There was an era when the the words American dream meant something. When we were raised to believe that a college education, integrity and hard work guaranteed you trespass to the life. When I was a small I used to rage war against the rabbit ears of our old television set, desperate to bring the shows I loved into focus. Verdant lawns, gleaming Cadillacs and shutters painted white — back then I craved this portait of idyll, even when my friends cackled wildly, said we were forever doomed to carting tokens, ringing up groceries at King Kullen (if we were lucky) and knocking out kids by the time we were twenty-one. Girls in grade school palmed condoms into one another’s hands while I scurried home, sore from the backpack of books I shouldered. I was the smart girl who swallowed voice at parties, quivered when the boys breathed heavy, came closer. Years later I returned to the old neighborhood having just been awarded scholarships to a slew of colleges, and all the around the way girls with the pouty mouths were on the nod, with child, or still kicking it in their bedrooms to the songs we used to play.
I visited my friend Jennifer — the popular girl with meatball breath and a fanatical Madonna obsession — arms scabbed and raw from the clawing, from the itch, and she said that she knew I’d always get out. You were always reading, writing those stories. She told me that she saw Madonna once, stalked her outside of her apartment. The singer walked by Jennifer without even a glance, and through a face-full of smoke Jennifer told me that was the best moment of her life. Her hallway was dark and cool, much like a coffin, and I remembered asking her what she wanted to be when she grew up, and she laughed and said, Felicia, we are grown up. It took everything in me not to cry.
Years later I heard that she overdosed or was living in New Jersey or a mother to girls. Who’s to say? Who knows what to believe about the people you used to know? A few days ago I tried locating her on Facebook. I couldn’t find her.
This was before the era of permanent distraction. Before we were a walking, living, breathing disconnection, creating a fortress with our headphones, our tablets, our trinkets that buzz and illuminate on touch. Now we know that few of us could afford the paint for the houses we coveted in the television shows we watched, and that the lives we sold ourselves were a pyramid scheme of deceit. In probability theory, the standard deviation shows how much variation or dispersion exists from the average or expected value of something. By the time I reached thirty I was supposed to have been a married, successful banker who summered on the Island — if I hovered around the mean. And while everyone around me was living the lives they were prescribed to them, fitting neatly into the average, I started to doubt the plan that didn’t allow for deviation or writing those stories.
Since my mid-twenties, I’ve become the woman who breaks ranks and oscillated wildly. And I’m not alone. Scores of my friends in their mid-thirties have experienced extraordinary awakenings. It’s as if all their captors have snaked off and the padlocks have fallen off the gates. We were free! Roam if you want to. Roam around the world. And we did. From my brave friend who left her job at the height of her career to find something other to the actor friend who turned psychotherapist, everyone’s realizing that we’re not defined by the role we’ve been ascribed to since college. We can alter our paths, we can redefine ourselves, we can start anew.
Today I spent a few hours at Boukies with an old friend, feasting on Greek salads and brioche French toast talking about our professional and artistic lives. My friend is that rare breed of fashion entrepreneur who operates from a place of integrity. Rarely does she take shortcuts, never does she take side deals, and she’s been extraordinarily successful because of it. For over two hours we talked about art and business and the divide we created between the two. After a time we realized that while we are that strange breed who loves skirting the two extremes at different points in our lives, a life immersed in the two, simultaneously, is where we want to be. A life where we can imbue our work with our art is how we’ve re-defined the life.
Here’s to 2013 and getting closer to living it.