Sunday, August 5, 2012

No One Belongs Here More Than You

I picked this year to roam and ramble because it was an election year, and I thought there was something special about that. I wanted to see America from one coast to the other coast. I wanted to get a feel for our people, my people, this vast country, my country, our collective country. The trip was strange and beautiful and long, as any trip by road should be, and when M and I finally reached Oakland, I was tired.

That was a couple of months ago, but it feels like forever.

I'm still tired.

I must have sat down a million times to sort out my thoughts about everything: the fundraiser, the trip, the book, America, the election, the environment, the economy, war, my car, my family, rent, food prices, my buddies, me, and on and on and on. Maybe that's hyperbole. How about: I sat down to sort out my thoughts, and I went on long walks around this beautiful city and the one just over the bridge. I put my feet down on the ground and I roamed, and I rambled the crap out of this summer, letting my mind wander with possibility, getting all mucked up in possibility.

It's less hyperbole just to say: there are infinite ways to tell a story. There are many stories to tell. But, where do I start with this one? Now that I'm here, where do I go from here?

So many possibilities, but where to start?

I know I want to write about what makes us all American, our traditions, the narratives that keep us together and the ones that pull us apart. That's not so easy to just sit down and do. I often go first for the fracture in writing.

Today was different because______.

It's natural to fill in that blank with what keeps us apart, and in an election year, with the rhetoric heightened, there's a wide chasm, a fracture deeper and more rugged than any old Grand Canyon. It's not exactly inspiring, more like soul squashing. When I look out over it, I think: maybe I'll work on this project after a nap or a movie or, or, or...

Despite positioning myself as somewhat cynical about most things in this world, at base, I'm a very positive person. I have a lot of hope for everything and everyone. I believe people are more good than bad, and the world is more safe than scary, and together we can work to enact positive change in it.

The People = All of Us

I'm a positivist, but I'm also a realist, and I'm not unaffected by what I see and hear around me. When I look at this big rift between us, real or not, I just get so depressed. I don't see the point of anything, especially not this endeavor. Rationally, I understand it isn't useful to linger in that state, but it's darn difficult to climb out. I'm not standing on the edge of the abyss. I've fallen in. Plain and simple.

From way down here, I wonder, does my little, teeny, tiny voice matter at all? I'm not rich or a member of any important political constituency. I'm no mover or shaker or power broker. No one is pandering too hard to win my vote or even going through the motions to pretend it matters all that much. Do I really have anything new or interesting to say about something so big, so vast, so just so? What gives me a right to say anything at all? And, for that matter, even if do, who's listening?

When I sit down to write, and despite all the obviously Pulitzer Prize worthy concepts I have for the essays I'm working on, I keep getting frustrated by that metaphorical chasm, that great, heartbreaking divide, the obvious and usual crippling self-doubt of writerly me, and at a deeper level by this need I feel to establish my own ethos as a genuine, true red, white, and blue American, like I need to show everyone my USA credentials or people won't believe my voice. It's as if being born American isn't enough and knowing I have a stake isn't enough, but that I also have to pass for a real American, whatever that means.

But, I guess "whatever that means" is an integral part of a project so concerned with identity. How can one feel such deep ownership of a place and also feel so marginalized? It's something to explore. If I plan on exploring it, though, I need to let go of all of the above. I need to remember:

We are all in it together. All of us. We all belong here, including me, and all of our voices are valid, including my own.

Look! Old Stars and Stripes in Oakland! Is it possible radical hippies love America, too?

After all this thinking and wandering and thinking and whining and thinking and excuse making, I sit down, and I start right here, with me and my process, and my shortcomings, and my vanities, and my insecurities about who I am and all of my obstacles. It's the innate narcissism of a writer, this writer, I guess, entertaining all sorts of grand beginnings, and then beginning with her own less interesting ones.

And, because you asked, I like what every red blooded American likes: cats, computers, comics and cuddling.

So, let's begin (again).

The journey here, to this place, to this beginning, to me torturing my eyes and hands writing for me after a long day of writing for someone else, and subjecting my humble but indulgent audience to these familiar, well-tread ramblings, this didn't just happen.

Let's begin, then, next, a century ago, somewhat closer to America's roots and to my own.

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