Category: Essay

Capitalism And The Brutal Claws Of Progress: It’s Happening Whether We Like It Or Not

backyard

For nearly thirty years, my parents and all of the other home owners on our street had something that none of the other homeowners in our neighborhood did; a massive backyard. Okay, so the backyard wasn’t actually bigger than those belonging to all the other neighbors, but our backyard backed up to an incredible field.
For the residents along our street, there was this peaceful illusion – at least from the back porch – of living a little ways out of the suburbs.

Cows ambled along the fence line each night, the coyotes’ howl could be heard just beyond the bushes, snakes and other meadow creatures traveled unseen, lending it an air of adventure and danger.

This field -known as The Back Field – was a field of dreams, in a sense.

When we were young, this field – while still referred to as the Tall Weeds before they mowed it the first time – was a magical land of imagination. It was camping grounds to the troops before they forged ahead to the battle of San Jacinto; a place where cowboys and Indians fought; land on which a prairie prospered; the secret home to a small community of gypsy travelers; an abandoned field where bodies were buried then found…

Later, it was a sprawling battleground for paintball wars – where I had the giddy pleasure, while perched in an ash tree, of watching my big brother shoot my little brother in the butt with a paintball. This was of course years after my older brother shot a BB into the foot of his friend, resulting in surgery for the friend. Good times.

Once I became a teenager, I looked out the back window and imagined myself in a land far away. Away from the mundane and unimportant lives of all of us in this town. I looked at my field and dreamed of going places that mattered.

When I grew a little older, I sat on the sun porch my father built along the way, watching the sun rise on new days, and I learned how to be grateful for the blessings God had given my family. If for no other reason, I was grateful that in an increasingly fast growing city – long since flooded by urban sprawl spilling down from one of the nation’s largest cities – I still looked out my back window into a field untouched by capitalism. I prayed the man who owned this field loved it as much as I did.

Eventually, I had a child and the field became something for her as well. We had birthday parties, explored the forest of trees that had grown, learned about nature and life, and she had a place to go and dream.

Then one morning, after 26 years of memories and adventure, we woke up to tractors plucking the trees from the ground as effortlessly as the hair falls from a body saturated with chemotherapy.

For the first time in my life, I had to struggle against the urge to protest; climb-a-tree-refuse-to-move-get-arrested kind of protest.

And my daughter.

With alarm and the bitter taste of injustice twisting her features, she fisted her hands and shook them at the tractors while demanding, “No! Stop what you’re doing!” The man on the tractor, wanting to charm the little girl looking through the sun porch windows, lifted his claw and waved at us. It was a friendly gesture, no doubt, but he had no idea that as he plucked each tree from the ground, he was ripping away our safe spot, our get-away spot, our adventure spot. He was tearing apart our field of dreams.

Over the next three years we watched as the rumble of tractors became our alarm clocks, the sound of hammers on nails replaced the bird’s songs, and our view steadily turned from a wander-land to a dirty, packed down foundation for houses jammed together like a can of sardines; the neighbors would be able to reach out their windows and shake hands.

We placated ourselves with the hopeful assumption that there would be a nice fifteen-foot green-space, where at least we could throw the ball for the dog and enjoy the tire swing in the tree beyond the fence.Then last week arrived, and with it, the final eradication of our field by the faceless builder who sent tractors to scrape the last bit of grass away like one might scrape gum from the bottom of his shoe. Dirt right up to the fence. No easement.

My daughter spent time planning a sabotage mission, writing it out on paper, and presenting it to me with outlined details, bullet points included. When I assured her our efforts to take some of their dirt in order to leave them uneven building grounds would be pointless, she had a counter attack planned. The follow up plan was illegal, which she – to my relief and pride – said she could not, then, follow through with.

“Why can’t we do something?” She asked. “Why can’t we just talk to the men out there?”

“Those men have no more control than we do, but a whole lot of incentive. That is their job.”

“I’ll just ask them nicely to stop, they will see I’m a little girl, and feel bad for me.”

“They’d feel worse for their own little girl when she didn’t have food on the table.”

How could I help my daughter to understand, when I felt just as helpless as she did?

Space and land are coveted, profitable, and becoming more rare. What we know of land and ownership today will be different tomorrow and in the tomorrows to come. Like all generations, time touches everything, changes everything. That’s why older people so often reminisce about the days of old. So for as long as the tractors of time and disease stay out of the fields of our mind, we will hold our memories close, and cherish them.

