Scott Fitzgerald said, “There are no second acts in American life.” I am not the first to observe how wrong he was.
In his own life, as he saw it, probably, Act One began when he was in his mid-20’s and had sold This Side of Paradise,
his first novel.
But let’s think of
life, any life, as broken into three acts. Take me, for instance, since
this is my blog and I can do what I want with it.
My Act One was
decidedly Childhood. Growing up in Fairhope, Alabama, a utopian colony with one of the world's first Progressive schools, was unforgettable--growth-producing, and a pathway to a good second act. I was made alert
to its potential through the advantage of an education in the aforementioned school, the Marietta
Johnson School of Organic Education, where kids made things happen and
things happened to kids. We were not talked at or talked down to, we
were questioned, we were allowed (yea, encouraged) to ask questions, and
at the end of the 12 years in school we knew who we were. We just
couldn’t wait for more stuff to happen. (For more on this, read The Fair Hope of Heaven, available online through amazon.com and Page & Palette, a local bookstore in Fairhope.)
One ended poignantly with a romance; a promise of things to come. I
would no longer be a child. I had the tools to grow into a
productive adult. I just didn’t know it.
Act Two was Romance and
Travel, with a smattering of comedy, melodrama, and adventures in the
arts, particularly the theatre. Act Two abounds with stories – short
stories, novels, character sketches, changes of locale, marriage(s), the
raising of a child, divorces, deaths -- an infinity of challenge and
growth. This would have been Scott Fitzgerald’s Act One, but, because I
had such a rich childhood, all this stuff was Act Two for me. There are
indeed second acts in American life.
Act Three is just at the
beginning now; a chance to assess and apply what I’ve learned while at
the same time learning more. A chance to work at perfecting the
instrument. An awareness that it is now or never, so it’s gonna be now.
Well, knowing the instrument doesn’t mean the same circumstances won’t
recur, or necessarily that I’ll handle them differently. It just means I
know they’re coming.
There, I’ve done it again, glossed over
things as if life were just a somewhat bumpy ride down an unpaved road.
In Act Three I’m learning to write it well, clarifying and not letting
myself off the hook so easily. Perhaps I’ll get involved in theatre again, and I’ll work at
it. Perhaps there is another book or two in me, yet to be written. Maybe even another house. The two little boys who are my grandsons are young men,
ready to take on the world, and if they’re lucky their lives will have
three acts as well. Even if they become cynics, they still will not say
that there are no second acts in American life. I hope that, like me,
they will attempt to deal with the whole show with some humor,
intelligence, and good will.
An earlier version of this blog post appeared when I was still living in Fairhope, on my "Finding Fair Hope" blog, and a reader corrected me about my interpretation of Scott Fitzgerald's statement. She said he didn't mean Americans didn't reinvent themselves, but that their lives were filled instead with "first" acts. I didn't mean to reinvent myself either, but I'm not sure I agree that was what Fitzgerald meant. "How's your second act?" was a common taunt among writers of the 1920s and 30s, as the second act was the most difficult to craft--the place in a play where conflict came into focus, setting up a need for the inevitable resolution in Act Three.
All my acts have been a bit helter-skelter, compared to the well-made plays of years past, and now that I'm in the last act, I have a sense that it's all working out.