Short pieces from the month gathered into a single post
Heading Home, Mum’s the Word …
It’s almost time to head back to the States where I’ll hang out for a month until I’m off to South America. It’s been a year since I was last on American soil and quite a bit has changed in the meantime — not for the better. I’ve reconnected to the goings-on there enough to have a fairly good overview. Let’s not mince words: it’s a mess.
The area where my relatives live is a rural pocket of the Pacific Northwest as remote from the hullabaloo in Washington, D.C. as may be. The East Coast could disappear from the face of the Earth and we’d continue in blissful ignorance until the news finally reached us by Pony Express. Throughout my time growing up there whenever I heard the names of New York or Washington, D.C. I had no real sense of what they were as actual places where people live their lives — they could have been in China for all the impact they had on my local reality. It was only after moving to Washington, D.C. to work for a couple years that the whole business came into full awareness through lived experience.
Partisan political storms continue to rage in the nation’s capital. What does that mean for me as I head back to the old stomping ground? Unfortunately Washington, D.C. is much closer these days than it was in my youth. What goes on there is indeed in people’s minds and has repercussions throughout the land. My native corner of the USA is prime territory for the Trump base. That fact figures prominently in my thoughts as I contemplate hanging out there for a few weeks before I exit stage left once again. I’ve been through the routine often enough now to know what to do: keep my mouth shut. But I find my impatience with that situation worn thin through following the political ups and downs closely over the past six months. Especially after the brouhaha about the Mueller report began at the end of March it struck me that the USA has become a total basket case. The chaos will go on and on, that’s as plain as the nose on your face. I’d say bad words to express my true feelings but I’m supposed to keep the tone up here so I’ll stifle myself. But trust me, I just wanna cuss.
I’ll start my own personal government shutdown the moment I hit American soil. I’ll become once again that blithe and apolitical person I was during my visit last year. I know well enough only to speak my mind with trusted souls after checking for concealed recording devices. I have my stock phrase ready to roll off my tongue at the drop of a hat: “I only pay attention when it’s time to vote.” Boom, done and dusted.
I mentioned in earlier thought journals my experience with news toxicity and its effects. I’ve kept my promise to myself not to disfigure my reality with the chaos that issues forth from the nation’s capital any more than absolutely necessary to stay informed about what’s going on. After the Mueller report landed and set off the current sh*tstorm I decided that for the next couple years I’ll only bother with the major headlines. Until it comes time to vote, Washington, D.C. is dead to me. I’ll be in Latino Land having a grand old time.
I’ve purposely arranged things so that my stay in the old stomping ground is brief. Over the next few years as I flit about the world my stops at what used to be home base will by design all be brief. Visiting my relatives is part of the human agenda that never goes away. Being smack dab in the middle of a suburb of Trumpville is not. As far as I’m concerned it’s entirely optional since I don’t intend to hang around in the room where it happens. I may be from from there but I am not of there. As far as I’m concerned, there really is no there there.
So my strategy is locked and loaded and my loins are girded. But unlike Joe DiGenova — who as a former U.S. attorney should know better without anybody needing to tell him, for heaven’s sake — I’m not going to buy guns. Just the voting will do, thanks very much. 🙂
As luck would have it I just came across an article at salon.com with the title, “What I’ve Learned from Collecting Stories of People Whose Loved Ones Were Transformed by Fox News.” The author is Luke O’Neil. I remember another article I came across discussing how political polarization has negatively affected families in the USA. I’ve experienced the same thing myself. Our family has a gag order on political discussions at family gatherings so that we can get through them without shouting or food fights. I don’t mind, really. I consider it as I would the time spent sitting in a dentist’s chair. It’s not fun but it’s not gonna last forever so don’t get your knickers in a twist.
