Saturday, March 31, 2012

Take Me Ridin' in the Car Car...

My brother and I next to our grandma's Opel

Here in the Bay Area we have access to great public transportation. I own a car, but I don't use it every day. In fact, I don't use it much at all. The first year I lived here, I put less than a thousand miles on it. This year, I'll probably put just under 4K, about the amount M and I will travel during our trip across country. According to the Federal Highway Administration the average yearly mileage per American driver is approx. 13,500 miles. Crazy.

Most people here don't have to rely on cars to get around, but that doesn't mean the roads are barren wastelands or wide bicycle lanes full of fixies and the smug hipsters who ride them. People here own cars, and they don't hesitate to use them. One need only look about oneself while stuck in traffic to observe the endless lines of hybrids, corn oil fed sunshine-mobiles and urban luxury tanks, which on average cost more than my (personally crushing) student loan debt.

My favorite car is attached to a commuter train.

When I was a teenager, I didn't realize that a person had a choice not to drive. At fifteen, all kids in Michigan took drivers ed, unless they were farm kids, which meant they had been driving for years already. Our school district's drivers ed class took place during the summer, which was a huge disappointment. Even worse, our instructor was also our high school swim coach, a total lunkhead who terrorized me and my cohort enough during the regular school year. That guy could ruin anything. He especially loved to crush teenagers' fragile egos whilst having them cart him around on his daily errands to the post office and the McDonald's drive-through. There was a lot of yelling and crying and gnashing of teeth in our car that summer, but I managed to make it through with a learner's permit.

I promptly put the permit in a desk drawer or wedged it into a book or something, and the last thought I gave it for months was, "I'm glad that shit is over with."

Then, one-by-one, my buddies started turning sixteen and getting their real driver's licenses and their own rusty four-cylinder leading-cause-of-death-among-teens machines. Until then, my feet and bike and the goodwill of other people's parents had done me just fine.

But those things only took me from here to there.

Me and my best buddy, J.J. , at the mall. I'm 15; she's 16. She drove.

When my friends started getting cars, they started going from here to anywhere, just anywhere, and I got to go anywhere, too. Anywhere was innocent: the skating rink or Sugarloaf Lake or some back road where the only radio station a car with a broken antenna could get would be playing Ricky Van Shelton or Vince Gill, and we would be singing along.

Anywhere felt nice. Anywhere felt like the solid center of something, though it was diffuse and undefined. Being anywhere meant not having to be anywhere, too. It felt like freedom. It felt exactly like what America is supposed to feel like.

When I turned sixteen, I had to get a license and a car. I saved my money from the paper route, babysitting, and my job at the fabric store. My dad helped me out some. For around $500, I bought a 1983 silver Subaru station wagon off a dairy farmer who had it sitting in his yard. Its main selling features were its tape deck and the fact that it moved. It also had four wheel drive, which can come in pretty handy in a place like Michigan.

A typical Michigan road
Of course, no one wanted to ride around in the silver Subaru at first. It was not an American car, and that was still a big deal in those days. But my friends and I finally invented an economy in which the parts for the car were probably made in Tennessee, and we agreed that money I coughed up for it probably got spent in the USA. We had pretty much fallen out of love with the big car companies, since they had laid off most everyone's parents from the jobs they had held for years and years. We were all poor because of it, whether our parents had worked at the factories or not, so we had no choice but to drive what we could afford--no matter where it was made--because we had no choice but to drive.

By the end of that first summer with a driver's license, my car and I had become one. I saw it as an extension of myself and my life. Around that time, I also decided I wanted to be a farmer or a vet or a biologist when I "grew up." I started taking Ag-business classes in the mornings at a country school twenty miles from home. In the afternoons, I took required classes in the city proper. Then, I joined the Future Farmers of America (FFA) and had to drive ten miles in the other direction every afternoon to work at a seed lab as part of a learning extension I did with the group. At the lab, I learned the most amazing things about DNA and genetics and math.

Without the ability to get to those places, I'd be a different person now.

Me behind the wheel of my first car

Today, the average age of a car driving on an American road is around eleven years. My car is twelve. Most of these vehicles aren't that fuel efficient, maybe not even that reliable, but many Americans can't afford to buy something of the Prius or Leaf or Fit variety, which are so ubiquitous on Bay Area roads these days. I'm not really sure these cars would be all that popular anyway, even if they were within reach.

