Angst. Angst. Angst. I’ve just finished reading a book of essays about the shapes that family can take, One Big Happy Family – edited by Rebecca Walker. It’s a book filled with sweet and sensitive tales about all the different things people can cobble together and still call a family. Of course not all of it is sweet, nor all of it depressing, but it is most certainly what I would define as angsty. The overriding theme, aside from the obvious one in the title, is that of manning the oars of your destiny. Making life what you decide it should be. Many give a nod to luck, chance, or happy circumstance, but ultimately it seems that life is all about the definition you give it. Rants to follow.
In a very real way this is because the problems faced by the authors are what we would all call first world problems. When the problems you’re facing aren’t armed, trying to eat you, or maim you in any way, it’s easier to take a self-deterministic approach. It’s obviously working well enough for me. I say that both to be cutesy/clever and because it is absolutely true. My problems are about ‘I want’ not ‘I need’.
That is a phrase that has lost a lot of meaning in modern-day America (and anywhere else with similar standards of living). I need an iPad. I need a cocktail. I need a bigger house, a better job, a more creative way to starve myself, a more fulfilling way to burn excess calories, more sex, more me time, a more fuel-efficient car, a strategy for self improvement, synergy. I need more.
I want to stop. I want to stop ‘needing’ things that don’t even deserve a spot on my radar. I ‘need’ a nicer backyard. Why? I live in Texas, where it has been over a hundred degrees for seventeen years straight and I only venture outside to get to my air-conditioned tank with stereo sound system. Where does a nicer garden really fit into that equation.
My wife and I have recently been talking about a maybe, kinda sorta, pie in the sky dream of living as digital nomads. We live in a house, bigger than we need, in a place we do not love, filled with things we ‘needed’ but no longer appreciate and it has all started to feel a bit like drudgery. My life is lived in the spaces between consumer obligation. Bear with me, I know this is turning a bit Tyler Durden. As a home worker, I live in my office doing I job I hate. This hate trickles out into an association for the space I spend my time in, causing me to resent the house I pay for one month at time. If I hate the house, I don’t need the job to keep it. Another example: I really want a TV, but I couldn’t tell you a show that I want to watch in real-time. It’s so ingrained in our culture, that I crave these things I have little use for. My wife put it in pretty clear terms. She’d rather get to see Portland (hipster mecca, we know) than have a flat screen.
Humans were nomadic long before they were stationary. We followed the herd, went where there was food to sustain our tribe. Now in a digital era, where it is our minds that are starving, is it the cognitive sustenance of experience that we must track across the plains? This is why we are considering buying a van big enough for wife, toddler, husband, and geriatric dog.