Wednesday, March 31, 2010

this american life

A bit over a year ago, a friend started a second job. I can't remember exactly what the job is, but I know that it involved something like selling insurance. In his training, he had to learn to sell his product to others. Part of the sales pitch was a video displaying what was possible with this company. Out of respect for my friend, I didn't laugh at the images, but I really wanted to. The video promised huge houses (really, really huge), expensive sports cars, and various "toys" such as motorcycles and boats. The whole time the voiceover on the video was telling me, "This is what you want," all I could think was, "This is so NOT what I want."

At the same time I was thinking this, I was also thinking about my own upbringing, which (to me) is an interesting study in certain contrasts. At the same time that we were a family of savers and people who made do with what we had, we were also a family of dreamers. We thrift-shopped, we ate most meals at home, we bargain-shopped for groceries. But, I remember my parents wanting more. They were (and are, I believe), big on dreaming big. They once had a business that depended heavily on people having such dreams as those I describe above in that video. I remember going to look at model homes, dreaming of the day we'd move out of our 1960s' house (which, I kind of loved). We'd look at RVs and they eventually bought a (used) one (for which we had a family meeting to choose the vanity plate). They dreamed of having more time with the family (which I always found ironic because the business took so much time away from the family...). I was, as I often still am, very often off in my own world. When we'd look at the model homes, I'd dream right along with them about a new house, but then we'd go back home where I'd hole up in my room. I wasn't so much into the whole RV thing, although I did very much enjoy our trips in the Executive.

In the last year or so, I've been reading and listening to a lot of stories about how our collective American dream might be shifting. However, I don't agree with the tone of these articles. I think our expectations and realizations might be changing, but I think our collective Dream isn't much different than what it was. I don't see that we idolize celebrities and other mega-rich any less. There are plenty of news stories along the lines of "Halle stuns in red dress" and "The most expensive homes in America." Those stories are right there alongside the ones suggesting we get fewer mani-pedis and that we make our coffee (or tea or hot chocolate) at home use a travel mug. At the same time that the limit on one of my credit cards (Oh Evil Plastic!) has been lowered, I'm still getting credit card offers in the mail.

So, back to the Dream: I do dream big dreams. We have a few sets of big plans (different plans based on the different directions our life might go). If we don't want a super-sized house and a pleasure yacht, what do we want?

We do want a house*. We want an older house, with big trees, in a neighborhood that feels lived in. We want plenty of yard space that we can, bit by bit, convert to garden space. We want fruit trees. We want solar or wind power. We want a clothesline outside. We want a lot more in the way of tangible goods, but I get superstitious about sharing and I've already shared a lot in those few sentences. More than all of this stuff, though, we want time with each other. Although I've been telling Cardo for years that I want to own a house some day, the other day I told him that as long as we had our family time together, time I so tightly cling to, I would rent forever. That's a big step for me.

We'll see what the future holds...


*I've read and read about how much more eco-friendly it is to live in an urban setting, renting an apartment, but I want a house. I just do.


Tara W. said...

I think the eco-friendly factor in urban living is inaccurate. Yes, you may be living in a smaller space and need less of a commute. But your food is still being grown in a larger space and is being commuted to you.

I don't think suburban dwelling is sustainable if you don't have public transit or the ability to grow/raise some of your own food. But I do think it can be as sustainable as they say urban living is. Just depends on how you do it, I suppose.