Fiction by Paolo Bacigalupi

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Posted on Mar 6, 2008 in Blog, consumerism | 6 comments

American Dream

My wife and I have the option of moving into bigger, more spacious, more sunny, more land, and more pretty much of everything, house.

The downside is that it’s also more mortgage, more responsibility, and it exists two miles out of town… basically in that no-man’s land called ex-urban sprawl. I hate this kind of sprawl. The 1-acre and 2-acre and 5-acre subdivisions that eat up farmland and cut up a landscape. And frankly, I hate the feel of 1980’s subdivisions- even though the house we’re looking at has fairly groovy passive solar and decent insulation, it’s still very much a product of the eighties. Right now, we live right down in town in a cute little 1940’s bungalow. It’s two blocks from my writing office. It’s a small house so our utility footprint is pretty modest, for Americans, anyway, and we’re within walking distance of post office, grocery store, bank, and friends. And when I say walking distance, I mean it’s all about four blocks away. Then again, pretty much the whole town is four blocks away.

But I think the thing that bothers me the most is that it’s definitely a case where if we move, it will mean that we have to be more disciplined financially. Right now, we live on a $300/month mortgage in our tiny house, so we have a fair amount of breathing room to do stupid things like write novels and short stories. If we move, it means I’ll need to start writing epic fantasy or start shaking my military-sf money maker or something.

So anyway, I’m torn. As Arjun gets bigger, we’re more and more on top of each other here. But the thing about having bigger more expensive things like houses is that they pretty much enslave you to that whole money jobby-job thing I’ve alluded to above. I hate that treadmill. It’s why I keep quitting jobs to write.

But then, on the flip side, another appealing aspect of the house is that it has more space for gardening, and as spring approaches, I’m dying to get out and plant things. And it’s got interior sun rooms so I could plant things all year round. And even though it’s out of town, it’s still close enough that I can ride my bike so it won’t necessitate another car — but still, the thing about living away from the town center is that the car just naturally gets more of a workout; you drive for groceries instead of walking for them. I can go back and forth about this stuff all day. Actually, I’ve already been doing it for a month.

Basically this boils down the cost/benefit analysis of the American Dream. With the hunger for the fun and the toys and the rosy lifestyle on one side, and the more practical but somewhat less fun version where we accept a life with limits.


  1. I discussed it with Madeline Robins, and if you need to turn to writing pirate-themed bodice-rippers, Paolina should be your surname, not your first name. Your first name should be something like Elaine or Dolores.

  2. Nice surname! I sort of like Susan for a given name, though. Susan Paolina. My bodice is ripping at the thought.

  3. I just foreclosed on my beautiful 1904 Victorian money-pit to move into town and cut my monthly living expenses by 75%. Tough times, but it’s nice to read something by someone not immediately buying into the marketed American dream.

  4. Random question, but can’t you find some sort of bicycle type transport (I’m doing a poor job of describing what I’m talking about here), say, a larger trike, that you could use to carry groceries home? If you can bike to the office, you could take this …pedal powered shopping cart to the store and back…assuming such a thing exists.

  5. I’ve just finished reading Pump Six which I will use several stories from to teach my Environmental Humanities class in the fall. So I decided to check out your blog to find out more about you. This topic particularly hits home for my family and I. We currently live in a small 2 bedroom and have many times felt the need to have more space, especially for gardening and maybe chickens, etc. But at the same time we are really able to make ends meet in a non-stressful way and therefore find ourselves happier and more chill than most of our friends. Isn’t that part of the American Dream? It is part of mine. So more living space or more head space–seems easy.
    Sat Nam!

  6. I find your concluding statement interesting and wondering if you did opt for the rosy packaging of toys and spoils. I suppose it is the phrasing, “the more practical but somewhat less fun version where we accept a life with limits” that is most curious. The suburban life to me, the brief moments I’ve seen it, is the one that seems so limiting, so constrictive, so not “fun.” The life you describe of the small neighborhood of diverse characters, of much walking and its auxiliary benefit of observation dear to creative interiors, of meandering adventures bumping into life here and there, of the lessons in learning to share space with those you love, seems to lend itself so much more to freedom, spontaneity and possibility. Never mind the necessity of chewing words for feed to afford the mortgage. Less stuff is freedom, in a cost benefit analysis, and otherwise. Isn’t there a community garden nearby?