F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote that there are “no second acts in American lives.” Joesph Epstein retorted in Ambition that Fitzgerald should have realized that just because the ending isn’t happy doesn’t mean there wasn’t a second act. In fact, we have a name for that style: tragedy.
Maybe he would have been better served to remember that. Or, better still, he could have abandoned the whole notion that his life was a like a play. Consider that Fitzgerald’s love of drama, glamor, and fame were responsible for almost all his problems. It’s why he was depressed, why he loved a woman who destroyed his life, and why he never sat down to really work again.
What if there is just life and we’re not all actors on a world’s stage. There wouldn’t be the crushing pressure of redemption because there isn’t an audience to redeem. There would only be you. And each day, the expectations you fulfill are your own. The day before and the day after are unconnected because there is no narrative tying them together. They just are.
The Second Act in American Lives is a fallacy generated by the absorbed belief in the First Act. They’re both counterproductive. They’re both delusional. They ultimately make it impossible to an incredibly difficult thing: waking up everyday and doing only the things that make you happy and proud and self-contained.