Tuesday, March 27, 2012

I Blame the American Dream

Ok, ok, ok...  I must disclaim:  This is a serious downer post, and it's not at all balanced.  It's my blog, I can cry if I want to.  I'm totally a complaining whiner today.  My friend demanded a blog post, and said that I make whining funny and interesting.  I think she's probably alone in this thinking, but here I go anyway.

I kinda want to go to graduate school...  but I'm finally admitting to myself that I'm afraid to admit what I really want to do, so I'm aiming for graduate school cause it seems like a smart, safe thing to do.  The thing I really want to do doesn't really seem like an option, at this point.  And I have to do something, right?  I can't rely on others to make my happiness, I have to go out there and make it for myself.  Except... I've been trying to do that.  And, ok, ok, maybe it's the whiner day, but my dreams are coming and going and I feel like a little bit of a failure.  On to the (unfair) tirade!!

You can do whatever you put your mind to.

Oh, really?  CAN you?

I used to believe that, but I don't anymore.  Life experience has given me doubts.

Today I had a moment of being mad at the American Dream, the American idea that you can do and have and be anything:  It's the land of opportunity!!  Now, I feel like I've been marketed my perspective for my entire life, and it took me over 30 years to finally realize that it's just not true.  I want my money back.  I strongly, faithfully believed that I could do anything.

I wanted to be a movie star.  Go ahead, laugh.  Raise your eye brows at me.  There are plenty of movie stars and I wanted to be one of them.  As far as I tried, it didn't work out for me, and the version of an actor's life I was dealt wasn't something I wanted, so I folded.  Folds come of different stuff, and my fold was a thought out, conscious decision made based on the cards I was dealt.  Thanks to the American Dream living in every cell of me, I DO NOT GIVE UP.  But I can still change my mind.

Getting married was not a dream of mine.  I never thought about it.  I never planned my wedding in my day dreams.  But once I said "yes" I made that dream, and I wanted to be married forever.  That dream is on the next sonic out of town.  It hasn't left the station yet, but it's sitting there, feet up, waiting to pull out.

I put my mind to that, and yet there it goes.

The idea that you can do anything you set your mind to just isn't true.  That idea is so propagated in America, but it's just not true that every person can do anything they want. People can do amazing things, and amazing things happen to many people, and people can achieve great success that maybe isn't the success they were originally aiming for, but it's just not true what American children grow up hearing:  That we can be anything we want if we just keep trying.

I am a really good tap dancer.  I've been personally complimented by Gregory Hines, Savion Glover, Omar Edwards (Savion's understudy in Bring in da Noise...), and been Henry Le Tang's personal tap class assistant (he taught Gregory Hines pretty much every thing he knew).  I performed tap solos at national competitions for nine years growing up.  I always won first place awards and one time got an extra honorable mention for an overall competition prize.  I tried and tried, but I never won one of those overall competition or country prizes.  And after all that, I don't remember all the first place trophies; I remember the one that got away.  For that, I blame the American Dream that told me it wasn't enough because I didn't reach that idea of my potential.

I think it's supposed to be encouraging, mostly.  Politicians use the idea to create good feelings around themselves even though they know it's bullshit.  But I think using the American Dream as a basis for reference, something we must do as Americans since it has been hammered into us for all our waking lives, is damaging.  The idea that one can be and have and do anything creates this dangerous sense of entitlement that Americans have.  Then, with entitlement in tow, people get to the point where they are like, I am not this, and I don't have that, and it results in a disappointed, dejected population of people.  These people, who were taught their whole lives that they could have everything they dreamed of, start blaming themselves for not being good enough to achieve the status quo (because the American Dream has become a status quo of sorts) they were taught to believe in.

Maybe this is where all the hate springs from in America:  People look around and see all of the things they were told they could have, and they get pissed because they don't have access to it.

Maybe this is where all the abuse of power springs from in America:  People get a little power and they get drunk on the little taste of success that they were taught to so highly anticipate.

Maybe this is where all the crime springs from in America:  People look around at all those things they can't actually have or be, and they decide to hurt those who they perceive as having the success they lack, and taking things from those that have what they were supposed to have; what they were promised they could have if they just tried hard enough.

The dialogue people carry on with themselves is powerful and important, and there's a whole country of people thinking, "What's wrong with me?  Why isn't what I'm doing good enough?"  People who talk to themselves that way feel small.  They feel like victims.  And who made them that way?  Maybe they did it to themselves.  Maybe their parents did it to them.  Or maybe they are victims of the American Dream propaganda.

