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they’ve all gone to look for America.

July 23, 2008

I.

It’s time I pinned (penned) down some of the thoughts that’ve been buzzing about my head for the past days (weeks? years?). I’m fresh from a road-trip to New York City; ‘fresh’ in that it just happened. I just experienced the city for the first time in years; and, more monumentally for me, for the first time since living in a city (London).

“Kathy, I’m lost,” I said, though I knew she was sleeping
I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why
Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike
They’ve all gone to look for America
All gone to look for America
All gone to look for America

This is not a political blog, and I have no desire to make it one. This is not a political post. But I’d be irresponsible and a liar if I said that the poitico-economic situation wasn’t influential on my art/ state of mind. I remember standing on the main steps within my high school on nine-eleven, witnessing a kind of panicked speculation about war, including words like draft and brother. I had a sense of complete unreality and detachment. And I had the thought that war was coming for my generation, at last. As a child of the fiscally advantageous 1980’s with parents (more to the point– a dad) too young to have served in, or protested, Vietnam, war and economic wobbles were the stuff of textbooks to me. I whiffed the kind of ubiquitous fear that can sweep a nation for the first time. And I was aware, that in some way, this forced America into deeper solidarity with a world, which is largely war-torn, poor, and insecure. (I am reminded of a stand-up comedian’s joke I once heard: “If you were born American, pat yourself on the back. You won the one-in-twenty lottery, already.”)

Heraclitus famously said that everything “scatters and gathers, [it] comes and goes.” We live in a sort of continuous pendulum, and whether the ultimate stillness represents Enlightenment or Apocalypse is unknown. What is known, is that large forces (economic, social, political) waver and wobble between states of welfare and states of hardship. On the whole, these tides are so large as to criss-cross any one person’s life only once or twice. And so, no one generation is immune: having forgotten mistakes, we repeat them, having gained false security, we lose it. (This is true so much more so for the broader geo-climatic changes of our Earth. Do you feel the plates shifting? The ocean rising? How about the temperature?) Our accountability is much longer-winded than our memory.

I’ve been on my stoop watching a white-bellied squirrel watch me, while he shovels birdseed into his mouth, for the last thirty minutes or so. He’s stealing it, of course. And he’s watching me as though he knows that I hung the bird-feeder in the tree (which I did), and that I am a threat (which I could be if I wanted, I guess). Instead of scaring him off, I just watch, thinking about why this mammal would be deemed by many ‘less worthy’ of the birdseed than the swifts gathering his crumbs off the sidewalk, and the mockingbirds swooping and squawking their disapproval. He earned it, as far as I’m concerned: he’s tenacious, and he’s taking a risk, dangling upside down, swaying on a string tied to a branch, to get that food. Though the squirrel seems to be winning in the short term, a real opportunist, the birds will get theirs. I’m not worried for them.

So, as self-conscious as we are as a nation right now, we needn’t be. Sure, falling from a pedestal hurts. But, as a recent participant on ted.com proverbed, “we are at our most beautiful when we are ugliest, because it is only then that we know what we’re made of.” So, I am trying–in the midst of a Western culture in crisis– to slip words like those into my pockets as worry stones, rather than trace the climbing oil prices, and shout at the indifferent air. It is undeniable that road-trips like the one I took this weekend are quickly becoming reliquary. My children will inherit a different world from mine, much like I did from my parents (for whom a college degree was still strong, faithful currency). Rock bottom leaves only one direction in which to go; the generation of ubiquitous information and the oil crisis, start your (electric, bio-fueled) engines, and get creative, get back to the land. In time, maybe our grandchildren will be products of the next baby boom, and we might just make ourselves into the second Great Generation.

You always rough-house until someone gets hurt.
When will we learn?

II.

It’s not like I’ve summed this up now, and can move on. I only mean to give voice to a pervasive mood, to something as ubiquitous as air, and fundamentally engaged in the music, art, film, and literature that is (and will be) produced by us. I want to bear it consciously, making choices that are sustainable, responsible, enlightened. Little things; buy from the farmer’s market, bike to school or work. Put your ear to the hive and listen. Things are at work. Things are shifting. And as much as road-trips were, ‘staycations’ are part and parcel of how we discover ourselves, having gone to look for America (again), if this time (only) through our creative collective, and not a set of wheels.

I get goose-bumps just watching this performance of the fusion of biology, choreography, and human ingenuity, produced by the Pilobolus dance company:

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One Comment leave one →
  1. A-man-duh permalink
    July 23, 2008 12:45 pm

    I agreed until I went to Hyperion and saw the little signs that they are raising prices as of tomorrow. That’s when the fear hit….and it hit hard.

    They can mess with our gas tanks….but leave the damn coffee alone.

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