As I considered these things, the beauty in the time and circumstance struck deep. As a recent college graduate, soon to be moving on anyways, I realized that The Back Field was my first dreamland, the first place that inspired imagination and curiosity, but it could not remain my only field of dreams.

Life moved forward. Progress. We look to our yesterdays for motivation and understanding, but we live in the todays, looking forward and preparing for our tomorrows.

“Things change,” I told my daughter, “that’s the way of life. Some things we just have to accept. We will move forward with time as we must, embracing the present and making new memories.”

I offered a solution (and a new dream) to my daughter who likes to solve problems:

“We will just have to move to the high mountains of Colorado and buy a large field. There, no matter how much the world closes in around it, no matter how much we are offered to sale it, we will own the power to say, no thanks, We’ll keep our field of dreams.”

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A Snapshot Worth a Million Words

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Children do not concern themselves with reality when contemplating what to become when they grow up. Circumstance and caution have no part in determining the plans for the future. Doctor, police officer, fire fighter, cowboy, sumo wrestler, pilot, airline attendant, soldier, mother, politician, lawyer, and the list of possibilities go on and on. Sometimes they grow up and capture their dreams, sometimes they become something totally different, but as kids we all dream of something when we grow up.

I wanted to be all of them.

I wanted to be a sumo wrestler, a doctor, a pilot, and a warrior. I wanted to jump out of a plane from 12,000 feet above ground level. I wanted to climb to the top of a mountain. I wanted to catch the bad guys who terrorized defenseless victims, and be the one to throw away the key when those bad guys were locked behind bars. I wanted to know what it was like to walk in all of their shoes.

Life happened, I went to school, I journaled, I dreamed… and I became a hairstylist. Satisfaction didn’t exist where I ended up, and somewhere along the way I realized reality’s scope only reaches so far, only allows for so much, and certainly not all of it. That realization was a torrential downfall that completely drowned my determination, and, for several years following that, I floated about like a balloon tied to a toddler’s wrist – until I had a baby.

When my daughter arrived, she had a birth defect that resulted in multiple surgeries and an early life restricted to the hospital. During this time I lived there with her, and, because hospital life tends to creep by, I devoured books; I remembered to want everything.

The day eventually came when I took my baby home; Banners flew, chains broke, doors hung loose on their hinges: Freedom. Before leaving, I learned how to operate the machine that dispensed milk into her belly through a tube and how to keep her central port protected.

Life smoothed out.

Then one evening her machine broke and bottom line: the milk needed to be manually dispensed every hour at the top of the hour. Instead of trying to sleep, I decided to write a story. With some notebook paper and a pencil, I considered my options and chose the large maroon chair, old and worn, but cozy cloth rather than cold leather. I cannot recall the weather that night or even the time of the year off the top of my head, the feedings I’ve long since forgotten. I don’t know the thoughts running through my head as I sat there preparing to write.

All I see is a picture.

A snapshot of that night lives in my mind, like a black and white Polaroid taken from slightly behind me. Only the profile of my face visible, head tilted, hair falling forward, and by the angle of the pencil and the clench of my fist, the pencil creates. If I imagine it, I can hear the continuous sound of the lead transferring to the paper, and I can remember my hand not being able to keep up with the thoughts speeding through my mind. Believe it or not, I did not write an award-winning book that night; I didn’t even write a good book that night. Pages full of emotional, projectile vomit emerged on those sheets of paper. I will not say this felt freeing the way it did when we arrived home from the hospital, it didn’t, but I had begun to work through emotions that I didn’t understand. Even then I didn’t really comprehend what writing this book ultimately meant for me, but I realized something that probably should have been obvious long before that night; I loved writing. Not only did I love writing, but reading about writing, and I could no longer read a book without imagining the writer behind it. My actual dreams became about writing; it was in me.

The magnificence of this story lies in the timing. My daughter’s birth forever changed life in a mighty way. As a mom now, my priority became raising my baby correctly. Loving, cherishing, and shepherding her was fundamental not only in her growth, but mine too…and in some moments I felt deflated because I knew life suddenly became a balancing act of striving towards my goals- whatever they might be- and being present and rightly influential in my daughter’s life. As I continued feverishly writing, it dawned on me the profession that allows for becoming anything and everything that I ever dreamed of: a writer. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t published- it still doesn’t matter- because when I write not only do I get to be whatever I want, but I am able to confront emotions that I don’t understand and cannot quite put into words, I can face my greatest fears, experience failure, and conquer the world if I desire. By this point I have learned it is my right to write, something we all begin at an early age in order to, at the very least, communicate. More than that, I have discovered not simply my right, but my joy, to write.