Friday, August 31, 2012

Meditations on Americanism: Fireflies Dandelions and War

I wrote this a while ago but I just happened upon it and thought - them there's blog material!   I am alive, I am writing, mostly poetry at the moment.  I hope anyone who reads this is still alive and well too.  Here is something a wee bit more substantive and fit for online webitry than the expletive-filled poetry I've been turning out. I am a couple of weeks away from my Australian citizenship appointment (must get to studying: golden wattle, opal, three year Prime Minister terms, oh my!)   

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I suppose no one can ever really know us, hurtling as we are through life, alone and without repair, but when you live outside the culture of your birth you are both innumerably enriched yet in no small way also bereft of something many people take for granted.  This loss occasionally fills me with nostalgia and ennui.  Sharing a culture with someone.  It must be easier for people who have spent their lives entirely in one city, one state?  To be able to say, “the X played terribly on the weekend”  to a stranger on the bus and have them nod in understanding.  For some of us, we’ve grown up in so many cities, countries, cultures, capitals that is all begins to blur.  We’ll mention things, use words, get our cricket and football seasons confused, and people stare at us blankly, or just don’t get our humor, and it feels like we’re walking alone.  I wouldn’t change a thing; I’d just like to describe it all; perhaps, it is in some way universal.  My culture?  I consider myself irreparably American although I’ve lived in-country only 60% of my life.  I am like Australia.  The people living on me now are largely inconsequential when compared to the thousands of years of wiping winds, eroding waters, jettisoning fault lines and the blistering red dust that shaped me at the beginning of my life.   I grew up being hiked around the desert in El Paso, spending summers stomping tall grasses in Texas, watching fireflies light up the summer sky in Virginia, mountaineering in my backyard with jump ropes tied to pine trees, eating dubious fruits in the woods while finding abandoned tree houses and wondering if people lived there, if we could live there. Walking home with the street lights haloed and shimmering from hours of steeping my eyes in chlorine at the pool,  only to watch my freedom fade and shrivel (along with the leaves, depending on location) in light of August, the chill in the air, first buying school supplies and then shortly afterward preparing for Halloween with such fervor that I would inevitably, every year, wake in a panic that the Holy Day had come and gone and I had missed it, been unprepared, without a costume.  I sometimes measure my American-ness with Americanisms, many of which are tied to our consumer culture; advertising.  Like the Queen in Tom Robbin’s Still Life With Woodpecker, I am a huge fan of “Uh-Oh Spaghetti-O”.  Say that to someone who is not an American.

I do not have the same nostalgia for the places I have lived subsequently as I do for American things, authors, places, heros, feelings, poems, TV.  In Germany I fell in love with the food, air, trees, roads, music, people, castles, rivers, drugs, and found something in life to love even though for approximately 800 days I did not know if I would ever recover from leaving my life in the U.S.  Though they bring me pleasure, my memories of weisswurst and brotchen, walking down the Hauptstraße and spying on intriguing Germans do not sustain or inform me the same way as my memory of running after the ice cream truck through our leafy neighborhood with my brother when I was 10.  The demented jingle of the truck, the pink ice cream dribbling down his face, but we all do that growing up, don’t we?  There is a sub-culture that I am a part of that is no small slice of the American population and does not depend on where you grew up.  These people only have to imagine the twin towers in flames and probably the same images play, like an old war movie, through their heads.  I imagine myself sitting in math class in Texas while we watched it, only to be then sitting in another math class in Germany one year later while my dad was in the Middle East waiting, fighting, sitting, dying, laughing, crying, wondering, missing with so many other parents of my comrades, compatriots. A curious sub-set we are; viciously patriotic and yet poignantly aware of America’s follies.  We speak in such a way of our country as to illicit cries of “non patriot” from our overly nationalistic, non-militaristic, small-minded brethren, wincing; they don’t know what loving a country is until you give her up, give in to her, in many more ways than one can count.  Yes, my dad is alive but there is a part of him, and my family, that will never be repaired; relinquished to war, to freedom, to irony, to America.  Whenever you go back to something, someone, anything, it’s never what it was, or what you dreamed it was while you were away but maybe that is what makes the memories and recollections so important.  They become the place, person, country, while the real thing is hurtling ahead through the atmosphere continually changing, truly inscrutable to the extent that even speaking about, writing about it, becomes a farce with only a glimmer of truth.