I'm just going to come out and say it: those cars don't have any character. It may not matter to some people, but for many, their cars represent a deep part of their personal and national identity.

As a teenager, driving a foreign car meant I had to be less nationalistic and more open minded; maybe that gave me the bravery to reject the status quo and see how big and microscopic the world was. The succession of crap franken-cars I had after the Subaru literally meant how working class I was. When I graduated from college and bought the first car I actually wanted, a royal purple 1995 Toyota 4Runner --don't you dare laugh, don't anyone laugh-- that car meant I had made it.

The day I picked it up from the dealership, the salesmen told me to be careful. It was a beast, and I didn't care how much gas cost or how outrageously huge it was or how I had to reconcile it against my love for the environment. That thing meant me. 

Saying "Goodbye" to Grimace
Of course, the 4Runner was totaled less than a year after I bought it, in a very scary highway accident that I was lucky to walk away from. I still think about that beast: All. The. Time. When I'm sporting my boring and reliable Toyota Solara Camry --Yawn. Seriously, y'all: yawn -- I wish I was high above the road in that SUV.

Look, I hate traffic, and I wish we had a society where everyone had cheap, easy access to safe and reliable public transportation, and they all wanted to use it. Where that is a reality, a lot of people are now starting to make the choice not to drive. The internet is bringing us closer, making us free and bound up all at once. We can express our identity and aesthetic in smaller ways through the technology we use and our personal artifacts, rather than the cars we drive. Fuel is expensive. Emissions are dirty. Most of us don't have money to keep the things on the road.

And still...

I can't help but think about the way anywhere feels.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Back to the Future

M and I in 2007

Five years ago, M and I took an ambitious trip. We traveled through the heart of America from my former home in Kalamazoo to the Bay Area. We made the passage in five days.  I was eager to put Michigan behind me, and M had to fly straight off to a wedding in Florida when all was said and done. We drove a 2000 Toyota Solara, which I still own. In it, there was just enough space for all my worldly possessions, M's luggage, and my faithful companion, Jonah, a brown lop-eared bunny rabbit with Buddha nature. I had $800 in my pocket, some unemployment insurance coming to me and a set of relatives in California who had way more faith in me than I did in myself.

Because I don't like to drive and I'm not very good at it anyhow, M did, every inch, from Kalamazoo, to Chicago, through Illinois, and Iowa, Colorado, and New Mexico, Arizona and California. I'm probably missing a state or two. I am terrible at geography, which you may already know or will know soon enough. When I first declared my intention to move about as far West as a lady could get, and after my friends determined this declaration wasn't just one of many, many empty declarations I had made in the past, M appointed herself the driver, and before long, there we were, companions together, on the road, traveling through landscapes dominated by grassy plains, dry deserts and majestic mountains.

Let me stop here for a moment. I, for one, am terrified of driving through mountains. There is no explaining this dread terror. It just exists. Since I've lived in the West, I've learned: there are a lot of damn mountains in this country. I've gotten better, but on that trip, I think I must have cried every time we encountered a twisty road or grade.

The truth is, I fretted the entire way, all those thousands of miles. I was excited and scared, not just of the precarious mountain passages, switchbacks, and scenic overlooks, but of the future, which was entirely uncertain. All that had come before that trip seemed easy to me, like the cosmos scribbled down a set of events that would make that  journey inevitable. I was willing to go along with it, because, when the cosmos has you in its teeth, sometimes you just have to lay there until it lets go.

Half a decade later, I wonder, who that person was that divested herself of everything and just let fate take over? Like every moment that makes up the muchness of me, she's still moving through time. She exists. She didn't or can't know what lay ahead, not any more than I can. I wonder, sometimes, what she would think, if she had a glimpse of the present me?

