Location: St. Vincent & Grenadines

You were driving home in the dark on one glass-slippered heel, window sliced open and bathing in the snowliquor of the night air. We heard you singing, and couldn't bear to wake you.

04 July 2005

What a waste of gunpowder and sky.

Some things I love about America:

1. Ambiguity. I love that this country is too multifarious to define itself. As Alan Watts wrote, trying to define yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth. Our ignorance, willful and otherwise, marches hand in hand with our self-consciousness. No, not hand in hand. And not marching. That's a bad metaphor. Maybe.

2. Possibility. I love that no matter how dark things get -- and they get dark indeed -- there is always a spirit of light lurking in the swamp. Ours is a country of weird mutants. It made me possible, and you, and you. We learned things by accident, and we considered them, and we made brilliant sculptures from the muck of our past.

3. Forgiveness. I love our willingness to undo our anger, which is almost never a simple task that can be done when it is done. We do it over and over again. It takes a long time. We have relapses. We forget, and have to remind ourselves. But we do it.

4. Attention. I love how awake we can be, how we throw ourselves into the work of experience. Something is always happening, and we're there to see it and talk about it and remember it later.

5. Hunger. I love the restlessness that drives our engines, even though many of our machines do horrible things. We want more than we need, so much so that wanting becomes a need, and we do what we do to keep our wanting in motion, for its own sake. Jesus. That's not something I love.

I'm trying. I really am. I sat down to write this because I wanted to overcome my cynicism and disgust, and focus for once on what is good about my country. And there are many things about my country that are good, but they are not really about my country. I'm looking back over this stuttering list I've made, and it's not about America; it's about the world. It's about people. People are good and bad everywhere. What makes this place special does not make it unique.

I don't know what to say about America that means anything. Outside my window firecrackers are exploding in multisyllabic, monotonous exclamations of: joy, violence, intoxication, et cetera. Maybe et cetera is what I love about America. That no matter what disgusts me, there is always something else.

I know that I'm lucky. I'm well-fed, well-educated, relatively safe from disease and warfare, and able to say what I'm feeling without reprisal. It's easy to take it all for granted because I've never had anything less. Most people on the planet don't know this level of luxury. But it's not a luxury; it's not something extra I get to have because I'm a better person. No one should be deprived of the rights I have. That notion is not uniquely American, either, but it is a notion that Americans have; it is part of our national mythology, and it's a good story. It's a really, really good story.

It makes me sad and angry that America has not made more of this story yet.


Anonymous Laura said...

Thank you. I tried to do something like this, on a slightly less formal basis, and you did a bit better than I did (although I have to disagree about the attention; one of my primary complaints about America and Americans is that we don't pay attention very well, especially to anything that isn't about us).

I had a really hard time with the 4th of July this year. We made sure to tell the kids that it's good to celebrate our country but we can't go around saying we're "the best," because we're not necessarily better than anyone else--that America has many wonderful things about it but right now we have a very bad leader who's not doing the best things we could do.

Then we marched in the Boom Box parade, wearing bright, bright tie-dyed T-shirts from our church, and the Gay Nudists (fortunately, NOT marching in uniform) were attracted to the tie-dye and joined up with our group, along with a few stray Quakers, right behind the Peace and Justice Coalition carrying signs with all of Bush's lies on them (or, at least, a representative sample). Then I cheered up a bit about the future of our country.

6:43 AM  
Anonymous Freddie "pet my pussy" Blankenship said...

I have the same problem with being overly cynical about our country, so I thought a bit about what I love, too, about it. Here it goes:

I love the land in our country. I love that it is huge, and takes several days to drive across, and that there are places where you can look a hundred miles ahead of you and hundred miles behind, and see nothing but sky meeting dark earth in the distance. Sometimes you don't see a person, just your own hands on the steering wheel- and even though I hate cars, I love the car culture, too, in those moments when you can be totally alone because you aren't in public transportation. And I love that the weather is so different all across the land, and I love that people are generally decent wherever you go - in this land and in other lands - and I don't love the fourth of July - but I love how Truman Capote wrote about how much he loved fireworks. I love American writers, and I love American cigarettes, and I love American music.

That's a start, eh?

Good idea, Yosha!

10:59 AM  
Blogger Felix Helix said...

Laura: "we don't pay attention very well, especially to anything that isn't about us"

That's as true of humans as it is of Americans. We can only understand the universe insofar as it reflects our own experience, which is why all those space aliens look a lot like people. Your point is well taken, though. Arrogance (of which racism is one particular flavor) runs deep in our culture, and not always the obvious, deliberate kind; more often it's the casual assumption that the world revolves around us that shows. But I think also that many Americans DO pay attention. I am certainly not a voice crying in the wilderness. There are plenty of attentive people out there, a minority perhaps, but there you go. Humanity.

Freddie: thank you, I completely overlooked the mobility. I feel the same way about cars -- dreadful, wonderful machines that couch our dreadful, wonderful solitude. The miles that separate us from each other. The big sky all around. The speed of thought, the changing weather.

9:38 PM  

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