“Have had no thoughts today…”

Excerpts from a letter written by F. Scott Fitzgerald to his daughter:

…I am glad you are happy—but I never believe much in happiness. I never believe in misery either. Those are things you see on the stage or the screen or the printed page, they never really happen to you in real life.

All I believe in in life is the rewards for virtue (according to your talents) and the punishments for not fulfilling your duties, which are doubly costly. If there is such a volume in the camp library, will you ask Mrs. Tyson to let you look up a sonnet of Shakespeare’s in which the line occurs Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.

Have had no thoughts today, life seems composed of getting up a Saturday Evening Post story. I think of you and always pleasantly…

 Fitzgerald ends his letter to his daughter with this list of things not to worry about and things to think about:

Don’t worry about popular opinion
Don’t wory about dolls
Don’t worry about the past
Don’t worry about the future
Don’t worry about growing up
Don’t worry about anybody getting ahead of you
Don’t worry about triumph
Don’t worry about failure unless it comes through your own fault
Don’t worry about mosquitoes
Don’t worry about flies
Don’t worry about insects in general
Don’t worry about parents
Don’t worry about boys
Don’t worry about disappointments
Don’t worry about pleasures
Don’t worry about satisfactions
Things to think about:
What am I really aiming at?
How good am I in comparison to my contemporaries in regard to:
(a) Scholarship
(b) Do I really understand about people and am I able to get along with them?
(c) Am I trying to make my body a useful instrument or am I neglecting it?

[From William J. Bennett’s The Book of Virtues for Young People, pp. 86-87]

I read this to the girls today during lunch, having come across Bennett’s book purely by chance at the library last week. It was one of those books I’d heard mentioned frequently in homeschooling circles, but never felt compelled to rush out and purchase. So, when I saw it on the shelves, I grabbed it and brought it home to peruse, and now we read a little from it every lunch hour. And now that I’ve read this letter, I do believe I’ll buy a copy for the house.

I can’t help but remember how my own father never gave me any advice, except with regards to what I should be reading. I’d send him a letter, and he’d write back: “Go out immediately and get yourself a copy of Madame Bovary.” Or he’d send a letter with a postage stamp with Hemmingway on it. “Look at the man on the stamp,” he’d write back. “Read him.” My father lived a life of missed opportunities, estrangement from family, homelessness and addiction. He was the Hemmingway Defense defined, you could say, and a failure as a parent in every possible way.

Except one, I suppose.


7 Responses to ““Have had no thoughts today…””

  1. 1 Katherine July 28, 2010 at 7:49 am

    Thank you for this one. :o)

  2. 2 Katherine July 28, 2010 at 7:51 am

    Urgh on that weird little smiley. I hope that’s a smile up there, a smile was intended. Anyhow, I sent this post to my Joe.

  3. 3 RegularMom July 28, 2010 at 11:48 am

    It looks happy to me. 🙂


  4. 4 Mom #1 July 28, 2010 at 12:38 pm

    Don’t you hate when dads are bums? I do.

    I’m actually right in the middle of a study on F. Scott Fitzgerald in class right now. Love his writings.

  5. 5 Maria July 28, 2010 at 1:28 pm

    I like the How good am I? in comparison points b) and c) of Mr. Fitzgeralds letter, however, I don’t like asking “How good am I in comparison” This sets me up to compare myself to others and WORRY about if I am measuring up. The exact thing F.Scott doesn’t want me to do…I think he should come back and rephrase that, don’t you?? How about “Am I achieving all *I* can be…adding to society in a useful way in terms of scholarship, how I treat others and myself.”

    Well, that’s me…changing the literary greats. 🙂

  6. 6 Melanie July 28, 2010 at 4:22 pm

    So glad you’re back. I’ve missed you!

  7. 7 RegularMom July 28, 2010 at 8:19 pm

    Thanks, Melanie. 🙂

    Maria, I agree with you on that one. It’s hard to know what was just a cultural norm of his day and what was just his parenting style. Or both? Or neither?

    What I like to imagine, though, is Fitzgerald writing a letter to his daughter without forethought about the possibility that it would eventually be read by so many. And I wonder about other letters he wrote her that didn’t make it into the book, and how maybe the ordinary circumstances of that particular day put him in the mood to write that. Maybe if he had had some thoughts that day, the list would have been different? Or if he’d had some thoughts that day, would he have found the time to write that letter? That’s the cool thing about reading people’s letters.

    There’s me, getting all weird and philosophical, though. 🙂

    Either way, the list made me smile.

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