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26) The American Dream is a Prison Cell

Growing up, I was under the illusion that my father was good with money and was conscientious about his investments and what he chose to buy. I learned later on that my father’s motivation was entirely based on my mother’s hormones. He would do anything to assure that she stayed with him, even moving our family when we were better off, financially speaking, to stay and pay off the home we lived in. All of this was hidden from my view; yet, I continued to think that he was making sound choices all along.

As I began attending college, I had to take out student loans, like the majority of other middle class students who were lucky enough to attend college. My primary motivation was that I had to pick something that would land me a job. Survival and independence was the ultimate goal. I often wondered why society calls it education, when the reality is to get a job and serve a life prison of work for pay to consume.

I first majored in Business. Like many young people, I was swayed by the idea that knowing business will be a guarantee to get a job and thus achieve success. As I spent the first year of college in business courses, a great anxiety slithered along the edges of my perception like worms in moist earth.

I didn’t like what I was doing or learning. The language was empty, calculating, devoid of the natural world. Dressing up, making appearances, walking the walk, talking the talk, my soul plunged into the void. Oxygen escaped through my pores every time I opened the doors of the creaking building.

The light disappeared into the polished floors of the hall; every classroom was filled with the templates of PowerPoint presentations, Excel spreadsheets, and cut and paste Word memos with cheesy clipart I had seen on thousands of student flyers stapled onto billboards. Being ‘creative’ was equated with changing the color scheme and typography on your spreadsheet.

Everyone dressed in smart suits and shiny, black shoes clicking as they walked, like the sound of register tape pounding out numbers and dollar signs. Some days, I would stroll down those halls, feeling sick, observing my fellow students regurgitate business principles and economic trends mimicking their pale faced heroes on the trading floor of Wall Street, going blind staring at an endless stream of financial tickers.


About this time, I saw the film, The Matrix. There was no color to this world, no life in it. After taking a marketing class, I realized that my DNA was fundamentally opposed to everything I was being taught. A storm passed over me, a kind of existential crisis. I tried desperately to study for tests. I was a poor test-taker to begin with. Give me an essay question and I can explain everything. Our tests consisted of multiple choice and true or false questions, just like all of the CTBS tests I took in grade school with many rows of dots on Scantrons.

I was never any good at them. I overthought my answers and had difficulty with the process of elimination. Elimination is waste and in my world, everything must be considered before being discarded. My Business Law professor told me I think too much. I was completely depressed. What can I do in this world that has meaning and real satisfaction? I can’t buck up to make this work without going absolutely mad or becoming a sociopathic asshole.

My roommate, Tracy, was also a Business major. I came home to our apartment in tears. After several cigarettes and a few beers, she pulled out the course catalog and showed me a major I had never heard of.

“I was thinking… you are really creative. Why don’t you see about getting into the Graphic Design program?” she said. “It’s still business oriented because you work in marketing and advertising, but you design logos and other stuff.”

I took one look at the catalog and knew that’s what I wanted to learn. I needed creativity. I needed more than black numbers on white paper. I needed color and hues and tints; I yearned for new ideas, research, strange juxtapositions and conceptual exploration.

Three years later, I was in my junior year in Graphic Arts taking a class on Ethics in Design. Once again, I found myself in a panic, questioning how I would make a living in this field and I began to worry. Even though I reclaimed my soul in the creative element, would I be chained to the whims of business interests, would the color of my world dissolve into oblivion with the incessant needs of my clients to sell things I didn’t believe in?

After all, I would have to engage clients whose bottom lines were engrained in their business plans and the bottom line is all anyone can focus on. Was I willing to sacrifice my creative energy to see it produce another useless consumer product, more waste, more of the same? Was I willing to use my design skills to manipulate the public in ways that inherently were wrong and completely unsustainable?

The answer was – No.

After graduation, I took a retail job as a temporary solution with the hope of planning my next career step. After a year, I signed up for a 401(k) and contributed more than was recommended, having educated myself on money and trying to save more than I spend, once again knowing the future was uncertain and I had to pay my student loans. I subscribed to Money magazine and drew up a spreadsheet, keeping track of my expenses and re-balancing my portfolio every year. I did this for five years, careful to plan everything out, how much I would save and keeping my interest income figures low, just in case. That all changed…

I was clearly the wrong demographic for Money magazine, so I let the subscription lapse. Money magazine was for people who had $5,000 to invest, a mortgage, a kid or two in college, and a nest egg of at least $100,000. Nothing in the articles represented anything I was going through.

Four years later and an economic upheaval in 2008, I began to focus less on money, and yet, I saved it because I needed to sustain myself even though I knew the system was absolutely screwed. I began to downsize my living to the bare essentials. I stopped servicing my car and driving only when I absolutely needed to. I became more reliant on my computer for communication than my phone.

Now, my lifestyle is still at bare minimum. I have enough money for my creature comforts; coffee, cheap wine and $1 books at the library bookstore. I pay for a phone I hardly use and pay off my credit card each month. Debt is my enemy; a prison cell and I’d rather just go without, not see my friends, not drive anywhere. I write every day, I read every day and I hope every day for a revolution of consciousness.

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4 thoughts on “26) The American Dream is a Prison Cell

  1. Generation X - We're Still Here on said:

    Your blog speaks directly to my heart! Thank you for saying what I cannot find the words to articulate. Gen-X needs to hear you. Would you mind if I shared some of your posts to Facebook from time to time? ♡

  2. amybleader on said:

    With the notion of prison cell as the American dream…our newest Attorney General Jeff Sessions is ramping up the tired old notion that people addicted to drugs are all thugs that must be locked up to keep our communities safe. Have we visited this tragedy already?
    Yes! It no doubt helped contribute to economic faliure. Think about it the cost of arresting, incarcerating( jail, prison, death row), lost members of society that have children, lost work force, and so on. It all adds up. No one can deny that shrinking the prison population is good and growing it is bad. Why can’t we continue on the path laid out during Obama’s terms? I have met several people who re-entered society recently who are thriving due to services available upon release. One individual has become a successful Shakespearian actor because of a program that began for him in prison. When he was released after serving more than 20 years of a 30 year sentence he auditioned for the theater company that lead the program inside the prison…he landed a lead role in Othello. He is now in another show this season. He is also on parole and following it to the letter. I know this is one story but there are more. I just cannot bare the idea that the United States of America needs to treat humans as criminals when they are not. I hope law enforcement resists Jeff Sessions orders because they know what the right option is. It is to shrink not grow the prison population.
    I know that the agenda of the current administration is to advance income from for proffit prisons. Jeff Sessions is trying to generate income for the owners of them and I am sure he will make money too. He claims to be tough on crime but his crime is of humanity by robbing people of freedom.The drug war failed so let it die and go away.
    Treat drug addiction and put money into people getting education. Close for proffit prisons. Make this place excellent and lets write a new narrative without biggotry, and divisive behavior. End polarization and replace it with unity. I am 47 born in the thick of Generation X. Peace to all the peeps everywhere. Love to all and may grace shine on and on and on…

    • lmm on said:

      Thank you, Amy, for the response and expanding the essence of the article. I agree that the drug war and overpopulated prisons are lucrative moneymakers for white men in power, completely lack any human integrity for societal progress and sustains the primordial systems of racism that does not belong in a nation that touts itself as true democracy. I do hope some of the best of our generation can dig us out of this mess. I stand with you to “Make this place excellent and lets write a new narrative without biggotry, and divisive behavior.” With love… ❤

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