If one were to speak purely from principle the situation would, of course, stink to high heaven. The suppression of political opinion is contrary to our democratic tradition. But so is gaslighting, which seems to be all the rage in the current administration. These are the times in which we now live, unfortunately. For the few weeks of my sojourn in enemy territory, I’ll keep my head down and my mouth shut. I’ll also count the days until I get out of Dodge, since the exit stage left means life again becomes possible. The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave … that bit is now officially DOA in the USA for me as a chaser of paradise. Chalk it up to yet another extinction event. But no matter, I’ve got places to go and things to do. And you’ll hear all about them, poor you …
Keeping the Blinders Off is Hard Work
I keep catching myself out accepting limitations due to the ruts in which my own thoughts run. I attribute that failing to my long history as a wage slave living a rigidly structured life, but still it irks me that I find it so hard to throw off that mode of thinking. Here’s an example. Last week as I was working on my nomad agenda I realized that underpinning my planning assumptions was the idea that I needed to have a home base in each place I stay. It took a few days before a lightbulb went off and I realized that I need nothing of the sort unless I want it. I can change venues as often as I like. I don’t even have to have it planned out to a T, I can decide one day I want to go somewhere else and put it into action the following day.
My thought ruts come from decades living the life of a drudge. We call it “routine” but in fact it’s a kind of slavery. The day is largely eaten up by work, the evening is largely eaten up by doing household things like cooking dinner, then it’s time to get up and do it all over again. Weekends for householders like I was bring slavery to all those tasks you don’t have time for during the week. A few hours here and there is about the most freedom you can squeeze out of the week.
After the lightbulb went off in my head about not needing a home base I began to put my thoughts out on the table and dissect them for traces of residual slave mentality. Sure enough, the diagnosis was positive. Here, there and everywhere I found assumptions that hold no reality other than that given them by belief. It was time to take the skeleton out of my thoughts and get limber, very limber.
So that’s what I’ve been working on for the past few days and it opens up a whole new world. Imagine this: you can spend one week in a city enjoying the restaurants and the life going on around you while comfortably ensconced in an apartment with a couch to sprawl on and a balcony to sit on with your Kindle in hand. You can shop the markets every day and find fun stuff to cook, some of it most likely completely unfamiliar. When the week in the city comes to a close you check out and head out of town for a stint in the countryside. The area where I’ll be hanging out in Latin America has lots of country inns dotted about offering bucolic bliss at prices no higher than those in the city. It all fits into the budget so there’s no reason not to do it if the spirit is willing. Being the country boy I am and have always been, after a while in the city I’ll be chomping at the bit to get out into the countryside and walk for hours looking at the plants, smelling the smells, hearing the sounds. Nothing prevents me from doing that with whatever frequency I choose. Yeehaw.
Similarly, I can easily decide on the spur of the moment that it’s time for a stint by the sea. I can book a cheap flight to one of the coastal cities and spend a few days in an environment completely different from the inland, mountainous area I’ve chosen as my primary haunt. I’m not a beach bum — far from it — but there’s a different feeling to things beside the ocean that I find exhilarating. The people look different there, the food is different, the air smells different from the presence of the sea, so even though it’s the same country it feels like I’m doing foreign travel. All that for a round trip ticket that costs less than $60. What’s not to like?
I’m sure I’ve gone overboard these past few days as I’ve worked to throw off the shackles and embrace my freedom. I know myself well enough to predict that after a few months of continual flitting around I’ll be longing for nothing so much as respite in a place where everything is familiar and I don’t have to learn a bunch of new stuff just to keep daily life in order. I was comfortable enough in my wage slave days being the homebody I am. My house was my space capsule for going off on all sorts of adventures in my head as I researched and read and wrote. At this early stage of the nomad game I’m not entirely sure where my stamina level lies for relentless displacement. But I’m going to push that envelope until I holler just to be sure I find the maximum. The last thing I want to do is give in to the impulses that come from my former wage slave self schlogging out daily life hemmed in on all sides by external constraints. Forget that “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” crap, it’s a con job. What you do is go online, get out your credit card and book tickets. Amen, chilluns.
Going nomad means movement is the new norm. I finally understood that prime directive and it finally put paid to the conceptual holdovers from my wage-slave past. My new motto for this phase of life is: make it up as you go. I can’t wait to get started. 🙂
Look Ma, No News!