I have witnessed a whole different perspective in Japan.  I never would have understood or even believed that people could approach life so differently, but the Japanese do.  People do their jobs with pride and dignity, no matter where they work.  Every damn time I buy a drink at the convenience store, I am bowed out of the store with a smile and a thank you.  I have paid ¥5, about 5 cents, for an extra packet of ketchup at a fast food restaurant, and been delivered the packet on a tray.  I have asked students what their dream for their life is.  Students want to be many things, including gas station attendants and nail technicians, and they are happy and satisfied with that.  When I first came to Japan, I was horrified that a 16 year old boy could be telling me that he aspires to nothing more than to pump gas and change oil for his profession.

Today, I see a real beauty in that.  Because you know what, somebody has to pump gas, and why shouldn't that person be as happy and satisfied with his life than the next person?  Why shouldn't that boy grow into a man who fills tanks and wipes windows and feel satisfaction and pride in that?  In America, you cannot say with pride, "My son works at the gas station."  In Japan, people give respect to a service rendered.  Any service.  People in Japan aren't taught to want so, so much as Americans.  People aren't taught to need so much to find happiness.  The truth is that there is no reason that student, who may very well become a service attendant, shouldn't be happy and proud of any job well done.  There's no reason any of us shouldn't be proud of a productive day, but the American Dream doesn't seem to make room for that.  Only reaching your fullest potential will do.

But, God is that stressful!!  'Cause potential goes on and on... who's to say what one can achieve?  And life is riddled with chance occurrences... one seems to have to rely on serendipity to get anywhere... and in America, where the average credit card holder owes more than 16 LARGE and over a million people file bankruptcy every year, it's just never enough.  Of course, to be fair, I'm from Tampa, which apparently is the 2nd most "overspending" city in America after Miami and LA.  (I swear, all the Hasidic Jews in New York must be throwing things off.)  Anyway...

I'm saying the American Dream demands and promises too much.  In middle-age people are asked, "What did you want to do when you were a child?"  I did just what I was supposed to do:  I never gave up on my little girl dreams.  I thought I was honoring myself.  I thought I was being brave and believing in myself.  I lived in New York.  I lived in LA.  I kept training and trying... and I learned a very important lesson:  It is a wonderful thing to have achievable goals.  I wish I had wanted to be a teacher.  I think that young man who wants to pump gas may spend more of his time experiencing a satisfaction in life that I have not enjoyed because my goals were not achievable and nothing I try ever seems to be enough...

And let's not get into how the way America is structured makes it difficult for most people to get ahead today.  People are imprisoned by debt, mortgages, and health care costs, and the cost of education is prohibitive.  But, for real, let's not get into it.

So!  What have we learned from all this?  Probably the biggest lesson is that Tiffany needs therapy.

From Japan,
Tiffany 

9 comments:

Megan said...

Don't have the answers at all, but reminds me of an article I just read:
http://blogs.babycenter.com/mom_stories/0326201failure-is-good-for-kids/

Maybe one thing you are learning from this is to be content in the big and little things, and figuring out how to somehow teach this to Knox. It's neat you're getting the Japanese perspective because the rest of us are in the US not even realizing this!!

Nichole said...

Can I just say I noticed the same thing when I got here and Thailand made it even more clear for me. People who are most content in their lives are the ones who live 'real', achievable lives. The problem is finding the balance and not wishing later that you had tried harder... I think you are discovering that you did give it your best shot!

I wish I had even one first place trophy but I never found something I was even good at until recently. Perhaps it does have a lot to do with serendipity, but mom always told me - someone has to be last, and just having the guts to compete goes a long way.

michaelnatter said...

Tiff,

We can discuss this in more detail, of course, directly over iChat or whatever.

Full disclosure…I have had a drink or two. So forgive typos, slight rambling, repetition and whatnot.

Point 1: We are all going to die and leave very little footprint. I just got done with my workshops at Florida State Thespian Festival and was SHOCKED to realize that most high school seniors do not have any clue who Kevin Smith is (let alone what CLERKS, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, etc are). Not that Kevin Smith is a great legend of all time…but it did really drive home that fame is fleeting. And…fuck fame. Relevance is fleeting.

He is one of the truest examples of "you can do whatever you put your mind to" that our generation has. And he DID! And he is still not relevant or a star. Sure he is probably living comfortably (from his book I reckon he handled his money somewhat wisely). But was that his, or the American Dream, goal?