Winter 2007: Sarah looking back to the future

Unlike the complete enigma I encounter when I stare in the mirror every morning these days, I know something of that "past Sarah" floating in the aether of time. I wrote this in my journal, three days before leaving for California. For context's sake, you should know I used to volunteer at a hospice-type home for the dying and Rabbit is a nickname many folks use for me:

April 23, 2007
So, today I'm wondering if I'm finally mature enough to understand my time working at the house for the dying (And, I wonder if that's a weird thing to think about). I remember, then, being so young and thinking: Hey, death, I got you beat; I ain't scared. But, I was scared and each successive time I went to the place, I would leave even more scared. The people who were actually dying were so calm and placid about it; I mean, each day brought them one step closer to oblivion, and they wanted simple things like to watch gameshows or have their feet rubbed or to sit in the garden and watch the birds ducking through, and I thought the whole time: shouldn't something big and profound happen right now? And, nothing big and profound ever happened. At twenty-three, I thought that was a terrible, awful thing.
It's weird, because out of nowhere, I understand the beauty in the simplicity of those desires. 
Why am I thinking about death (Oh, Rabbit, it's so emo of you!)? I'm not really; I'm thinking about change. I'm thinking about radical changes. I'm thinking about moving, I guess. I haven't (apart from the "how'my gonna get this done?" blues) been anxious or frightened or all that stressed out. I haven't been all gushy or ooey gooey about my hometown (I'm sure I'll miss it), and it's not the "big things" I'm interested in, but the small ones. Our little party the other night was so good and sweet and full of...of I don't know. It was gentle, I guess, just like our lives here, and I guess if I miss anything, it will be small: waking up from an afternoon nap to the sound of a banjo, watching traffic go by, the like-family days at M & R's, quiet mornings in the Sprau chatting up the latest departmental gossip w/Blynn, Mike making me coffee on snowy days, the drowsy faces of my students at "too early to speak of," even my brother's crazy talk of Russian conspiracies.
Today, driving to school for the last time, I just felt so excited about everything, the possibility and the newness of everything. I don't need for anything big or profound to happen. Epiphanies and catharsises are great, I'm guessing, but it's the smallnesses of existence that matter to me. I'm going to miss all of these small things. I'm going to miss the truly good and wonderful people in my life right now, but I felt so lucky to be moving forward. I'm going to be in a good place with good people, too. I can't explain how happy I feel right now.

It's 2012.  I'm on the verge of another journey, one which is decidedly less profound in its purpose, design or execution then the last. Physically, I'm in a another place, mentally, too. I wonder now, if it's time to think of things on a macro-level, to begin to focus on epiphany or catharsis when it wasn't necessary before, or maybe those things will arrive when I seek the smallnesses and shared comforts of this place with total earnestness and honesty. In some ways, I've done so much since I arrived in California. In other ways, I've been standing still, very still, whispering: Now what? for a long time.

Great Platte River Road Archway Monument, Kearney, NE. Was this the physical gateway?

There's this garden in Oakland that I walk to sometimes. In it there's a Torii Gate. From what I understand, in Shinto Buddhism these gates often mark the entrance to a shrine. On one side is the sacred, on the other, the profane. On the one side is the spirit world, on the other side is the world of the living. I often go to this garden and stand on one side of the gate. I imagine I'm in the spirit world or in the real world or in one time or that time or the other time. I listen to the stream close by for a good while, then I imagine, on the other side of the gate is another layer of the onion peel, a tiny, thin, microscopic layer, and when I walk through, I've shifted space and time. The change is so subtle I could go between the gate's posts a million times and not notice, but it is different.

On that last trip, M and I must have passed through a Torii Gate. Maybe the trip itself was one. Each measure of distance was another layer peeling back and into something cosmically different. We thought we were traveling through a geographic space--many people make that mistake--, but we were cruising straight through the multiverse. That's pretty cool, mountains and all. The reality we emerged into was quite different than the one we had left behind.

This trip, of course it's a search for America and American identity, and it's a writing project, and it's a couple weeks with my brilliant and amazing friend, but for me, it's a catalyst for change. Right now, I'm listening to the stream just before I walk through a new gate.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Sweet Land

My Front Yard

Since it's been getting nicer out, I've been trying to walk the mile and a half to and from the closest BART station as part of my daily work commute.

