Arts & Entertainment Editor
The modern world finds countless ways to devalue the dreamer. We tell pre-teens who admire the starry-eyed protagonists of coming-of-age films that they are simply pretentious, and attack those with unique quirks or interests with condescending labels like “snowflake.” It seems embedded into the modern West’s social code that those who dwell on their emotions, take pride in themselves, or get overly sentimental ought to be pulled back down to “reality.”
But this baseless cultural cynicism deprives us of experiencing the simple joys of existence for the limited time we are here. No culture, social contract, or individual has the authority to dictate the extent to which you are allowed to enjoy your life.
It is difficult to discern at what point cynicism bred this false belief that to be in love with life is a sign of self-absorption, immaturity, or an inflated sense of self-importance. The term romanticism — its capital “r” distinguishing its denotation from the traditional love-oriented associations of romance — seriously entered the common vernacular of human beings as a result of the romantic literary movement in the early 19th century.
This movement was characterized by its emphasis on the natural world as well as spirituality. Romantics sought to unite the intellectual and the emotional; it was a response to the often overly-intellectual paradigms of the Scientific Revolution.
The disappearance of a cultural movement as impactful and popular as romanticism presents a troubling reality about human life. While I am no historian, I imagine the idyllic values of individualism and unadulterated love espoused by romantics eventually surrendered to the rigid and scheduled world created by the Industrial Revolution. Along with developing novel technology which would forever alter human life and communication, the Industrial Revolution also established the regimented aspects of which modern humans are familiar with, namely the five-day work week and eight-hour school days.
Focus on quick, cheap, and effective labor coupled with the necessity for work and the long days likely discouraged any dreaming and heavy emotions. While it is easy to antagonize this cultural shift as dampening the joyful human spirit, it is important to note the relevance of such a transition in creating the efficient lives modern humans get to experience. Of course, there are setbacks and tensions within our current society, but it is certainly easier to navigate than it was in the past.
Though the necessary evils of the Industrial Revolution left permanent impacts on our world today, it is time to recognize the danger of that success-oriented mindset. It is perhaps time to return to a more innocent, honest appreciation for life. I believe the following lines from romantic poet William Wordsworth’s poem, “Lines Written in Early Spring,” perfectly epitomize the spirit of romanticizing one’s own life:
“And ‘tis my faith that every flower / Enjoys the air it breathes.” How simple yet wonderful it would be to find pleasure in the experience of being alive.
I am no stranger to hyper-romanticizing my own life. And while there are dangers of disillusionment in this practice, I have found that allowing myself such small joys has tangibly, improved the quality of my life. However, I dislike the term “romanticization,” in referring to the practice of sensationalizing smaller or “trivial” moments of life, as it seems to only be used to belittle those who choose to do so. The word has morphed into an insult under the lie that those who are unwittingly enveloped in the pleasures of life are somehow incapable of realism or hard work.
Perhaps in choosing to unapologetically embrace life, we may redefine and bring respect back to that word. So, one way I romanticize my life is by reading poetry amongst nature. The experience offers the perfect amount of external stimuli to internal mental activity and is a direct way of connecting back to historical romanticism. I think that statement may open me up for criticisms of pretension, an insult that feels fairly empty. In fact, calling someone “pretentious” feels more like a projection of some internal discontent than a true statement about another person.
Is it not strange that we feel ashamed to love the things they love without limitation? To those who fear the “pretentious” label as a result of feeling their emotions to their entire extent or deeply immersing themselves in their interests, I tell you this: memento mori. Remember that life is fleeting. Simply because others are too afraid to allow themselves to take pride in existence should not interfere with your own pleasure.
If you are interested in a more embodied experience of personal romanticization, I would suggest dancing alone in your bedroom or an otherwise semi-private space. If nothing else, doing this reminds me that I have a body and that I am a physical thing alive on Earth. How wonderful is that! What excites me the most about these exercises is their ability to disassociate one from the complications of human life.
Despite the chaos and issues of the world, for a moment you are allowed to remove yourself and just be. Somehow, having even just a few moments like this throughout the day makes dealing with all the overwhelming facets of being a human feel slightly more manageable, even interesting perhaps.
Our consciousness and existence are the great mysteries of the universe. Why we have such capacities for emotions and abstract thought will likely remain unknowable throughout the species’ duration on planet Earth. So jump outside in the pouring rain with your friends, wander around your town with a wide gaze focused on the clouds above you, read poetry under that great tree in the park, and call yourself the “main character” if that is how you embrace life.
You will be grateful you immersed yourself in those moments as they happened. I leave you with the words of Charles Bukowski, not a romantic, but another human whose poetry encapsulates the spirit of romanticizing one’s own life: “Your life is your life. Know it while you have it. You are marvelous.”