Point 2: Let's take the America out of the American Dream. Every society places expectations on their young. Sure America's "capitalist utopia" really just “face rapes” every other cultures' "expectations" but that doesn't mean the expectations don't exist. I refer you to Music Theatre International's (tm) "Fiddler On The Roof" (tm) for reference. I am no Darwin (or Santorum or Bachman for that matter) but one of the things that seems to have helped us escalator jump the evolutionary ladder is that we do not tend to "just settle for" what our parents did…regardless of culture.

We want to be better and do better than who made us. American arrogance? Perhaps (eh fuck it…HELL YEAH!). But specifically American arrogance? Not a chance. I challenge someone to find a culture that did not encourage their children to be "more" than their parents. You know why you can't find that culture? Because they don't exist. Otherwise we would not have evolved to the point of Toddlers In Tiaras (I am not saying that evolution is good…just inevitable. As Real World begat Jersey Shore…)

Point 3: And "Point 2" is not a bad thing. My oldest brother and I decided that we solved the great mystery of what is mankind's meaning in life. "Pursuit of happiness". Done. Settled. Next.

Mind you…NOT "happiness". But the PURSUIT of said happiness. "Happiness" is unobtainable. It is not a destination. And THAT is where the real con of the "American Dream" is revealed. Where our culture diverges, albeit slightly, from most others.

There should be no "promise" of the American Dream. Promises are for [baby kittens].

Hard work and dedication do not guarantee you anything about getting closer to the "American Dream".

What do they do…

(to be continued...)

michaelnatter said...

Point 4: Defining your own definition of happiness. So based on my (most assuredly flawed) aforementioned logic the only way to truly define yourself is to remove all other metrics. So some fucking nerd finds a bunch of self-worth and value in having written code to process a text file note in Objective-C alongside compressing a video file captured live in an audition room (btw I am really proud of myself…btw x 2 I am that previously referred to “fucking nerd”). How is anyone expected to compare themselves to someone (as awesome as someone) like that?

And here is where I think America comes in to play even more.

Why should you compare yourself?

Knox will be who he is.

You are who you are.

The question is not who are you COMPARED to someone?

Who is Knox compared to someone?

So some dude pumps gas. Is he happy?

Yes he is (according to him). Good for him.

Will that make Knox happy for his life? (n/a at this point)

All we can control is ourselves (to some degree). You cannot even control Knox's decisions (which I am SURE is stating the obvious at this point).

My oldest brother told me when I was in middle school that I should NEVER compare myself to my classmates. All that would guarantee is that I would (hopefully) end up better than them. Why should my metric be based on them???

I suppose I could step back another fourth-of-a-foot and wonder why I NEEDED to be better than them…but I think Darwin/Santorum/[Bachman's husband]covers that. But I digress…

So marriage wasn't in your definition of happiness (me neither). And, not unlike a WHOLE LOT of your peers and friends, you convinced yourself to redefine your happiness to fit and adjust to your situation. In the 70's being a compromiser was viewed as being bad or weak. They also didn't bath or shave. Why are we taking their opinions into account here?

Point 5: You are an awesome tap dancer. End of point.

Point 6: Name me one female tap dancer earning a living tap dancing. Fine fine fine. Name me one female tap dancer still alive. (obviously there are exceptions…write in…I will explain them away to prove Point 6).

(to be continued)

michaelnatter said...

Point 7: American Dream = people needing to buy shit. Literally shit. We are consumers. The Matrix (tm) was not wrong in that we are a virus. Trying to narrow down political corruption, crime, hoodie wearing, whatever, into an assault on the American Dream is close but missing the problem. Dreams are good. Not understanding said dreams can lead to a lot of confusing situations. Like where I am trying to blow a horse in front of a National Speech and Debate Tournament with the audience wearing some one else's underwear.

Sure I win first prize.

But at what cost???

But seriously, read up on Fnord.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fnord

Or as Thomas Jefferson hoped for…

". . . whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that, whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them right." (as cited in Padover, 1939, p. 88)

So why is it that Visual Literacy and Media Literacy are not taught in ANY K-12 schools?

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." (as cited in Padover, 1939, p. 89)

This is where one of the more core problems lie.

If we, or our kids, are not shown and explained that what "is" is not how it "could be" how will they ever learn different than us?

Call me a hippie.

But people were willing to kamikaze into random ships to bring pride to their family names. Are they celebrated? Or just missed by family and loved ones who would have preferred they take that day off so that someday they could reply to a blog post from their great grandkids.

This does not seem to be America vs NOT-America. This seems to be a fight against nature that finally we have been biology equipped to go 12 rounds against.