I finally made the break, hooray! It’s been three days now since I’ve watched any talking heads and I’ve spent no more than 15 minutes per day looking at the headlines. All to the good, I must say. My sleep is more sound and my blood pressure suffers no sudden spikes as it has been wont to do these past few months. Obviously I chose the right strategy and it’s working.
There comes a point in any relationship — be it personal or collective — where you have to draw the line. Each of us confronts the public sphere as an individual with our own life and our own mental space to manage. It became clear to me that exposure to public life can be as insidious and toxic as involvement in an abusive personal relationship. That insight set into motion my instinct for self-preservation and led to my firm resolve to put a stop to the toxicity. Sometimes things just need to end for the sake of well-being. So it was with what went on between me and the news cycles to which I exposed myself continually over the past few months.
I’ve written about the toxic buildup from news in previous journal posts. I feel like I’m on the other side of that issue now, mildly astonished that I find myself forced to change my news intake strategy in order to preserve my consciousness from serious disfiguration. The level of dishonesty, corruption and gaslighting that goes on in the public sphere has become so high that one can only stare and shake one’s head. There’s no sense of forward motion in it, it just swirls like an eddy in a cesspool. Throwing my awareness into that mess will do nothing to change it, it will only divert my energies and cloud the clarity of my perceptions. So enough is enough. I’ve already moved out and filed for divorce.
All this hullabaloo reminds me of those times I found myself in a toxic workplace — toxic because of the people, of course, not the work itself. It always comes down to the people. As an underling in a hierarchical organization structure, without any representational rights when push comes to shove, I learned early on that I needed to set a boundary for myself about how much to take before I polished up the resume and got the hell out of Dodge. That process came forcefully to mind as I worked my way through this face-off with the public sphere. After months or years of accommodating a bad work situation, something inside me goes over the edge and I wake up one day with the decision made seemingly by itself: “I’m OUTTA HERE.” Once that point is reached the exit stage left follows fairly quickly.
That’s exactly the point I reached last month after being a news hound for a good few months. The situation required a decision about whether to go down with the ship or jump and swim like crazy. Making the decision was the work of a moment. I jumped and I’m swimming like my life depended on it.
Even at this late date in my lifespan I still have no idea what the proper relationship should be between the individual and the collective. We have models thrown at us all the time but their reality is largely rhetorical, not experiential. My relationship to the collective has always been a dicey affair, hardly surprising given the kind of person I am and the way I think about the world. Perhaps for that reason it costs me little effort and no twinges of guilt at all to distance myself — yet again — from public life for the simple fact that it’s unworthy of my investment of attention. We have sayings for such situations — “don’t throw good money in after bad,” and so forth. That’s the dynamic we’re looking at here. From a business perspective it’s a matter of cutting your losses before you endanger the viability of your enterprise.
So for the foreseeable future I’m on a strict news diet. I’ll spot check the headlines once in a while but all the wrangling, the gaslighting, the astonishing flights into La La Land, all that bullpuckey is now disbarred from frequent entry into my domain of awareness. I have better things to do with my reality, thanks very much. Once again the wisdom is proven of the saying, “Ignorance is bliss.” Would it were otherwise — text me when it changes, OK? 🙂
In the European Tradition
Some people might say I make a poor American because so much of who and what I am is bound up with Europe. That’s the case ethnically with many Americans but it lies far enough in the past that the traces have become largely rhetorical. Not with me. It’s all still up in my grill. That fact colors my perception of things all the time and I’m fully aware of it as I go about my days. It’s just part of being me and I appreciate the different angle of perception it affords me.
My forebears came from what is commonly called Mitteleuropa, Central Europe — an area shrouded in mystery for the average American, as one of Jimmy Kimmel’s stunt interviews pointed out. After a European trip of Trump (unsurprisingly) revealed his less than magisterial grasp of European geography (to say nothing of its history or economics), Kimmel took to the streets of Los Angeles to see how well the average citizen did with a geography test. Oops. Here are the results from an article on the subject (here):
… Each interviewee was given a pointer and a map of the world and asked to name a country. Any country at all. Even the United States. And yet, almost everybody failed to do so.
