American Dream

We’ve moved again. I don’t exactly understand how we did it, but we bought a new house and now we seem to have entered the American Dream, featuring a 2-car garage and a kitchen island. (For my non-American readers: a kitchen island is a counter in the middle of the kitchen, around which spectators can gather to observe and cheer on the cook.)

In the past two weeks we have been dismantling our life and packed it up into cardboard boxes, which we’re now opening again and reorganizing into a new life. Some of the boxes are left over from previous moves and still have our old addresses on them: Fu Yang Street, Banta apartments, Smilanski 26…  

As I pack and unpack - the little bamboo chairs from Taipei, my dark room equipment and old film camera, my Tibetan and Arabic textbooks, the broken mezuzah that has been waiting for 3 years to be glued back together - my life flashes back at me and I face all the people I used to be and the people I thought I would become.

Preparing dinner at the kitchen island, I’m no longer sure if I’m myself or somebody else. 

An additional complication is that in two weeks we’re going to Scotland for the fall and we’re renting out our house to an older couple from New Jersey who are coming to work at Dartmouth. As a first time landlord, I want to treat our renters right; I don’t want to take their money and disappoint them. So now I’m trying to create the house that I think they expect: an American house with a set of at least six matching dinner plates, mugs that are not cracked, shower curtains that match the bath towels, and toilets that smell of roses.

Instead of packing for Scotland and finishing the article I have a deadline for, I’m driving back and forth to the mall to find toilet freshener, un-chipped coffee mugs, and accent cushions for the living room couch. As the house is starting to look more and more like the house I imagine our renters to expect, I am feeling less and less like myself.

But it has been years since I actually felt like myself.  I’ve been feeling like a stranger since I came to America. I think I’m in prolonged culture shock.

I assume that when you’re in track for a certain life and don’t stray, things fall into place: You know what kind of house to live in, how to decorate it, and what values to live by. But when you get derailed and you find yourself at a destination that wasn’t part of the plan, everything is out of synch.

Or is it like this for everybody? Does everybody reach a point where they wonder how they fit into their own life?