A few months ago we sold our house, our belongings, and our loyalty to something I have begun to call The Script. David and I are not particularly radical people. We don’t have ascetic tendencies, we appreciate family and security as much as the next couple, and we come from solid middle class families. How then do I explain our suddenly radical leap?
First, I would have to tell you that the Ellen Degeneres Show was playing at the pho restaurant the other day. There’s something about a proprietress watching daytime television in the middle of her restaurant, in full view of her customers, that makes me feel warm inside. It reminds me of the family owned hole-in-the-wall restaurants we frequented on our too-short vacation in Thailand last year. Five years ago I would have called the Pho proprietress unprofessional, but I guess I’m not as American as I used to be.
It’s the holiday season, so Ellen was giving away boatloads of merchandise and prizes to her viewers. One woman in particular caught my attention, and David and I paused to watch. The woman, I’ll call her Jen, and her husband had just lost their health insurance. They have three kids, and while Jen loved her part-time job at Starbucks, it wasn’t enough to keep them comfortable and healthy. Both Jen and Ellen’s audience were reduced to tears when Shutterstock made a gift of $15,000 to the family. My eyes were wet too, but I was also angry for Jen. Why should a hard-working woman be reduced to a holiday handout? The Script had struck again, betraying yet another middle class family.
I learn more about The Script’s duplicitous nature every day and I’m not an expert so please bear with me, but here’s what I know about it so far: It began as a tiny little mental offshoot of capitalism. During post-World-War-II economic expansion, the first hand-written lines of The Script began to take shape in our imaginations. We dreamt of white picket fences, Fourth of July cul-de-sac barbecues, and a plethora of convenient appliances in sparkling kitchens. To make our bountiful dreams a reality, we placed our faith in the gentle corporate giants who would make a gift to educated and uneducated alike of living wage 9-5 jobs. Yes, we thought. This is it. We settled into mortgages, had babies, and got to work on our communal labor of love, which we called The American Dream. When Eisenhower warned us about the military-industrial complex, when corporations began to gain more political rights as people, we shrugged, for these things had nothing to do with our dream.
We got a little confused along the way. The American Dream is the freedom to pursue prosperity, success, and upward mobility for families through hard work. I believe in this dream more than I ever have.
The Script we wrote to get us there is taking us down an ironically opposite path. It says: get a job working for someone else when you’re young. Put all of your earning years into this job, buy a house, and a car, and settle in for the long term, because when you’re ready to retire, The Script will reward you with an ample retirement and a houseful of beautiful things, and most importantly, a good education and secure future for your children.
Instead of giving us freedom to pursue success, The Script has us give it up, and then breaks its promise to us. You can live the script and have your job outsourced or automated, because corporations aren’t actually caring people, but surprise, corporations. It would be ludicrous to get mad at a cat for killing a mouse, and I’m not blaming corporations for not being people. I’m just saying that perhaps we should give them a little less agency in our own lives when we can, because left to their own devices, they force people to write desperate letters to Ellen Degeneres. The Script doesn’t give out out living wage jobs anymore. It gives out Mental Health Days.
Like Jen, you’re likely still working for a big company, still trying to plan for your family as best you can, dutifully making your mortgage payments and chipping away at that perfect credit score, because what other choice do you have? As it turns out, a lot.
David and I realized that we have a lot of other choices, and that anyone with a skill, anyone who has spent at least a few years of his or her life in an academic institution, or a job, has the same choices. The Script would tell you otherwise, but I learned from Ellen and many other people that The Script is a big. fat. liar. We gave it up.