Thursday, July 5, 2007

Selling out: an Introduction

When I was 15, I listened to punk rock and got drunk in alleyways with kids who dyed their mohawks blue and proclaimed that they would never, ever, sell out. When I was 16, I started to get the impression that it was generally a good idea to take whatever these kids said and do the opposite. By the time I left high school, I knew what I wanted to do with my life.

I wanted to sell out.

It took me a few years to come fully to terms with these thoughts. I went to a liberal arts college and studied theater for two years, I planned to get my teaching certificate "as a back-up plan," and within me my dreams of artistic fulfillment battled valiantly against my dreams of working for the man and having dental benefits.

I don't know when my peers lost sight of that modest, suburban, middle-class realization of the American Dream, the dream of comfort and security without excess, but somewhere we did. My friends talk about making their own way in the world, of making $5 million playing poker or being filmmakers or living in a commune in Vermont and growing pot, and they laugh at me when I tell them I want $60k/year and a middle-management position and that I think Barack Obama is all hype.

Maybe I'm selling my dreams short. Maybe I should "follow my bliss" and become a professional puppeteer or the next great American playwright. But when I think about getting that theater management job and raising a family in the suburbs... I don't know. It just feels right. Not everybody gets to be a doctor or an astronaut. Someone's got to work for the man, and I think I'm the man for that job.

I grew up around kids who wanted rock-and-roll stardom, kids who wanted to be famous actors and writers, kids who wanted to be doctors and lawyers and wealthy philanthropists who were their own bosses and played by their own rules. I grew up being taught that I could do anything in the world as long as I dreamed big and reached for the stars. I learned to suppress my desire for a modest lifestyle, 2.4 kids and a picket fence and 401(k). I spent so long thinking that middle-class was a dirty word that I forgot that I don't need to be famous or wealthy or even important to be happy.

I'm making sure that I remember it this time. Every day, I tell myself: I'm working for the man, and I'm OK with that. And when I do, I feel warm and content and entirely mediocre.

It's a wonderful feeling to have.

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