BART, for those of you who don't know, is Bay Area Rapid Transit. I like to think of it as a reliable, electric, bacteria filled steel transport sausage that communally delivers nice folks from one place to another. Does it sound delightful to you? It is, really! Especially compared to the slow snarl of rush hour traffic that the East Bay becomes circa 5pm every day and even more so compared to the vein popping hulked out rage machine I become circa 5pm every day when stuck in that slow snarl of traffic.

This morning, on my walk, I saw a big white pelican, a tiny crane, at least five species of duck, cormorants, which are kind of spooky when you get down to it, and coots, which have the ugliest feet of all water fowl anywhere I've ever been. I live just about a block from a large tidal lagoon, Lake Merritt. It comprises the center of the city of Oakland, and is America's first official wildlife refuge. This is my front yard, and I share it with my neighbors.

All around the lake are fancy fountains and gardens, extensive ones. Anyone can check them out! If you want you can grab a sailboat or a paddle boat or rent a gondola. It's cool! We all share. You can even bring your own. Close by, there's a wide green space where people can play soccer or tag or whatever they want. Sometimes people string ropes between trees and practice high wire or sit on the park benches and feed the birds or sit on blankets or steps staring off into the distance all dreamy like.

Did I mention the tennis courts?

My neighbors are pretty great, as far as neighbors go. When I go on my morning and evening walk, I see people of all races and ethnic backgrounds, of different sexual orientations and genders, of different ages and religions and socio-economic statuses. There are athletes and elites and hipsters and townies and transplants and oh, there's that guy who is always doing Tai Chi, like always, all the time. I bet he is super self-fulfilled.

Look, I have a well-developed sense of irony and cynicism. I know it's Pollyanna-esque and there are plenty of deep critiques of the City of Oakland to be made, but I'm going to venture to say, my neighbors and I, we have it pretty good, very good, maybe better than any super-rich kabillionairre in the whole wide world.

Maybe we don't get to go be all alone with our land or our stuff or our travel or our entertainments, but that's fine by me. I can be a bit of an urban hermit. It's good to be around people.

I'm going to say this quietly, so pretend I'm whispering: I think this might be something like Socialism. Okay, sorry. I know for some of you, it's a bad word. I was just thinking how, on our own, not many of us would have anything close to this, but when we share our resources, Voila! Fancy stuff!

And boy, do I like fancy stuff.

Winners get fancy stuff, like parking spots and sh*t!

So, I've been investing in my future lately, aka, buying Megamillions tickets. I've been thinking about what I would buy with that kind of money, if I won. Imagine with me! At the start, my lotto dream is altruistic. First, I pay off my student loans, and my buddies student loans. Then I set some of the kids in my life up with college funds. As you can see, education is very important to me. Then I establish a scholarship for working class kids. Then the rest goes to a charity. Most likely, I'd do something to feed hungry schoolkids. Good learning is helped by good nutrition, right? Wow, I'm a good person!

At this point, the fantasy changes. I start to think, "That's a lot of money. What if I keep some of it?" I could still give a lot to charity, but I could travel, too. I could travel and write, which is all that I ever have wanted to do with my life, and I could do that anywhere because I'd have an easy source of income. Me, a passport, some plane tickets, hostels, street food and a laptop: there's not too much overhead in that. But then, I'd probably want to have some place nice to come home to, maybe just a just a tiny condo in the city where I could keep my books and sleep when I'm in town. Okay, but then, if I just took an extra million or so from the charity fund, I could have a real detached house with land. Maybe it could have a lake and some fancy fountains and some gardens, extensive ones, and tennis courts (though I don't play tennis). So maybe those kids wouldn't  get lunch at school, but then it's not my responsibility to take care of those kids, anyway, and if it hadn't been for the fickle hand of the cosmos I never would have pretend won the stupid lotto to begin with. Jeez!

John Trumbell's Declaration of Independence

This week, I've been reading this book by Erich Fromm, Marx's Concept of Man. In it, he discusses Marx and Socialism outside of the framework of Soviet Communism, which many of us, including me, have a deep gut reaction to. In it, he argues for a more humanist view, one where Marxism / Socialism frees man of the burden of materialism and gifts him with freedom to pursue creativity, spirituality and whatnot. I've been thinking about this some during my morning walks and pretend lotto fantasies. It seems like no matter which end of the spectrum I'm on, and I'm assuming humanity is on, I want my basic needs + met so I am free to "pursue." Pursue what? I don't know. Maybe it's the elusive "happiness" so noted in our nation's Declaration of Independence. Maybe it's the freedom to write or do Tai Chi all day or watch football or worship or play Mass Effect 3. I don't know. Everyone's pursuit is different, right?

