timid in this regard, following a script that has been given to them to follow and giving a lackluster performance in life’s play. Realists play the character that they’re given, while romanticists make their own character and write life’s dialogue. Every individual has to decide for themselves which kind of person they’re going to be, and which path in life they’re going to follow.
Some may argue that being a realist is wiser than being a romanticist walking around with their head in the clouds. Realists fabricate structures for themselves and others, which gives people a path in life to follow. These paths guide realists to sterilized lives without the contamination of creativity disrupting the structure they’ve built. As Christopher, an autistic teenager in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time who relies on structure, puts it, “… [that’s] why I like timetables, because they make sure I don’t get lost in time” (Haddon 155). Christopher needs structure in his life to keep his anxiety at bay and to keep him sane, which is why he uses timetables, planning out his life down to the minute. While this level of structure may work for Christopher, is this a realistic concept for the common man to live by? Is it possible for anyone to find answers to life’s questions when they give themselves no time to explore the world?
Limiting yourself so heavily that you have no time to stop or deviate from the task in front of you is part of the reason why realists need the structure to give them answers, because their daily routine doesn’t leave them any free instances in which they could look at the world to find answers for themselves. Realists think they’re wise because they have all the answers, but they may just be too myopic to be able to see any other solution to life’s challenges than the one that they’re given. Romanticists create their own paths in life, and don’t look to follow the paths that have already been downtrodden from so many people blindly following it. They are willing to dream of myriad possibilities of what they can accomplish in life.
Perhaps, only being given one solution in life can make it better to be a realist in a practical sense. Realists can have very successful lives in the long run, and dreaming can have consequences. T. E. Lawrence, author of Seven Pillars of Wisdom, highlights on this fact by saying, “All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake up in the day to find it was vanity, but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible” (Lawrence). If dreamers dream of fantasies and empty promises, then they may begin to resent life and their lives may become meaningless. When a person’s life has no meaning and no direction, a structure presents itself to these hopeless dreamers and gives them something to work towards when they can’t find something to strive for themselves.
Sometimes I do wish that there was a clear path that I could follow to a successful future
when my dreams of college and a full,
prosperous life seem out of my reach. Despite wishing for a set of guidelines that could create a successful future , I understand that things in this world are not that easy, and for that I am grateful. I don’t want to settle for a life just because I know where it will lead me. While I may be scared and intimidated by my future, I think that it’s important to be a dreamer rather than to succumb to the answer key of life. I will strive to create more questions for myself as I work to find answers for others, since that is what will make me great, and that is what will make my life complete.