Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth, that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Stars and Stripes Forever

Driving on a twisted series of concrete, looped exit and entrance ramps, rusted steel bridges disappearing into the distance, traffic hurtling along in all directions. I am not alone in the car, the other amorphous person, or what I sensed as another presence, as lost as I. Unsure where we are specifically trying to get to - an airport? An anxious moment of indecision. Do we get off here? I have had this dream before, and I believe the topography represents a mishmash of roadways just outside of NYC, on the Jersey side. In fact, in the version last night one of us said something about Bayonne. Like so many dreams, this one sounds so blatantly obvious in its symbolism: I am at a confusing crossroads in my life; I am feeling lost; I am worried about the future. Yet like many dreams it feels more complex than such pat psychology, lingering in the mind not as stripped bare plot, but as a rich and temporal experience. Who or what is that other? Why can't I tell for sure who is driving and who is holding the map? Why, twenty-five years after leaving New York would my mind recreate such a scene and include a New Jersey town I have never visited? Dreams bear such weight for the dreamer, so readily dissipate in the telling. Nolan's Inception missed on that level, at least for me. Interesting and entertaining and complex, yes, but dreamlike? No. Terrence Malick- all his films are thoroughly dreamlike and the dreams, or flashbacks, or reveries in them come and go exactly as they should, as obscure flotsam and jetsam on a rising sea. I have stepped off of my (relatively) linear path and in addition to some of my friends, and some of my colleagues, and certainly my father, even my subconscious is wondering what I am up to and where this will lead. Something I said in an earlier post, about being miserable and lonely in the US, was challenged by a commenter, and rightly so. For starters I meant to write that at times I was lost in these states, and I meant to clarify that it was the cultural direction and values I experienced in the US- primarily the lack of community, the sense of rush, the emphasis on rapid advancement, mindless distraction, and conspicuous consumption over patience, reflection, and craftsmanship. But these are not the whole tale of the US. In Maine alone there are scores of painstaking craftsmen, slow cooks, and wise shamen. History is full of characters like myself looking on less "advanced" societies with a certain yearning, whether it is Paul Gauguin in the South Seas or Rousseau in his writer's room in Paris. If you believe Claude Levi-Strauss the structures of the human mind are the same everywhere through all time- so yes, there is ample suffering here. The binary oppositions found in the myths which inform this culture inform our own on some level. It is too easy to disparage my culture and lazy of me to do so, not to mention hypocritical. What do I do for entertainment on a nightly basis? I watch season 3 episodes of Breaking Bad, whose driving premise rests on a critique of the American health care system. Walt starts cooking meth because he has cancer and his health plan won't cover experimental treatment. Later his wife accepts his ill gotten gains to help her brother-in-law, shot by drug cartel members in a revenge plot, because his medical plan won't cover the best physical therapists. That the show is so preposterous is a large part of its appeal. It out-coincidences Dickens and I swallow it whole. The last episode I watched was one hour of Walt- middle aged, brilliant chemist, now cooker of a deadly drug ruining lives and communities, and Jessie, the 20 something former meth head who is Walt's...antithesis? alter-ego? conscience? twin? I can't say because I have never encountered such a pair outside of Laurel and Hardy... trapped in a windowless lab together trying to kill a fly. The whole hour- one room, two guys, and a fly. At one point Jessie looks up and says. The fly is way up there because it is probably Thailand hot... he looks as Walt for a beat...Thailand is hot right? The show is dark and the characters confused and the values promoted running in every direction. Everyone is a good guy and everyone is a devil, and it is terrifically acted and written. I am fully a product of my generation and upbringing.  I have WGBH on my internet radio, so as I swelter in my room the announcer says it will be 49 and much cooler than yesterday in Boston and then continues with Henry Purcell's birthday ode. The announcer did not lie. I cannot help but be cheered up by the choral, To celebrate, to celebrate, this triumphant day! The falsetto duet, Sound the trumpet! Sound the trumpet! Certain aspects of Thai culture and religion draw me like the smells from an unreal childhood memory. I have never been here before but they feel like a return. I look up at the hazy sky and try to sense my global location, the reference points to my east, west, north, and south. At times I experience a jarring vertigo that I am somewhere else, Mexico or Central America, as I stumble among the densely packed crowds in the dim light and crackling music of the night market. Perhaps it is as simple at this: My Swiss grandfather left his home for the US at 22, returning only for occasional visits. My French mother left Chatou for New York younger than that. Even my won't-ever-leave-the-house-unless-it-is-to-Texas-to-train-retrievers father drifted away from his friends, family, and Boston culture to settle in the then wild west. Maybe I have an itinerant gene and movement itself satisfies the yen. Interestingly, several volunteers gathered for a dinner and a sleep over at Gen's last night and we kicked around what might follow World Teach. There are those like Heather Johns who is returning to the US next year to attend graduate school in speech therapy, and there are those like Ben, who comments,  I don't really see going back. I am trying to get my parents used to that idea. Both these young people I count as my close friends: moral, committed, interesting, thoughtful, etc. A dichotomy of US bad, elsewhere good is simplistic, self-serving, and puerile. So excuse my pious digressions while I try to figure this all out, yes?
Deckard (narrating)  I don't know why he saved my life. Maybe in those last moments he loved life more than he ever had before. Not just his life - anybody's life; my life. All he'd wanted were the same answers the rest of us want. Where did I come from? Where am I going? How long have I got? All I could do was sit there and watch him die.


  1. Good post.You could have included Rutger's final words as well if you wanted to get really heavy.

  2. All ad-libbed, those last lines about tears in the rain. Good stuff.

  3. Society: Making life easier.
    Side effects may include paralysis, apathy, disorientation, self loathing, alienation, Identity loss, elitism, and death. A small number of individuals have experienced lapses in judgement and superficial moral development as a result of taking society- do not use society if you are impressionable, or may become impressionable. Society is not for everyone; please consult a... master of being human... before use.

  4. Thank you for your candid response to my query. (regarding "miserable and lonely"). Although I discovered this blog by happenstance, and thus don't know your personal history, found your edited version more developed.
    It does appear that you're in the process of decompressing, which is a good route for us all from time to time.
    The question remains....How do we find the elusive "State of Grace"? Regardless of where we are.