A Weekend’s Work in Never Done

Existential Question for the Day, Number 523:

Does the American Dream create us, or do we create it?

Colin Phillips working on his FirepitAfter leaving the confined space of London and the “cultured” space of Europe, Colin and I are handspringing back into the frontier life of the American Dream. On our To Do list, dutifully being followed and checked off are the following:

  • Buy “dream house” — ie. house that “needs work” (so we can make it “ours”) and one which we perceive was of “good value” (so we can improve on that value)
  • Invest in “transportation” — Not just consuming cars, but vehicles that fit our green-ish lifestyle with low emissions and good MPG. Sprinkle in a dash of walking and cycling too.
  • Take “real” vacations – That is, the idealized family vacation of our youth, with more human and nature interaction, less frills. Includes digging out camping equipment (still shiny new) received as wedding gifts
  • Make “improvements” to our personal space – Meaning, we re-create our living space (indoor and outdoor) so that it slowly ascends to the grand vision of HOME. Not just painting a wall here or there (though there is lots of that) but planning for a comfortable and useful environment that allows us to be both relaxed and inspired.

Gag… Sometimes being an American is exhausting. We never let up, not even when we are relaxing.

The weekends, for Colin and I, aren’t just time off from “work.” They are their own kind of work. 

Weekends are the time when we can, together, start down the road of accomplishment we planned from first meeting. They are our Customized Howard-Phillips American Dream Coursework and we are busy at it.

James Truslow Adams in his 1931 book The Epic of America called The American Dream this:

…that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.

I wonder, is it working for Colin and I? When Colin sledgehammers boulders to build a firepit or I weed the overgrown rose bed, plucking black-spotted leaves one by one, are we “attaining the fullest stature of which we are innately capable?”

Or is it busy work, to kill time, to excuse our desire to enjoy the beautiful day, and keep up the pace of some other American Vision: to have more things, to symbolize our success, to excuse our desire to nest in creature comforts?

I’m not sure.

One thing I do know: We love our life better with blue spruce trees to care for. We feel more satisfied showering when we are really filthy. We break our nails and cut our arms and feel our aching shoulder muscles because of weekend work.

Not because of the time we spend, staring at lifeless screens.

So what’s next on the agenda for us? A dry run, camping in the backyard to test our equipment.

We are innately capable of more than we are doing now. Our weekend work helps us test that mettle, we hope, anyway.

Elizabeth Howard

Elizabeth writes literary non-fiction, haiku, cultural rants, and Demand Poetry in order to forward the cause of beautiful writing. She calls London, Kansas City, and Iowa home.