“What, in the name of common-sense, had I to do with any better society than I had always lived in?”
—Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Blithedale Romance
Every now and then—that is, much too often—I momentarily escape the shitty baseline of my personal status quo by imagining my life as a completely different person somewhere in Austin, Texas. I would have a black pug named Matilda; I would wear colorful bohemian clothes that flowed as I strolled through SoCo; and, I would, of course, be fifteen pounds lighter as a result of my strictly vegan diet. Things would be good then.
I am, however, trapped in a reality of my making. I am a twenty-something, which is to say I am an overly educated neurotic who subsists off Patty Melts and sometimes cries in the bathroom at Whataburger. I’ve taken anti-depressants since I was about 14, and I honestly can’t explain why in a single, coherent sentence. I’m a world away from my fantasy of being beautiful hipster in Austin. By contrast, when the sun sets, I simply dream that I am not the unyielding gatekeeper of my own Hell.
Although hard-working millennials are especially vulnerable to flights of fancy, I suspect the fantasy never really ends. In fact, I think it keeps on keepin’ on for most people. Look at the statistics: there are hundreds of bright-eyed gentrifiers that pour into Austin every day with a certain expectation of a new life big city, a vision that probably looks a lot like my admittedly self-indulgent daydream. They’ve researched the best spots for buying fresh, organic produce, and they’ve search for the perfect housing co-op near said organic marketplace. At this co-op, they would legally own an equal share of the nonprofit housing operative, along with other residents with billowing white blouses and pugs named Matilda. At this location, they would all happily coexist, planning little socializing events and taking turns cooking dinner for the entire co-op. (Everyone would low-key complain about the cheap cooking oil that Tallulah insists on using, but that’s not a big deal, they’d eventually concede; it’s only her turn to cook once a moon cycle.)
The fantasy is comforting; indeed, many of us wake up in the morning just for the sake of the fantasy. But, here’s the issue with the fantasy—it’s just that, a fantasy. It isn’t real, and it isn’t something you should invest your fundamental identity in.
I like to think that Nathaniel Hawthorne understood the illusory nature of the fantasy when he penned The Blithedale Romance. Although it’s somewhat inappropriate to apply contemporary values to a historical work of fiction, I think Hawthorne understood the experience of disenchantment—and all the self-loathing and bitterness that accompanies it. Perhaps the character of Zenobia best embodies this very negative example of self-realization, as she ironically was buried on the hilltop where she dreamed of building a cottage with her undeserving beloved:
“There was some consultation among us in what spot Zenobia might most fitly be laid. It was my own wish that she should sleep at the base of Eliot’s pulpit […] But Hollingsworth […] made it his request that her grave might be dug on the gently sloping hillside, in the wide pasture, where, as we once supposed, Zenobia and he had planned to build their cottage. And thus it was done, accordingly.” (Hawthorne)
Indeed, in a twist of events seemingly loaded with all the contrapasso of Dante’s Inferno, the fantasy that propelled Zenobia in life continued to taunt and torment her in death. I might be reaching, but I believe this message was Hawthorne’s not-too-subtle caveat for living: Don’t marry yourself to a fantasy, because the reality of the matter will almost certainly let you down.