The American Dream Is My Backup Plan

I’d be reading so many books if I wasn’t so insistent on a music career.

As a consequence of reading I’d probably be writing more, and not for a class. I don’t know what I’d be writing for.

If I’m writing more I’d be around other writers and creatives who want to grow a community. What a change from peers who secretly look at you as job competition.

This (and Chance The Rapper’s take on the gospel) is what I thought about on my 12 hour drive home this week.

There is a theory (pretty sure I read this in a John Green novel) that every decision you make creates a parallel universe — the one that follows the decision you made, another that forks at the one decided against. The more choices you make, the more the path branches, creating an infinite number of possibilities for what your life and the lives of others could be.

Sometimes, I like to check in on the other Lakens, see how they’re doing, wonder if I’d like being them better than being me. My favorite one happened when I decided to move to Ohio after coming home from Denver.

I have no doubts that where I am is the right choice. Sometimes, though, when that gets overwhelming, I remember the options I imagined for myself last summer, when I had just barely any time to back out. They centered around being near my family and friends, and seeking out career satisfaction above education level. I wouldn’t be afraid to take a job outside of my field if it makes me happy. I would live in a small apartment with large windows for my indoor garden. I might even know my neighbors by name.

The equally best and worst part about small town life is the curse of your name. Everyone knows it and everything good or bad that goes along with it. I sat in a coffee shop with a college friend yesterday while we simultaneously talked about our own lives and those of whichever person just walked in, moving back and forth from both topics with little effort. This is her least favorite part about Fort Smith, Arkansas. We know everybody, which is great, but they also know us.

When I was a freshman and sophomore, anyone I met in town over a certain age recognized my last name and asked who my father was. Usually this was forced and awkward, because I was 19 and didn’t know these people. But sometimes it worked out well, like when I found out the college advisor who had to sign off on my graduation was an old family friend; other times I found out my older sister got in a fist fight with my new optometrist a decade or more ago, but no one tells me until the appointment is done and I go home.

There are probably three to five parallel universe Lakens that stayed in Fort Smith. I’m sure some of them live at home still, and at least one is married or divorced with children by now. I don’t check on them.

I have this secret dream to build a home out of storage containers. I have a Pinterest board dedicated to these plans, and when I pin enough hair styles and crochet patterns I eventually follow through, so I don’t see how this is different. I’ve always been bitter about the condition of Fort Smith bookstores (BAM is fine if you want large publishing house sellers, and Snoopers Barn is fun if you are curious about how many used romantic novels can actually fit in one store) and I’m certain this alternate Laken is on her way to owning an indie bookstore with a cafe and small event space, with a boutique reading list and a dog that comes to work with her every day. She has ambitious yet totally realistic hopes of being a homeowner/small business owner in rural-adjacent Arkansas.

Yeah, there’s still time in my life for this to happen, but I’m taking no steps towards it now. I only feel this wistful when I’m on the road home, or sitting at my mother’s dining room table with morning coffee, or seeing what my friends are doing here for this community while also planning to get away one day. I don’t feel like I got away, I’m just prolonging coming back.

I love the path I’m on now. I love academia and performing and taking classes that challenge me intellectually. None of this I want to change. But I’m home now, and it’s harder to want that from here.

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