I worked 10 16-hour days in a row, then I went to bed and dreamt of springtime. Actually, first I dreamt I screwed up every single Valentine’s Day truffle box, but after that dream, in the early morning, I dreamt of daffodils and grape hyacinths exploding out of the ground, lilacs and garlic chives and asparagus and ramps. I could only sleep for four hours before I had to let a repairman in the house, then someone came over with a lot of papers we had to sign, then a dentist appointment, and now here I am, safely on the other side of 10 16-hour work days wondering how everything got to be this way.
I was supposed to have escaped the American Dream, I was supposed to be free. No kids, no marriage – I wasn’t going to play the exhaustion game. I was going to read books and take catnaps in the sun and devote whole weeks of my life to worthy political campaigns, maybe even my own political campaign.
But I’m 30 minus 14 days, and I have mortgage payments and student loans and weirdly and suddenly I’m buying more land, land that will hopefully someday magically spawn the most American Dreamy thing of all – the dream house. In my case, the eco-friendly, super chic, hidden-in-the-woods dream house – complete with commercial kitchen for her and recording studio for him. In 10 years or so, and much scrimping and saving.
One day the American Dream grabbed my sweetheart and me by the necks and wrestled us to the ground, babbling about how land is never a bad investment and don’t you want more than your current 1-acre little haven? Doesn’t the big road nearby annoy you, and you know this sweet little town is getting bought up and horrid ticky tacky houses are springing up like amanita phalloides mushrooms – don’t you owe it to New Paltz to buy up some of those trees so no one else can chop them down?
The American Dream pushed us in the car and drove us across town, closer to farms and friends and mountains and horses and bike trails. It dropped us off in front of a parcel of land where no one has ever lived. It sped off, leaving us to walk around in the snow, touching the endless varieties and quantities of trees, gingerly stepping across the stereotypically babbling brook. It led us to the teeny tiny neglected 150-year-old cemetery on one corner of the property, and it made the sun shine just so, glinting off those old, old stones.
“Romantic,” I thought, and my heart caught on something. A twig, or a headstone, or the texture of the setting sun on the far away mountain ridge. I felt it quite clearly – my heart, caught. When The American Dream picked us up again, I knew all of me didn’t get into that car.
The American Dream grabbed us by the wrists and spoke to us about home equity, made us do page after page of calculations, brought up endless websites dedicated to sleek, heart-palpitatingly perfect flawlessly eco-friendly pre-fab houses. The American Dream taught us about geothermal, solar, wind turbines, hydro power, off the grid, straw bale – all the possibilities for guilt-free (well, less guilt) new homes.
One day, when we were going somewhere else and thinking about something else, The American Dream blocked our path until we couldn’t ignore it. It looked us in the eyes and said, “You want it. I know you do.”
And so, the anarchist girl who doesn’t technically believe in private ownership of land woke up after 10 16-hour work days and four hours of sleep and signed a bunch of papers.
It won’t always be 10 16-hour work days in a row. We’ve done our calculations, we can make it work. But you know how it is – down payments, closing costs, taxes coming up. The American Dream never mentions those things.
The more I think about it and wonder if I’m trapped, the more I realize that another, equally American Dream had brainwashed me long before the white-picket-fence one did. That old, old American story – You Can Have It All.
While planning my life of novel reading and catnaps, I fully expected to also be making enough money for dinners out and vacations. While knowing I would devote large portions of my life to combating the horror of late-stage capitalist America, I also expected to run my own fabulously successful business, maintain many deep friendships involving handwritten letters and painstakingly hand-crafted birthday cards, regular visits with and attentive phone calls to my mother and grandmother, a healthy and fun relationship with my partner, nourishing meals, insightful and revolutionary blog posts, a detailed handwritten journal, shocking and wonderful and strange outfits, untangled hair, adequate attention to my cats, my yard, my garden, my gutters, my storm windows, my cuticles.
Needless to say, I was screwed from the beginning.
And maybe it’s the 30-minus-14-days thing, but I’m beginning to see that I must prefer a crammed life to the catnaps-in-the-sun one that still lives so vividly in my head. Whenever my to-do list doesn’t have more on it than is technically possible for any one human to accomplish in one day, I feel adrift.
Maybe I should embrace the fact that The American Dream – at least parts of it – is only one small piece of what I want out of this big, unwieldy life of mine. Those pristine acres on that quiet street are not ours yet, and they might not ever be – but if nothing comes of it other than the lesson that even anarchists can dream this silly American Dream, I guess thats OK.
PS: One of the reasons I had the courage to write about this in-progress project is because of a conversation with a friend of mine who might be opening a shop and is in the same spot as me. She pointed me to this great article about this very issue…sort of.