Saturday, July 4, 2009

a few scattered thoughts on the 4th

The Fourth of July used to be my favorite holiday. Not because I am especially patriotic but because it was a day when I could blow things up in front of my house without anyone calling the police. My crowd in OC knew that the party was at my house on the Fourth. I would have large fireworks displays where I would fashion effigies of celebrities, friends, ex-girlfriends, myself, politicians and so forth and then light them off or blow them up or set them ablaze.
Then I moved to Chico, became much more serious about my spiritual walk and, besides, it is illegal to light off fireworks here. My crowd in Chico knows that the party is at my brother's house where there is a barbeque and walking distance to the park where you can watch the fireworks from the fairgrounds. It is nice.

When I say that I am not especially patriotic I want to take great pains to express that I love my country very much. I think it is beautiful, the earth is rich, the diversity and freedom make it one of the best countries in the world. I do not especially fear my government. I like a lot of what my country does. Of course, I dislike a lot of what my country does as well. Mainly I think that we have a decent political system, a completely screwed economic system, some people in power who want to do what they think is best from their reality tunnel and some people in power who abuse their position with great efficiency and some who do a little of both. I think we have an abominable television, film, celebrity, talk radio and advertising culture which we as a people have condoned. I think we have a wonderful public television and radio system. I think that our arts are on the level or exceeding the greatest cultures in history.
When I say that I am not especially patriotic I define that term as some weird, soppy, blind sentimentalist view of one's country. For example, in High School I remember refusing to say the Pledge of Allegiance. My social studies teacher thought I was doing that because the pledge mentioned God (and, as I remember, he did nothing to discourage me. God bless public schools.) But really it was because I did not pledge my allegiance to a flag. I'll pledge allegiance to God, love, compassion, art, truth, beauty, kindness, brotherhood, peace, and now I would even pledge allegiance to The United States of America. But not to a flag, I mean, come on, it's a piece of fabric. It is that sort of silly symbolism that keeps me from calling myself patriotic.

Many of you remember that I just did a long study on the Puritans. I came away from that class realizing that as far as history goes the Puritans get a really bum rap. Although there were some Puritans who did some very bad things and, yes, most of that group were the ones who came to America. The witch hunts were pretty stinking bad, but by today's standards it was really just a handful of people. What we did to the natives was about as wicked as humans get as was the slave trade. And the founding fathers were a few Age of Enlightenment terrorists in a large distant land, which was pretty much unused, save for taxing the occupants, until the anti-royalists were successful in their revolution - thanks mainly to the French (in one of the grander and more successful "giving of the bird" to England in France's history. France has a long and proud history of giving the bird to England.) And so began a long history of grand illusions of freedom and autonomy.

And when I think about these things at all I inevitably start listing things I like about America (Lincoln, hot dogs, Phish, jazz, our national parks, our postal service, This American Life, Kool-Aid, our libraries, our unemployment insurance, Whitman, Sylvia Plath, Allen Ginsberg, Mark Twain, Pete Seeger, Burning Man, freedom to speak and worship) and things I don't (exploitative business practices, HMOs, Nixon, Perez Hilton.)
Why am I writing about America this morning? Many people have written far better, more coherant thoughts on America. And really it is far too big for a blog post. I'm almost done and realizing I have said very little new or of value about my country.
I remember Garrison Keillor saying "I think the most UnAmerican thing you can say is 'You can't say that!'" Which really is a huge part of what I love about my country. I can worship as I see fit, talk to anyone about it or about anything else, post opinions to the world, embrace or protest anything, and I should hope that any effort to keep or expand those freedoms ought to be successful.

Last night Laurie and I watched a film called About Schmidt. I cried almost all the way through. It was a study on everything going wrong, mortality, lives which seem to lack meaning or seem not to do any good at all, loneliness even in the midst of large families, and losing one's working position and wondering if one was of any use to anyone anywhere at all ever. It is also a road trip film in a way. It stars Jack Nicholson. I've been thinking about how in 14 years I've gone from being able to identify with one Nicholson road trip film meant to show the pulse of America, Easy Rider, to entirely identifying with the dilemmas and sorrows of another, About Schmidt. Everything is so vast, distant, wrong and troubling. One seems so ill equipped and powerless. One seems to mess up so much, but also to be surrounded by such obviously more messed up people and circumstances that seem so obviously easy to fix. But then no one listens to one another and we all ought to love one another but we don't.

This year I am one of the victims of the Recession, fueled by greed and blood. Every day is a day off of work for me right now completely against my will. My desire is to have my shoulder to the wheel but they won't let me near the wheel right now. I feel so lost and useless so much of the time anymore.
But my gosh I love this horribly flawed nation we've created. My plan is to maybe go buy a book, go walk around the magnificent trees that Northern California is lousy with, go visit my family and friends, eat hot dogs, walk to watch fireworks. For one day I focus on an idea and a mass of land and wonder if it means anything at all.

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