Sunday, May 27, 2012

My American Dream


"Your success depends on what you do yourself, with your own means."
- P. T. Barnum

My father subscribes to a small publication known as "Invention and Technology" (although don't get me wrong, if he didn't get it, I probably would). It's a magazine that invests its articles in new things that are coming, in the history of what has already been, and in the celebration of new movements. My favorite articles are the ones that go back in time a bit though, and capture the nostalgic whims of an artist who took something that already existed, and made it better.

I was reading one such article today. The piece outlined five men who took objects that hadn't been perfected, like the shopping cart and the tennis racket, and made them useable for society with minor modifications. Each designer was highlighted for their sketches, made in down moments, when they thought about something in their lives, and how it needed improving. Their efforts may not have given them famous names (with the exception of Mr. Tupper, who created tupperware), but their work has changed how we live and operate in the consistent tasks of life.

Considering these men's work, I noticed a trend. The man who worked out the shoe measuring device (the one that gives you height and width in one shot) knew the shoe business because his father owned a shoe store. The guy who worked out the shopping cart had a friend with a grocery store. These guys knew their trades. They were working for the good of something they were familiar with, something they understood. As a result, they were able to better create things that would make the world a little easier.

On Friday night, I had dinner with my father, his father, and a man that the worked with when they owned grocery stores. There were others of us at the table, but the conversation rarely strayed from the good old days- from who used to know their products, from what the shelves look like in stores today, and from what it was like to work with a team of grocers who loved what they did. To the people around us, it must have sounded crazy to hear these men talk with such passion, about such an everyday occurrence like a supermarket. But to them, it was talk of the dream, of the golden age, and of who they used to be.

During that dinner, I was thrown back to a smaller America- pre some of the technology that I use on all the time (including this venue which I write this to you now). I got a crystal clear shot of the world when people didn't have to find themselves in corporate America. They had jobs that contributed to their lives- they loved what they did, and they lived what they loved. I was touched by those moments of sincerity that we lack so much today. We all work in jobs, but they are separate from who we are. Don't get me wrong, I know that there are still people who are married to their work, but it's such a negative connotation.

It's almost as though the problem is that it's rare that we feel like we are working for the good of others. Many people who have jobs that take up a lot of their time are luxury workers- they don't feel any greater good coming out of what they do. Most people want to feel like they've made some sort of contribution to greater cause. And instead they find themselves making some contribution to the consumerism thats causing uprising, upheaval, and unhappiness in America.

I spent a little time the other day talking to a friend who has made it his mission to spread love and understanding to America. I asked home (sincerely, I promise) how he planned to do that. Think about it- it's not that easy to figure out how to positively touch people's lives. Maybe it was easier when life was all about figuring out a skill, getting to know how to do it right, and then having employees, other co-workers, , and friends who shared in the dream. Maybe knowing how to do something- knowing a trade of some sort, made people feel like they had worth, and that let them show others their own worth. Maybe the American dream was about making friends and plans and a life that benefited others through simplicity, before mechanical technology made networking all about staying ahead, and jobs all about providing things that people don't need, and left us in a recession that people can't stop spending through.

Or maybe I'm off in my own little world here.

Either way, I'm longing to learn how to do something old fashioned, and to do it well. I'm wishing for a simpler world where I could spend my life engrained in a service of some sort that people really needed, surrounded by people who just really want to make some good. I feel like I want to live a life surrounded by good memories, by hard work, and by the hope of a day when I can sit and reminisce about the good old days.

I think maybe I need to start my own commune somewhere. Or maybe I just need to figure out who else feels this way, and we can open our own grocery store. Either way, it's my own version of the American Dream I guess.

And maybe I'm already in the middle of something great, and you just don't see it until it's a long time past. So for now, I'll just keep myself in check, and find something to do that makes me feel worthwhile, and lets others feel that way too.

Or maybe I just need to subscribe to other magazines.

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