Getting over an American dream

My wife and I are, in essence, being forced again to think about moving. We’d like to believe we have a variety of options, that we can go anywhere we want to put down new roots on a whim. That’s part of our American culture, isn’t it, the freedom to be transient?

We considered cities and small prairie towns. We talked specifically about moving to a community known for the arts, and thought about moving north to be in a colder climate more conducive to my wife’s knitting and crocheting.

So when the best we can come up with after wrangling with ideas for six months or more is moving back to the nondescript midwestern town in which I graduated from high school, the whole scenario feels regressive. The American dream entails either moving to the city or to an estate in the suburbs (not that I’ve necessarily ever aspired to these). Plains communities of 50,000 people just don’t qualify.

Why this would bother me to begin with I don’t know. I’ve never really been a fan of the progressive ideal — which seems more like an excuse to embrace any and every new philosophy that comes along than an ideal. But last night, in a half-asleep and slightly irrational 5 a.m. moment, it did bother me. It kept me awake for more than an hour. I tossed and turned and tried to get it out of my head altogether. I just wanted to go back to sleep, knowing the paranoia would dissipate at an hour proper for humans to think about serious matters.

And it did.

We’ve rehashed the thought of moving again and again. Real estate in Grand Island, Nebraska, the Plains city in question, is very inexpensive, particularly the building we have in mind which would serve as our apartment and my studio — a large studio — with 1,000+ square feet of retail besides. It is further north, which is good for my wife’s craft and for my allergies. It’s on the prairie which is great for storm chasing. Point being, it’s not just the easy way out, moving back to where the family lives.

Further, I’ve become more interested in the past year at how the arts can really thrive in smaller communities. In some ways, ways that aren’t as immediately accessible to me here in Siloam Springs, moving back to Nebraska will allow me to play a more integral role in that city’s artistic nexus.

I suppose I’ll just have to live with being a regressive person. Drat, and blast. Of course, in the scheme of things, isn’t part of the progressive ideal being counter-cultural? And if I’m bucking the American dream and know it, isn’t that counter cultural and thus progressive?

Such wonderful logic.


Photo of the 1980 Grand Island, Nebraska, tornado outbreak. From Wikipedia.


About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

7 Responses to Getting over an American dream

  1. Christopher says:

    Id say this is much better than a lot of scenarios. At least this a proactive, positive approach, whereas many people, especially in this age and economic climate are simply being submerged by their poor choices or lack of ambition. If you take Nietzsche’s slave morality – a negative and reactive approach, always planning and brewing for the future, missing what the present has to offer, you render yourself insipid and dull, along with much of our country. So I applaud you for accepting what life has thrown at you and rolling with the hits. Congrats on the studio!

  2. JohnO says:

    I am very interested in crafting some kind of idea around the Christian dream, over against the American dream. So these ideas really grabbed me. Since the arts are your thing, what kind of goal, or fit with the Kingdom of God do you see it having? How does that topple the American dream? Or am I crazy?

  3. I think that it is wonderful and important to be near the place where you are from and to be near your family. I come from a small town of 2000 people. No, I didn’t forget a zero. I wasn’t born there, but it is the closest thing to being from somewhere that I have. Sometimes we have to go where the jobs and opportunities are, but there is so much value in going where your Place is. I love the idea of a rural arts community. Heck, for me 50,000 is a big city. Go for it!

  4. Tim J. says:

    This post got me thinking, as has our own search for a new house.

    I really like the idea of roots and family. There is a lot to be said for being genuinely tied to a native geography. Then, there are also the drawbacks. I can feel that tension in your post.

    I went walking yesterday with a man who lived in Boston for a long time and really missed the good aspects of life in the city… much greater access to arts and culture, mainly.

    I feel your pain. I’m hoping to find a place where I can have a little vegetable garden, maybe even some chickens. Don’t know if that will happen, though. We’re mostly looking for a house that “speaks” to us.

    I have to say, considering that we live in a fairly rural setting, I do feel a bit less “cut off” with the internet at hand.

  5. pcNielsen says:

    @ JohnO: To be honest it’s largely survival, albeit making the best of survival. The move itself isn’t tied to any of our long-term goals, which is somewhat disappointing. Then again, I’m not sure we’ve narrowed our goals — either my wife or I — down enough to make any kind of decision that’s specifically about any of them. I think, like I already said, it really boils down to making the most of your present circumstances.

    As for the dream, America itself is toppling that presently with this whole credit crisis. I’m no expert on the dream or U.S. history though, so I don’t know if I can rightly elaborate on this. I just know the stereotypes: Suburbia, white picket fence, 2.5 kids and a dog.

    Course, that dream for younger generations is probably quite different.

  6. JohnO says:

    That is very true. And I can understand the survival aspect based on the “crisis” (or what-have-you) we are going through. I just wonder exactly what lies behind those precise stereotypes, and what the Gospel has to say about them.

  7. pcNielsen says:

    It’s a bit amusing to me that my wife and I are in a situation, as far as loss of income, as so many others. The reasons for it are very different than simply a faltering economy, and yet we find ourselves in the same boat.

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