Monday, March 5, 2007

the Paper

The partner to this project - the final paper - can be found at the following site:

An explanation precedes it (which I suggest you read first, as the actual paper is much, much longer).

According to Me

"Some will win, some will lose, some were born to sing the blues."

In a fit of burnt-out exhaustion on Sunday night, and from an excess of both disillusionment and illusion(ment?) all due to the American dream, which I was not feeling at all kindly disposed to at the time, I stumbled across that lyric from a famous eighties power ballad, and thought it was the most profound thing I had ever heard regarding the dream they call American. I believe my exact words were, "HOW does no one understand the genius that is Journey?!"

In the light of morning (or, in this case, waning afternoon), here's what I actually think:

I think the American dream is becoming increasingly demanding to expect of a nation. Whomever thought of adding the disclaimer of "pursuit" in the preamble to the Constitution was thinking ahead, and it's lucky they were, lest the Supreme Court be even more tied up with additional lawsuits from pissed-off Americans, claiming they haven't gotten the happiness promised to them by the United States government.

I think the American dream started with the need for change, and I think that is the way it will end. Whether that change takes the form of slow decay, of constant progress, of a sudden collapse, or from all of its people taking Jack Kerouac's advice and taking their act on the road - Change is Gonna Come, like Otis Redding said. It always does.

I still think Journey is kind of great.

I think the American dream is just another method of survival, invented during a time when methods of survival were badly needed.

I think if this is true, than there are worse methods. And even though I don't believe it is possible for everyone to achieve the dream as it concerns them, I think that having at least one period of life that is filled not with cynicism and disenchantment but with hope and anticipation for the fruition of dreams, is invaluable.

I think that despite their two-cent catchphrases, no one really knows what the American dream is at all, and though they can tell you in a word ("opportunity," "freedom," "the Pursuit of Happyness" or "rags-to-riches"), they can never seem to expound on it.

I think no one will ever know, because dreams are impossible to ever fully understand. Freud failed at it, and so will I. On that note, you may want to know what my American dream is. Well kiddos, when I figure it out, I'll post it first thing. Until then...

"...tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out out our arms farther… And one fine morning ——"

the Dream According to Dylan

Excerpt from "Subterranean Homesick Blues and Blond Waltz," a bootleg poem published in the Tarantula collection

"let me say this about Justine-Ruthy & Zonk - none of them understood each other at all - Justine - she went off to join a rock & roll band & Ruthy - she decided to fight cocks professionally & when last heard from, Zonk was working in the garment district....they all lived happily ever after

where i live now, the only thing that keeps the area going is tradition - as you can figure out - it doesn't count very much - everything around me rots...i don't know how long it has been this way, but if it keeps up, soon i will be an old man - & i am only 15 - the only job around here is mining - but jesus, who wants to be a miner...i refuse to be part of such a shallow death - everybody talks about the middle ages as if it was actually in the middle ages - i'll do anything to leave here - my mind is running down the river - i'd sell my soul to the elephant - i'd cheat the sphinx - i'd lie to the conqueror...tho you might not take this the right way, i would even sign a chain with the devil...please don't send me any more grandfather clocks - no more books or care packages...if you're going to send me something, send me a key - i shall find the door where it fits, if it takes me the rest of my life"

-Bob Dylan

American Dream Playlist

"A Change is Gonna Come" - Otis Redding
"Allentown" - Billy Joel
A Love Supreme - John Coltrane (album)
"America" - Simon & Garfunkel
American Idiot - Green Day (album)
"Born to Run" - Bruce Springsteen
"Boston" - Augustana
Bringing it All Back Home - Bob Dylan (album)
"Chicago" - Sufjan Stevens
"Come Together" - the Beatles
"Don't Stop Believin'" -Journey
"Float On" -Modest Mouse
"Fred Jones, pt. 2" -Ben Folds
"Gimme Shelter" -the Rolling Stones
"Happy Go Lucky Local" -Duke Ellington
"Idle Dreams" -George Gershwin
"Immigrant Song" -Led Zeppelin
"Leaving Town" - Dexter Freebish
"Lost Highway" -Jeff Buckley
"Man in Black" -Johnny Cash
"Old Man River" -David Roe and the Royal Rounders
"Pictures of Success" -Rilo Kiley
"Sloop John B." -the Beach Boys
"Songs from an American Movie" -Everclear
"Waiting for my Real Life to Begin" -Colin Haye
"Want One" -Rufus Wainwright
"Windowsill" -Arcade Fire

Blueprint for the American Dream

...according to Kurt Vonnegut

Wrap-Up (According to Some Other People)

"There are no second acts in American lives....Vitality shows in not only the ability to persist but the ability to start over." -F. Scott Fitzgerald

"No American can wait he can stand around and do nothing but he cannot wait, that is why he is not like Milton who served by standing and waiting, Americans can neither serve nor wait, they can stand and sit down and get up and walk around but they can neither serve nor wait." -Gertrude Stein

"In the U.S., you have to be a deviant or die or boredom."

