Boom and Bust
As a part of my late-night insomniac series, I was just watching a segment on the first big economic boom and bust in history: the Dutch Tulip Mania back in the seventeenth century. If you haven’t heard of this phenomenon, I suggest you Google. I’m no economist. Actually, I’m pretty terrible with money and math, but I think there’s a lesson here beyond any hasty, monetary investment.
It might just be me and the way I analyze life the same way I’ve been taught to examine literature, but the fact that this huge economic crisis was caused by a flower seems pretty significant to me. True, a rose would be even more an obvious metaphor for the ephemerality of life, of time, and the things we consider beautiful, miraculous, or just generally positive, but I’ll take you, tulip bulb, since your ephemerality here is twofold.
I know I’m going get some eye rolling for this next statement, but I have to point to the fact that I’m about to turn another year older in a couple days as a reason this all seems so poignant to me right now. I feel like I’m a hop, skip, and a week away from Botox. In reality, I’m only turning 27. But, quite appropriately, I have the Great Gatsby soundtrack playing on iTunes right now and Lana Del Rey is asking, “will you still love me when I’m no longer young and beautiful? Will you still love me when I got nothing left but my aching soul?” and I feel an urgency to buy anti aging creams and stop tanning. I will most likely do none of the above. I’m too busy living. And watching documentaries.
Back to the tulips. Isn’t it odd to think that people would pay for these exotic flowers that didn’t even exist yet? Thousands of (insert appropriate currency here) for no guarantee of a blooming tulip bulb next year? And flowers as a status symbol? I guess it’s today’s equivalent of fancy cars and model-like significant others. Or, the fancy parties and castle-like abode that Gatsby created for Daisy to make her think he was worthy.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not really much of a gambler. I’m not going to bank on the idea of a tulip blooming, the dice rolling the way I want them to, or the persistence of my youth. Why haven’t we learned yet that the odds are never really going to be in our favor when we make hasty investments or bet on things that are as delicate as a flower, as unpredictable as nature, or as life itself? And even if you do get lucky, is it going to last? Will it sustain you? Or will you simply want more and keep gambling and giving up what you have until the bubble bursts?
I guess what I’m really asking is: When do we stop imagining that things could be better and start accepting that things aren’t actually that bad right now? I’ve often wondered if it’s simply a human condition to always long for more. Better, stronger, faster. We hear this rhetoric all the time. Wouldn’t it be nice to say instead things like, “I’m fine, I feel strong, I don’t want my life to pass me by?” This isn’t to say I believe in settling; in fact I straight up refuse to do so and detest when I witness my loved ones accepting less than they deserve. What I mean is, I want to start living my life today instead of in an idealized future. I don’t want to let Daisy run off and marry Tom because I’m not rich yet. And yet I always think, “I could be better, have more, be thinner, act tougher,” and the list goes on. I might not consider myself a gambler, but when I think of the way I live my life in this context, maybe I actually am. Maybe if I keep wanting more I’ll ending up losing out. Maybe if I don’t slow down to see what’s in front of me now, I will crash and burn without getting to enjoy what I already have. I think instead of saying “it could always be better,” I want to keep saying, “it could always be worse.” I want to be happy today, not tomorrow. I’m incredibly impatient so it seems only right.
We all know the basic laws of nature, of gravity. What goes up will inevitable come back down. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about the stock market or Charlie burping bubbles in The Chocolate Factory with Grandpa what’s his name? If we go against rules–be it the rules of nature, of logic, or the creepy guy played by Johnny Depp–we’ve got to expect retribution.
I would never encourage anyone to stop chasing their dreams–Lord knows, I’ll never give up on mine–but I wish for myself and everyone else that as we move towards whatever ideal we have of what our lives should look like, that every time we experience a little boom–a movement toward that ideal– that we are able recognize it, savor it, and try not to let it go bust before the next one comes along, if it ever does.
Will we ever learn to take three steps forward without taking four steps back? Can we sense defeat before it happens, or must we always fall flat on our faces before we rise again and again out of the ashes?
“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic 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—
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
–F. Scott Fitzgerald from The Great Gatsby