The "ideal" American life: enough to drive ya crazy?
December 15, 2005
It seems like there's still a common view of the basically decent American life. It might even be considered a minimum standard.
Ya got yer job and yer hobby and you go to church on Sunday. You take care of your yard on Saturday. You help with the Boy Scout troop and volunteer for a civic project regularly, monitoring City Hall and local politics also, as a good citizen. Maybe you're even a member of a business club. Maybe you even keep up on your CPR certification, or take some other kind of public-service extension course. You're probably married with a couple kids. Your wife works. You go on vacation a couple times a year. The kids go to summer camp and play an instrument and do a sport. You both drive 20 minutes each way to work. You have a family membership at the YMCA that you try to get the family to use 3X/wk. You occasionally drive to visit friends on weekends or have stay-over company. You watch TV awhile most evenings.
This may not seem like a very exciting way of life but it probably seems pretty normal.
I remember when I first read in a novel by Jack Saunders the declaration that this way of life is just about guaranteed to drive a person bonkers, send em to an early grave, frazzle em with hecticness and bankrupt em, too. I remember being surprised to see that. I'd kinda thought that such a way of life was for those who weren't up for more engaging action. I'm starting to see now that this norm really does seem like a recipe for "chicken with his head cut off" level of lifestyle velocity.
Who knows, maybe some folks are up to it. Maybe it could be part of a sustainable culture. If you can pull it off and stay decent, my hat's off to ya. So far it hasn't proven to be a common achievement: no Americans have tolerably lived this "normal" way for a few generations in a row yet. So far basically only one generation tried it and no one involved reports all that good of results. (But I spose we're such a young country that we haven't lived any particular way for very long yet. We do seem to keep finding that our ways are quite hazardous to our people, though. Sustainable hasn't been our hallmark.)
And of course many many many people today live at about twice the speed that I've described.
First, they work overtime. Second, they have to because they have a cottage up north or some kind of interest in a home-away-from-home. Plus they have fancy colleges to save up for, or something. They have 3 new cars to pay for, too. And the kids are each on TWO sports teams and those teams aren't sandlot: they're paid-for, what do they call em, "travel teams," where the parents are shuttling the urchins hundreds of miles a week to play basically pro sports for big cash outlay. And they drive an hour to each of their jobs. And they're involved in a get-rich or get-extra-saved (in the church-sense) scheme on the side, with special motivational weekend "retreats." And the 5 TV's are on 24-7 in the house and the kids are wearing iPods and flicky-flicking gadgets with their thumbs nonstop. And everyone is on cellphones (another bill) saying "I'm getting out of the car now." It's hyperdrive. And fully medicated. But I won't get into that.
I just wanted to run the idea that the minimum normal American life will give ya neckwhiplash if you try to keep up with it. So don't feel bad if you feel yourself wanting to say "I'd rather not."
Of course if you say that you have to be prepared to not get your figgy pudding.
Related Articles & Good Stuff
Views From a Wider Range of OYB