"America is not so much a nightmare as a non-dream. The American non-dream is precisely a move to wipe the dream out of existence. The dream is a spontaneous happening and therefore dangerous to a control system set up by the non-dreamers."
- William S. Burroughs

"In the day we sweat it out in the streets of a runaway american dream. At night we ride through mansions of glory in suicide machine." -the Boss

"Americans are overreachers; overreaching is the most admirable of the many American excesses." -George F. Will

"This I Believe. By that name, we present the personal philosophies of thoughtful men and women in all walks of life. In this brief space, a banker or a butcher, a painter or a social worker, people of all kinds who need have nothing more in common than integrity, a real honesty, will write about the rules they live by, the things they have found to be the basic values in their lives." -Edward R. Murrow

"Build up your credit, build up your self-esteem, build up your bank account, moving up in the scene, everyone's living the American dream so we can build up an army and smash it to pieces" -Christine Anderson

"I've not only pursued the American dream, I've achieved it. I suppose we could say the last few years, I've also achieved the American nightmare." -Kenneth Lay

"We must stop talking about the American dream and start listening to the dreams of Americans." -Ruben Askew

"The American dream has run out of gas. The car has stopped. It no longer supplies the world with its images, its dreams, its fantasies. No more. It's over. It supplies the world with its nightmares now: the Kennedy assassination, Watergate, Vietnam..." -J.G. Ballard

"America is like an unfaithful love who promises us more than we got." -Charlotte Bunch

"To think that a once scrawny boy from Austria could grow up to become Governor of California and stand in Madison Square Garden to speak on behalf of the President of the United States, that is an immigrant's dream. It is the American dream." -Arnold Schwarzenegger

"There are those who will say that the liberation of humanity, the freedom of man and mind is nothing but a dream. They are right. It is the American dream." -Archibald MacLeish

"People are so busy dreaming of the American Dream, fantasizing about what they could be or have a right to be, that they're all asleep at the switch. Consequently we are living in the Age of Human Errour." -Florence King

"If the American dream is for Americans only, it will remain our dream and never be our destiny." -Rene de Visme Williamson

"I see all this potential, and I see us squandering it. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need. We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War's a spiritual war... our Great Depression is our lives. We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off." -Tyler Durden

"Dreams come true. Without that possibility, nature would not incite us to have them." -John Updike

"Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther… And one fine morning ——
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." -the Great Gatsby

Wisdom of a Waitress

"Yeah sure, a Porsche is my dream car, but I'd like to keep it that way. I mean, why would you want all your dreams to come true?"

Britt said this with no hint of sarcasm as she stared out the window of her Pontiac Grand Am. She had just gotten out of an interview with a twenty-four year old in an Armani suit. It was at the turn of the millenium, when pyramid schemes were all the rage. The company in question bought chunks of cellullar airwaves from Sprint and sold them at a lower cost - the Armani manchild had twenty-nine employees under him, all of whom had to give him a percentage of their commission. "I could retire at forty," the manchild bragged. He lured her with the everlasting temptation of the get-rich-quick scheme, appealing to her impatience.

With only one more employee to go before he hit an even thirty, he must have thought he nailed it. She shook his hand and took her leave politely. He looked on as she walked away, cutting a less than intelligent figure with her platinum blonde hair her indiscreet double-Ds. He thought he had it in the bag.

And really, he should have. At the time we were completely broke. The only food in the house was peanut butter (which we would eat straight out of the jar with our two recycled plastic spoons) and instant noodles. We sold most of our CDs and DVDs, to the point where we only had one movie left, a battered VHS copy of Center Stage which we would watch quite literally every day when we got home, while eating the aforementioned peanut butter. We really could have used the money.

I picked her up in her car, and she told me what the manchild had said about retiring at forty. "Why would you want to retire at forty?" I asked. She didn't know either.

We talked for a long time, about the dilemma of taking a job you know is unethical to pay the bills, about getting rich quick, and about the dream in general. "He had a Porsche," said Britt. "A Porsche at twenty-four. Can you imagine that?" I thought for a moment. "I don't know, I don't think I'm ready for a Porsche," I said. She pondered this. "Yeah, I know what you mean. A Porsche is my dream car, but why would you want all your dreams to come true?"

I jotted it down in the tiny composition book I was in the habit of carrying, saving it to ponder until years later. In the meantime, Britt didn't take the job, and we continued on for another year or two, scraping by on whatever limited funds we could pick up in between classes and our far too active social lives. The company she interviewed with eventually shut down, and the manchild who had foolishly invested most of his earnings into both his car and the company stock lost mostly everything, and went back to just being a twenty-five year old boy. Britt is still a waitress.

I lived with Britt and our other roommate Hildie, for over a year. It wasn't an easy year. In fact, most people who knew me back then still refer to it as the worst living situation I've ever been in. They're not entirely wrong, but that's not what any of us remember when we think about that year. We think about being young and poor and full of ideas about what life was going to be. The best part about dreams, like Christmas, is the anticipation. It's how Britt knew not to take the job, and it's how we all knew to embrace each other and our situation equally, living as fully as we could within out limited means. This took different forms with all of us, and all resulted in their own unique set of consequences.

F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, "Riding in a taxi one afternoon between very tall buildings under a mauve and rosy sky; I began to bawl because I had everything I wanted and knew I would never be so happy again." He elaborated on this in a lettre to his daughter, saying, "a whole lot of people have found life a whole lot of fun. I have not found it so. But, I had a hell of a lot of fun in my twenties and thirties;" His old friend Hemingway verified this in his memoir of their time in Paris, noting at the beginning of his account: "This is how Paris was in the early days, when we were very poor and very happy."

This is how LA was in the early days, when we were very poor, and very happy. A lot of bad things happened to us, and we happened to a lot of bad things. We behaved stupidly on more than one occasion,including but not limited to each and every one of us dropping like dominos out of school: first Britt, then Hildie, and lastly, in one last effort of defiance, me. But before all that, back before we knew much about the consequences of having dreams, we were really quite happy to be young, and living in America.