Don’t Get Stuck in the Meantime

Sunday afternoons, I study. So the other day as I sat staring dully at my dimly lit computer screen, struggling to remember what was so important about the Rule of Thirds in photojournalism, I was basically looking for any excuse to take a break from reading and rereading my carefully taken notes. My first distraction came in the form of the lyrics of the background music I had streaming from my rather extensive iTunes library.

“Don’t get stuck in the meantime. There’s no such thing as the meantime.” After hearing this bit of wisdom from Louisiana-based indie rock band Givers, I could only think of it as a challenge – a challenge not only to me, but rather, to everyone.

American culture dictates that we all constantly look to the future – for progress, for new opportunity, or more simply put – bigger and better things to come. We reject history and run from our pasts in the hopes of embracing our own uniquely crafted, highly idealistic future shrouded in romanticism. As citizens of a relatively young nation, Americans constantly have their eyes fixed somewhere in the distant future, just beyond the horizon of today. And this is where the idea of the “meantime” comes in.

Often we are so concerned with what is to come, that we forget about the present. We have effectively all become stuck in the “meantime” – the awkward limbo between what is past and what is to come. It’s that uncomfortable window of time when you’ve arrived at a party just a little too early and you’re stuck waiting for more people to show up, for someone to cut through the blaring silence, and for things to finally begin. And this is precisely how we live our lives – eternally perched on the edge of our seats, waiting for it to start.

From the time we first learn to speak, we are prompted with the question of what we want to be when we grow up eliciting adorably innocent answers such as rock star, president, and superhero. And by the age of 10, we were all filling out worksheets asking us questions about where we saw ourselves in 5, 10, and 20 years. When you think about it, this seems like some pretty heavy stuff for five and ten year olds to be worrying about. These two examples provide an unexpectedly poignant insight into the foundation of American society that has got us all looking ahead.

But in the quintessentially American fashion of paradox, we are also constantly being bombarded with catchy phrases and clichés reminding us to live for the now. The highly overused “carpe diem” championed in the cult-classic Dead Poet’s Society may have evolved into YOLO, but these are all just different names for the same thing. It’s as if we are being stretched in two ways by two equal opposing forces. While one side reminds us that we must prepare for our futures and think about the potential consequences for our actions, the other counters telling us that our time is limited and it only when we stop thinking and start doing that we truly experience life.

Ultimately, like many things in life, the only way to approach the central paradox of how to live is to obtain a healthy balance. Human nature calls for us to seek improvement, so while we’re grasping for the wondrously illusive green light symbolizing the eternal American Dream mentioned in Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby, we should also take care to make sure that we are not unknowingly getting ourselves stuck in the meantime.