August 25, 2018

How to Live your Life like the Great American Novel.

Everyone and everything is interconnected in this universe. Stay pure of heart and you will see the signs. Follow the signs, and you will uncover your destiny.
~ Jeff, Who Lives at Home 


“Remember the year you moved home to Mom’s basement to write your great American novel?” I ask.

My brother holds his beer high, “Ah, yes! To my great American novel,” he says, “and to Mom’s basement!”

It’s Christmas and our spirits are flying high with the season.

“May it be forever filled with at least one adult child,” I chime in, “a holy space for regression, a hideout from reality, a temple for do-nothings!”

I’ll let the cat out of the bag here. My brother didn’t write his great American novel that year.

Actually, it wasn’t even a great American novel. He’s a nerd. The most loveable nerd I’ve ever met, but let’s just call a book a book. He was really attempting to craft The Great American Sci-Fi. And the way he tells the story never fails to have me rolling on the floor with laughter.

“I just wrote the first two chapters over and over again. But I wasn’t willing to edit, like a draft, so I just spent two months erasing and re-writing two chapters. It was horrible.”

My brother’s self-awareness delights me, but it also instructs me.

At some point during his subterranean year, while he was busy rewriting chapter one, he also took a job at a local cafe, got a sweet girlfriend, and spent some quality time with our mom. Overall, I’d say that’s a pretty decent year.

It just dawned on me: I’m probably writing this essay because I feel like I’m metaphorically hanging out in my mom’s basement these days. This year I find myself getting divorced, closing a store, and going back to school. So I’m writing this to remind myself, and anyone else out there going through the same thing, that it’s okay.

I think, as Americans, we have expectations that are illusory. Illusory in the sense that we are taught to believe life should look a certain way. But that’s all bullsh*t.

The more I let go of my illusions about what is supposed to be happening, the more I find the beauty in all of it. I get to be human. I get to experience pain. I get to make mistakes and get back up. But not before I spend a little time licking my wounds in my mom’s metaphorical basement.

And in this metaphorical basement, I realize that my life is my great American novel—it’s imperfect.

In one chapter I’m attending a sparkling dinner party that would make Gatsby green with envy, and the next, I’m crying near a glass of red wine in a bathtub like one of the Glass family siblings from Salinger. At this point I wouldn’t even put a Flannery character past me, but dear lord, please let it not be the girl who removes her wooden leg after having sex with a traveling salesman.

All I really know at this point… life comes together, and then it falls apart. And it’s alright to regress when hard times hit.

Maybe we don’t write the book. Or get the job. Maybe we hide out and watch Netflix, or hide out and do yoga, or hide out and read great American sci-fi novels. Or hide out and fall apart.

And then, spring returns. Spring always returns, and we move along to new chapters. As I’m writing this, my brother is enjoying springtime in Stockholm, Sweden, where he landed his dream job as a video game designer.

Oh, and one more lesson I learned from my sweet, self-deprecating brother Joe: self-awareness and humor go a long way on a long, basement day.

Finally, if you’re reading this from your mom’s basement, go watch “Jeff, Who Lives at Home.” It’s on Netflix. I promise it will make you feel better.

Also, go easy on yourself. Hard times come, but they also go.

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Catherine Graves

author: Catherine Graves

Image: Jeff, Who Lives At Home/YouTube

Editor: Lieselle Davidson