Gatsby’s secret to success was his dedication to self-improvement. His routine was an American tradition that harks back to the prescribed formula for success found in Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography. When he was a farm boy named Jimmy Gatz in South Dakota, Gatsby set out to improve himself. Like Franklin, Gatz was poor with a limited education. Franklin’s formal education ended when he was ten years old. From that time forward, he was self-educated. He became a printer, author, scientist, philosopher and diplomat through his own efforts at self-improvement. Franklin explains in his autobiography how he would make charts for the week on which he kept track of his progress in perfecting his character. Gatz also made charts and kept track of exercising, reading and studying. Both the fictional Gatsby and the real man Franklin aspired to a life beyond the circumstances into which they were born. Their passport to a better life was their dedication to improving themselves.
In Chapter IX of The Great Gatsby, Jay Gatsby’s father Henry C. Gatz tells Nick Carraway that his son “was bound to get ahead” because of his daily resolves. Gatz shows Carraway his son’s routine written on a blank page in the back of the book Hopalong Cassidy.
Rise from bed 6:00 A.M.
Dumbbell exercise and wall-climbing 6:25-6:30 A.M.
Study electricity, etc. 7:15-8:15 A.M.
Work 8:30-4:30 P.M.
Baseball and sports 4:30-5:00 P.M.
Practice elocution, poise and how to attain it 5:00-6:00 P.M.
Study needed inventions 7:00-9:00 P.M.
No wasting time at Shafters or [a name, indecipherable]
No more smoking or chewing
Bath every other day
Read one improving book or magazine per week
Save $5.00 [crossed out] $3.00 per week
Be better to parents
Did F. Scott Fitzgerald borrow the idea of a self-improvement routine from The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin published in 1771? Possibly. Or perhaps the idea of self-improvement proposed by Franklin had taken root in American culture. That an American from a poor family can rise to great heights is a key component of the American Dream. Franklin merely proved that the dream of social and economic mobility could be achieved. Here is Franklin’s routine:
Franklin constructed a weekly chart. Across the top were days of the week. On the far left were his 12 self-improvement goals. He would write an asterisk next to a goal he had achieved on a specific day. His goals were:
1. Temperance. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
2. Silence. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
3. Order. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
4. Resolution. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
5. Frugality. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
6. Industry. Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
7. Sincerity. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly; and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
8. Justice. Wrong none by doing injuries or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
9. Moderation. Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
10. Cleanliness. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.
11. Tranquility. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
12. Humility. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.
Franklin’s daily routine is similar to that of Jimmy Gatz.
5 A.M. – 9A.M. Rise, wash, and address Powerful Goodness! Contrive day’s business and take the resolution of the day; prosecute the present study, and breakfast.
9 A.M. – Noon. Work
Noon – 1 P.M. Read, or overlook my accounts, and dine.
1 P.M. – 6 P.M. Work
6 P.M. – 9 P.M. Put things in their places. Supper. Music or diversion, or conversation. Examination of the day.
10 P.M. Sleep.
Franklin writes: “But, on the whole, tho’ I never arrived at perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it, yet I was, by the endeavour, a better and a happier man than I otherwise should have been if I had not attempted it.”
Two movies full of dark satire are winning awards in 2023. The Banshees of Inisherin features self-mutilation and arson as a means of un-friending a long-time companion. The Menu uses ultra-dark gallows humor, including suicide, mutilation and mass-murder as a problem-solving solution to life’s annoyances. Both comedy genres are tools of satire. Dark comedy mocks the worst human conditions like poverty, sexism, racism, ageism, animal cruelty, failures and setbacks. Gallows humor makes fun of death, suicide, torture, execution and life-threatening situations like war, disease and famine.
Thousands of years before George Carlin, Bill Maher or The Daily Show, Aristophanes, the “Father of Comedy,” poked fun at politicians, generals, elite citizens and the general hypocrisy he observed in 450 B.C. in Athens. Other satirists followed, including Dante, Chaucer, Cervantes, Shakespeare, Moliere, Voltaire, Swift, Carroll, Shaw, Ionesco and Vonnegut. Today late-night TV comedy skits by Saturday Night Live, Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers and others use satire, but rarely resort to dark comedy and gallows humor for laughs.
The actors in Banshees and The Menu don’t wink, jest, or play for laughs. Dark comedy and gallows humor require a solemn tone for impact. The characters in Voltaire’s Candide (1759) interact in earnest as if the plot sequences are entirely plausible. They suffer kidnapping, disease, flogging and the loss of body parts as they flee pedophiles, rapists, wars, earthquakes, the Spanish Inquisition and Jesuit missionaries. Playing it straight is the key to dark humor. The narrator of Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal (1729) seriously suggests the solution to the problem of starving beggars is to eat their babies. In Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865), “The Queen had only one way of settling all difficulties, great or small. ‘Off with his head!’ she said, without even looking around.”
Movie audiences have been numbed by blockbuster action films and super-hero sequels. The linear plot lines are devoid of satire, irony and subtlety. The Banshees of Inisherin and The Menu make audiences think and reflect on what exactly is being ridiculed. The dark comedy trend may not last, but for at least this year, a few movies reach the height of cinematic art.
April is National Poetry Month, a celebration that could lift your spirits at such a trying time. Social distancing and isolation have increased anxiety and boredom. Those who are trying to entertain and teach school age children may want to check poets.org/national-poetry-month that features a treasure trove of free resources and activities, including a free poster, Dear Poet, Poem-a-Day, and the Shelter in Poems feel-good collection. My personal favorite poetry resource is the DVD from the old HBO series Classical Baby: I’m Grown Up Now: The Poetry Show. The animated series features the voices of John Lithgow, Gwyneth Paltrow, Andy Garcia, Susan Sarandon and others reading poems by Frost, Shakespeare, Browning, et al. It’s available from Amazon.
Enjoy these 5 "feel good" movies you may not know that are low-stress and highly uplifting. What are your favorite "feel good" movies?
1. Far From the Madding Crowd
2. The Hundred-Foot Journey
3. Hotel For Dogs or read the book
4. Under the Tuscan Sun
5. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Who else loves a crunchy and healthy snack that's not boring like carrots or celery? Move over boring health foods, you do not bring me joy! Small changes like adding a few of these snacks are important and can make a big difference not only in how you feel physically, but mentally.
Here are 5 that we're obsessed with. Enjoy with your favorite hummus, guac, salsa or by themselves! What are some of your favorite healthy snacks that excite you?
1. Real Food From The Ground Up Cauliflower Stalks
2. Real Food From The Ground Up Butternut Squash Pretzels
3. Siete Grain Free Tortilla Chips
4. Popcorners Snacks Variety Pack
5. Angie's BOOMCHICKAPOP Sea Salt Popcorn