We, and by we, I mean, me: I want people to be free and happy, at least to have their basic needs met. So when I think about it, especially on my long walks through the shared public spaces that make up my world, I can only conclude that socialism, at least at the ground level, is an American value. Not all of us are going to be kabillionaires. We're not all going to achieve the elusive "dream" alone, but we can share it. We can have it together.

We already share a lot: our parks, our roads, our mail system, our defense, etc. I personally wouldn't mind sharing other things like healthcare or higher education or housing if it enriches my experience and that of my neighbors and nation.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Working Man Blues

It's not you. It's me(etings). Badaboom!
Today, I was spacing out during a work meeting. This happens a lot. I'm in a big room, something is being said. People are nodding. I'm nodding. People are taking notes. I'm drawing pictures of bugs dressed in suits drinking martinis and spouting Marxist catchphrases...

Oh, wait:. Hi there, coworker who has strayed onto this blog or has been directed here by yours truly. What I meant to say is: I love work meetings. I love them so much. They are my favorite. Sometimes, at the end of a long day when I'm sitting brain dead on the couch, all I can think is: "Gee, the only thing that could make this moment any better was if it was actually a work meeting!"

Unfortunately, just like winning the lotto and becoming an instant kabillionairre or having Matt Damon ring me up out of the blue to tell me how much he loves me, that kind of thing is just a fairy tale, for now. Until the magic of the internet makes it possible, I'll just have to settle for what I can get during the work week. Oh, wait, you're telling me that the magic of the internet has already made it possible to be at work all the time? But I digress...

So, I was spacing out at this work meeting, and I was thinking about cookies. I was thinking how I really wanted one, though I don't typically eat sweets, and inside my brain, it was something like a web-chat between two really stupid people:

sarahbrain1: Cookie?
sarahbrain2: No cookie.
sarahbrain1: Cookie?
sarahbrain2: No cookie.
sarahbrain1: I wish I had a cookie.
sarahbrain2: No, you don't.
sarahbrain1: Bacon?

Then, around me, everyone was closing their notebooks and hefting themselves out of their seats and heading out of the room to implement whatever new strategy we had discussed, and I looked at the clock and realized I had been stuck in a cookie loop for the better part of a half hour. And even though the information that had been shared wasn't immediately applicable to me, I felt guilty, really, genuinely guilty for not being a better worker, for not being more attentive, for not trying harder.

I'm from the Midwest, Michigan to be precise. I was born in the Rust Belt where work is as defining and important as religion, race or family. I had my first job when I was thirteen. I delivered weekly shoppers to local apartment complexes. Then I got into the game for real. I had a daily route with the Kalamazoo Gazette. After school, when other kids were out riding their bikes and getting in snowball fights and Sunday mornings when those same kids were sleeping, dreaming of Captain Crunch and pancake breakfasts, I was up bagging papers and loading them into my red wagon or sled depending on the season.

My hands were often black with ink, my face smudged with it like some poor chimney sweep. The work was hard, and people were always stiffing me, and it seemed like everyone I knew was going to the mall or the movies, and I couldn't because I had my route. Sometimes, my friends would help, and that was fun, and I'd give them a cut, which left me with about nothing. When I did have money, my mom was always "borrowing" or making me use it for regular stuff like lunches or school clothes. It sucked, but I sucked it up, because that's what working class kids do.

Hard work wasn't something our family talked about, and it wasn't something the families around us talked about. It was implied. Our mom worked as a cashier or waited tables for a career. From my earliest memory she was dressed in a uniform on the way to work or coming home from work. My dad, a Vietnam veteran, who worked for the State of Michigan, never missed a day. He got perfect attendance awards. Does that happen anymore? After my parents divorce, he would walk the five miles back and forth to work morning and night just to save extra money to spend on his kids.

