In Steel Magnolia’s the main character Shelby, played by Julia Roberts, says, “I’d rather have ten minutes of wonderful than a lifetime of nothing special.” 

Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of famous writer F. Scott Fitzgerald, embraced this attitude.  She typifies the hedonism,  headiness of the Roaring 1920’s, self-exile, and spiritual alienation of the Jazz Age.  She is considered the High Priestess of the Jazz Age, but her life proves the tendency of those artists to self-destruct.

Surrounded by famous writers, artists, and painters like Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway,  as well as Pablo Picasso, famous expatriates in exile in decadent, vibrant Paris, plus jazz musicians like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Ma Rainey, Zelda Fitzgerald lived her life on her own terms until alcoholism and mentally illness beat her down.  Gertrude Stein coined the phrase the “lost generation,” but she probably didn’t realize how prescient she would turn out to be.  Hemingway committed suicide and Zelda Fitzgerald ended up dying in a fire at the Highland Mental Hospital in North Carolina when she was only 48.  She didn’t know how little time she would have to make her mark on the world, and she has since quietly slipped away into relative obscurity.  She never achieved the success she courted, and was eclipsed by her more famous husband.

At one point she pronounced, “I don’t want to live.  I want to love first, and live incidentally.”

Most of her life, she was a type of shadow artist, following in the wake of writers and artists who actively pursued their craft.  She may not have been content, but she settled for less, only writing her novel, Save Me the Waltz, while she was hospitalized.  It is considered to be a confusing novel, not a particularly great work of art.  She also obsessively tried to find her way as a ballet dancer, but again was thought not to be good enough.  She was in a race against time.  There is a lesson there for artists of all types.  Don’t wait to create!  You might not have tomorrow. 

Zelda even said, “By the time a person has achieved years adequate for choosing a direction, the die is cast and the moment has long since passed which determined the future.”  Her novel chronicled her marriage to F. Scott, and he resented the barely fictionalized account of their marriage, even though he wrote Tender Is the Night, his version of their tumultous marriage of seething resentment and bitter acrimony, barely two years later, in 1934. 

In the sanatorium she was diagnosed with schizophrenia.  Nowdays she would be treated and released to live her life as best she could.  Doctors still rely on Electro Convulsive Therapy (ECT) in recalcitrant cases, but it is a last resort because of the numbing effect on memory.  She wanted to live a bohemian lifestyle but in the end was stymied.

She was a beautiful, ill-fated debutante flapper, born too soon.

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