No longer are we mindlessly bound for natural selection to take its course.

We are god(s).

Now we control larger strings.

(This post took an odd turn didn't it???)

Someone has to pump gas. True.

Potential knows (some) no bounds.

Even people who exceed way beyond their expected potential die (see Point 1).

Point 8: What does it all mean anyway?

How the fuck do I know? I am too depressed from reading this blog post to be concerned with myself.

All I know at this point is that others will think their life is WAY better than this “sad sack” exposing herself to the internet##.

Which leads us to…

Point 9: Whew.

Random friend: I will post some encouraging comments to your blog or facebook because CLEARLY I have figured out how to reconcile my privately compromised existence with my public presentation of total "facebook" happiness.

NO!

*****this is a unique window to privately connect with Tiff about what you are actually thinking / feeling about your life / life decisions. do not reply public about this section PLEASE. let me be the asshole here. I am calling out everyone who may be second guessing every life-altering decision that they have made thus far. maybe you are genuinely happy (doubtful). maybe you are reservedly happy (way more likely). but do not belittle what seems to be one of the most unique, genuine, honest & open blog posts that I have ever seen with bullshit pandering to an expected ideal. she has broken the trend and made herself rather vulnerable…can you?*****

##years go by…but Michelle Lynch is still my rock

Michelle said...

It is the journey. It has to be the journey because that is all you are going to be left with in the end...at least if we all have the fortune of old age that is. The memories are what you will have left so the success is in the richness of the life you have left along the way. I contend that you HAVE achieved what MANY have not or cannot. Your failures are honestly not failures to anyone but yourself because you define your success...I think you have been VERY successful but my opinion is not meaningful unless you make it meaningful. And not everyone's opinions are worth equal amounts. Not everyone gets into JET, not everyone lives in LA, learns to tap dance, goes to college, has an awesome kid... You want to know how I live positively with my multiple sclerosis each day - by reminding myself of what I have done and what others can't do. I have a mental trophy room...my therapist likes this idea. Honestly, truthfully that is exactly what I do. I remember my mother and think of how much further I have come then she could have ever dreamed (or maybe she did, mothers are awesome like that). I remember the first place trophies too but those aren't as rich as the success of completing a project that I defined as a challenge which produced an awesome result. No one cares about that success but me and I'm ok with that because I know the challenge it took to get there. I don't dwell on the failures because they do me no good beyond learning how to avoid them in the future. Instead, I redefine success because you cannot live the adventure by looking back at the shoreline.


I also fully agree with your idea that the American dream is just another marketing ploy which is constantly being tested by reality. There is a sense of entitlement and vanity in America which I just cannot buy into any more. I believe in the common good over individual vanity/desire/gratification ...so I guess that makes me a socialist. Whatever label it is, I am sure I will be living in Europe soon. Let's all move and study together! We can still dream even if it is not the American dream right?...


I like these three quotes for this moment:
American as apple pie- “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” J.Q. Adams

British as figgy pudding - "Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” W.Churchill

Failure - "Don’t be discouraged by a failure. It can be a positive experience. Failure is, in a sense, the highway to success, inasmuch as every discovery of what is false leads us to seek earnestly after what is true, and every fresh experience points out some form of error which we shall afterwards carefully avoid." J.Keats

michaelnatter said...

I like these THREE quotes for this moment:

Success - "STEVE HOLT!" S. Holt

(fuck it…you need more?)

ohthatdave said...

I don't really have dreams. I just have a loose mental list of shit I would like to do.

I've never really understood dreams. People always used to ask me "what's your passion?" I never had a good answer for it. Ever. I don't have a passion. I just do stuff that interests me until it doesn't anymore (or it requires more work to get better at it than I am willing to invest.) There's plenty of stuff in this world to learn and do and I'm not going to be limited by a "dream."

I guess you could argue that as I've gotten older I've found things a little more long-term (hi wife!) (hi career!) but I don't know if that's me growing up or just stumbling across something that worked and having the wherewithal to shut up and be grateful for it.

:)

PS You're talented. REALLY talented. Take solace in the fact that not being world famous and rich doesn't change that.

PPS they call it "Following your dreams" not "Succeeding beyond expectation at your dreams" for a reason. It's about the journey...

or some shit...

I never really liked it anyways.

sputnick said...

good post Tiff et al... spot on. home is where you make it and it's the journey not the destination blah blah. the older I get, the truer it becomes. it's just a big step to let yourself be ok with it.