Even though it seemed unfair, I decided to not complain. After all, there was someone down the street who had it worse, some kid whose dad had just lost his job at the GM plant or some other kid who didn't even have crappy parents or some kid in Ethiopia who would have gotten in a fist fight with me over the block of government cheese I turned my nose up at.

My world, coming up, was blue collar and working poor. I often hear the phrase, the American Dream, and I like to think sometimes about what that really meant, way back then to little Sarah, shivering her ass off and cursing God while waiting for the paper truck at 4am in a too thin coat and cheap, holey boots that let the slush seep in.

One thing I understood was that "hard work," as in labor, didn't necessarily pay off. It hadn't given our family a split level in a subdivision, an above ground pool and a visit from the Swan's truck every week. Hard work was exactly what it was: hard. When I bought my school lunch or played a game at the arcade in the mall, I equated each penny to time spent. I worked this many hours for this____ . It was a math equation I could do in my sleep. Any working class kid could, then and now, I'm sure.

Another thing I understood was work began and ended with possible tasks, so it felt kind of good. Work was its own reward, in a way, and it was separate from life. It occupied my body, not my mind. Even when I was working, I could go places. Work was the dream, and everything else was what the dream supported. No matter how poor I was or what I went without, I knew there would be a time after, a time when things were done, even if I worked overtime, and I did plenty.

Where am I going with this? Ahh, the work meeting and spacing out, right? I guess I was spacing out right there.

I think a lot of people would say that I typify the American Dream, raised working poor, I put myself through college and left the Rust Belt for the Golden State where the streets are paved with cheese (of the none government variety) and computer chips made of crushed iPads, where we all live in public with our webcams and Tweeting and status updates and our blogs where we write about our crappy childhoods disguised in some bigger rhetorical framework about our political identity and America.

I'm not hefting papers onto someone's porch or making someone a sandwich or walking someone's dog or cleaning a toilet. I'm eating fresh, organic greens every day and hanging out at the farmers market on the weekend where people wear overhauls, not for their utility, but as a fashion statement, and they carry baskets (Yes, handmade wicker baskets probably crafted in some studio in Marin by someone with an artist's statement) full of locally grown fruits and vegetables, because baskets connote something more meaningful than your average canvas bag. Everyone here is beautiful, especially the vendors at the farmers market who just look windswept and healthy and happy like a tourist commercial. I can't help but stare at them, which is probably disconcerting, but I don't care. I could catch flies in my mouth, it's open so wide in surprise half the time.

I have a white collar job, at a desk, at the kind of office building I used to clean up after people at when I was in school. The interesting thing is, it's not easy, not like I thought it would be when I was out in the snow and sleet walking some upper crusty's French Poodle. It's just as hard to sit and think and write and create every day, as it is to labor physically. In a lot of ways, it's harder. It's a work that doesn't end, and that's why I find myself spacing out at the strangest times, feeling the strangest kind of Midwestern guilt, wondering where the dream ends and begins.

The other day, I was at my favorite cafe having lunch, I left my table for a moment to grab a coffee to go from the barista behind the counter, and when I came back, I began to bus my dirty dishes. A customer, who had just come in, started asking me questions about the menu, and I was really confused.

She said, "Oh, I thought you worked here. You just look like you belong here."

The first feeling I had was bliss. I wanted to tell her I did work there. Odd, maybe. The worker inside of me, she hasn't gone anywhere. Other people recognize her. That's where I'm going with this whole thing, I think. There's something so essential to my identity, my place here, in this world, in this country that's wrapped up in being a worker, a hard worker, a laborer.

Hard work, in many ways, makes me American, makes me feel like I have some ownership, some stake, like I earned my place. I mean, that's how my family earned its place. That's where a poor / working class person's voice comes from, not from wealth but a sense of "I earn my keepedness." Moving from one "working" class to another is not easy, and I wonder about others who have done it.

Do they feel guilty? Do they feel they've lost a part of their personal identity? Do they feel like it's compromised their political or national identity? I'd like to know.

Preach it, Merle 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

American History 101


Lately, I've been thinking a lot about our nation's history. I'm going on a cross country trip in an election year. I'm writing about America and Americans, not just in my nonfiction work, but in my fiction work, too. It's probably important to think about where we, "it," America (or the USA, if you're going to be proper), came from, in order to understand American identity.

