Big Two-Hearted River

***Quentin Forberg is a Tree District Books author. He is writing a collection of works, comprised of poetry and short stories. The collection is a transformative journey that will challenge your outlook and leave you pondering and reflecting. Be sure to look for his first collection later this year!***

We aren’t as disillusioned as the Lost Generation. We haven’t been to the places they’ve been and haven’t seen the things they’ve seen. We are still disillusioned though. The millennial generation is the first to truly exist with overwhelming technology. We have grown accustomed to being attached to the screen at all times and can’t seem to disconnect. Such technological dependencies are only symptoms of a greater problem. So how do we return to natural order?

Ernest Hemingway uses his fiction alter-ego, Nick Adams, to describe a “religious” search for reconciliation. The story is almost devoid of plot and resembles a meditation of his surroundings. He walks away from a burnt civilization to immerse himself in what he finds to be true. Now, defining truth is the difficult part. Is it the subtle interactions between man and nature? He goes into detail about how he uses the pond to catch a fish, and its ritualistic essence.

In a sense, this is very true. Ernest Hemingway is not presenting abstract ideas through inner dialogue and the delusion that comes with interacting with the self, but by portraying nature as the objective reality we can all experience, and simplify our worlds with. He attests that by becoming one with nature, living apart from an artificial social order, some sort of internal understanding can be achieved.

Nick Adams has just returned from a war, he has seen and felt the absolute worst from humanity. How could he ever trust something created by man? War, in and of itself, is also created by man. That is why the story is written in two parts.

In the first part, he leaves the town behind, but he continues to rely on tools. It is not until the second part that he wades completely in the water and fishes. Although he is unable to continue wading deeper, he understands this. He is finally able to self-reflect and try to understand the horror he has witnessed. He hopes that all of civilization can come to a similar understanding. He is not laying down a universal process, but rather suggests that balance between man and nature is a rejuvenator.

I am disillusioned. I haven’t seen war, but I feel stuck. In a world that seems to stand still but overflow at the same time, escape is the greatest temptation. I understand the distrust of an artificial system. I am only 21, but I’ve been fed the same line since I started in school. Every child has. We are presented with the absolute path of high-school, college, job, marriage, kids. It’s a cliché, but what’s the catch? The reinforcement of a system I don’t find very attractive?

The absolute path makes me want to be Nick Adams, to pull a Christopher McCandless and return to nature. I cannot imagine how many twenty-somethings find these stories alluring. We all desire to find our individuality. As mentioned, it seems that nowadays such an escape is impossible.

Unlike Nick, we are not repelled by civilization, but rather sucked in. An imbalance between humanity’s understanding of nature will fundamentally disillusion its actors. For example, our relationship with social media is a perfect indicator of how far the millennial generation has gone. People have become addicted to its self-aggrandizing core and have found individuality through superficial means.

They are not individuals, they are merely participating in a system that makes them feel like individuals. It’s as if social media is preying on our thirst to find individual truth. Because of our over-indulgence, we are unable to even wade into the pool and understand what we are becoming, and what we have the power to do. It was too late for the Lost Generation, but not for us. It seems as if I, like many others, are stuck in the first part of the story. We have not found rebirth yet.

Nick Adams retreated to upper Michigan to eventually perform the simple ritual of catching a fish. He leaves behind death and destruction, to find balance between himself and his external reality. I am not equating The Great War to our modern-day society, I am saying quite the opposite. We no longer understand what it is to live with the other side of the spectrum, human destruction, so we bask in its paradox.

I have not escaped from this disillusion, but I will. I imagine I will do something like Ernest Hemingway did. Simplify the objective reality in order to simplify the mental clutter. In the end, it will all balance.

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