There's the history we were taught or were failed to be taught. Honestly, I don't remember much from my early social studies classes about America's beginnings, except that there was a ship full of pilgrims and everyone ate turkey when they came to the New World. From the pictures, it looked like pilgrims had belt buckles on their hats. Somehow the British got involved, and they were mean bullies, so something had to be done. There were a lot of secret meetings, teapot making and carrying of muskets. There was a war. It was winter. Toes and fingers fell off. George Washington was a hero. Someone said, Hey Colonies, let's be a country, and everyone was like: Bam! USA! USA! USA!

I consider myself a real patriot, but seriously, when it comes to early US history, I'm kind like an evangelist who has never actually read the bible and still has the guts to quote it all the time. It's easy to talk about how I feel and what I see right now. It's hard to think how each of us is shaped by a past we cannot feel or see. We all have some sort of deep gut emotion when we think about our nation or the abstract concepts that form it in our minds, and some of that comes, at least in part, from the events surrounding its founding, even if we know them to be true or skewed or not real at all.

At the moment, I'm most interested in the overarching rhetoric. What happens when new nations form? How do people talk about it. I started reading the Federalist Papers this week. To be honest, I won't get through them. They are pretty dense, and I just don't have enough of a context to understand them. I don't feel comfortable with all the Providence and frankly, white male Christian centricedness of it, but it's one vision of America, an important one. It's made of some of the words that made us, and it's powerful.

This country and this people seem to have been made for each other, and it appears as if it was the design of Providence, that an inheritance so proper and convenient for a band of brethren, united to each other by the strongest ties, should never be split into a number of unsocial, jealous, and alien sovereignties.

I'm pretty impressed. Look at us, millions of us on this giant piece of land, and even though we constantly raise our hackles and bitch and moan about healthcare mandates and transvaginal ultrasounds and the wars our taxes are going to, we still manage to live together. Sometimes, well often, the rhetoric spins out of control. Someone says something awful about someone who thinks differently, or we complain about our rights being infringed upon (which I'm learning our Founding Fathers would have probably been okay with, if it meant protecting the government and in turn, the vast majority of the American people), but we're still together.

I hope we stay that way for a long time.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Past and Future Present

Greetings from the past (which doesn't exist)

Physics tells us that there is no discernible difference between past and future. The same rules apply whether you're looking forward or back. But it's impossible to make cognitive sense out of that, at least for me. Even if I was brilliant or a physicist, and I'm neither, I know I can't alter what has happened, not in the way I believe I can alter what will happen. And even that isn't guaranteed. Einstein called the distinction between past, present and future, a "stubbornly persistent illusion." I think he was referring to death.

Nope, I cannot explain to you, with any degree of authority, anything about the Special Theory of Relativity or the Simple Theory of Everything or strings or particles or time. Blah. It all gets shredded in the tines of the planetary gearing that I imagine exists in my head and functions as a brain.

If it weren't for entropy, maybe the illusion wouldn't persist, but lucky for us, our little cells knit together for a few years, and then they unravel. For a long time, we're too dull or dimwitted to get how brilliant and amazing just being alive is, and by the time we stop being so stupid (if we ever stop being so stupid), we're often too caught up in the business of keeping ourselves comfortably alive to actually just marvel at what it is.

In a couple of months, I'll be in a Jeep traveling from Aiken to Oakland. I already am. I already did. Half a decade ago, I was somewhere in time crying my little eyes out coming down a mountain in Colorado, coming down a mountain in Arizona, coming down a mountain in California. You'll soon learn, I really like mountains--when I'm not on them, in a moving car, on a road. A decade ago, I was chasing a thief through a train traveling through Italy, or I was  lost just outside Rome. But I still am, aren't I, and tomorrow I will be, too, and yesterday, then.

That's the great thing about telling stories. You get to understanding the physics of time, how we're just moving through it or it through us. I like thinking about this story, about traveling through a physical space with my best friend, and the ghost of a rabbit, who isn't a ghost, just another being that exists somewhere else in time. Anyone who has been on the road for any extended period knows how easy it is, outside of our normal routines, for "things" to break down, for time and space to blur and blend like it should.

I'm looking forward to that feeling.