From confusing Africa with South America to thinking either of them is a country instead of a continent, the segment is truly cringeworthy. Obviously, speaking to a few people on the street isn’t representative of the entire American population, and editing will always make interviewees appear dumber than they actually are, but it’s still pretty disheartening to think that even 1% of Americans could be so deficient in their geography knowledge.
While the performance of adults certainly wasn’t encouraging, the video ends with a young child being able to identify plenty of countries, including hard-to-guess ones like Papua New Guinea. So at least there’s hope that children are, in fact, our future.
You’re probably far too young to remember that old Art Linkletter show I’m thinking about when I restyle its title: “Adults Say the Darndest Things.” Thank goodness the kids are getting some of it right.
The issue of Europeanness is something I’ve lived with in the USA as though it were a family scandal. I don’t talk about it but it’s in fact a massively important part of my intellectual life. I was in my heyday at university when I could hang out with Europeans in my program, going on about German and French philosophy and literature — what fun! That kind of conversation doesn’t happen in a Starbuck’s in a suburban mall. It’s been donkey’s years since I was in the cultural thick of things European. My sense of being European hasn’t changed at all despite the lack of direct contact with people from those parts. So much of my intellectual and cultural daily diet is European that I’ve never lost the sense of being centered in that intellectual landscape. In my head I wander there all the time, often with three or four languages swirling around as I wander.
Last month I watched Joy Reid on her weekend morning show on MSNBC talk with Masha Gessen, the Russian-Americn journalist. I’ve mentioned Ms. Gessen’s work in other posts because it’s been important to me in my understanding of current political reality. As I listened to her speak it struck me how much she remains European. She’s to that manor born, since she grew up in Russia and didn’t come to the USA until the age of 14 — not that you could tell it from her accent, which is as purely American as mine is. I know Europeans like her. In some senses I myself am like her. Hearing her discuss American politics brought forcefully to my mind memories of long discussions with people of her ilk — people who have a deep understanding of history, economics, literature and a host of other disciplines at their fingertips. Ms. Gessen represents the European tradition, not the American way of configuring consciousness. We Yanks think we’ve pulled off a coup if we just manage to point to Switzerland on a world map LOL.
The discussion on MSNBC followed a week full of Trump blatting out falsehoods and bile to his followers in Michigan, of Barr’s letter slimebagging the release of the Mueller report to Congress and the public, of the press stupidly jumping on Barr’s bandwagon and blabbing about exoneration when they should have been writing headlines like “Barr Claims Exoneration While Contradicted By Mueller Report.” Ms. Gessen knows totalitarian discourse strategy when she sees it — she lived with it for a goodly portion of her life. When she talks about such things on MSNBC she’s not being a clever highbrow journalist, she’s speaking from lived experience. She easily marshalls all her knowledge and experience as she offers her insightful analysis. It’s reasoned and substantial and obviously informed by keen understanding of politics and social psychology. After having had a steady diet of bilge for the week before I heard her, her voice of reason bowled me over and reminded me of the hours I’ve spent in conversation with Europeans like her. Those conversations brought me enormous benefit and changed me in ways that have proved permanent.
I’ve lived in a few different places around the world including the Middle East, Asia and Central America. From the perspective I now have with over six decades of life experience, I still find confirmed to my understanding and my sense of self the uniqueness and value of the European intellectual and cultural tradition. It has taken major broadsides over the course of my lifetime and there are many more challenges ahead, but as I know it it’s among the most robust and most productive in terms of artistic accomplishment and intellectual vigor. No matter where I happen to be on the Planet’s surface a part of me always feels rooted in Europe. That’s not going to change. I wouldn’t want it to change. It’s a part of me I can’t imagine doing without. So let’s have a major round of applause for the Europeans among us like Masha Gessen, who bring that European tradition to bear on what we do in the USA. We’re all the better for it.
The Personal Litmus Test for Politicians
Politicians have a bad rap in the USA especially among the lower middle and working classes. And don’t give me that crap about America being a classless society, my momma didn’t raise no dummies. 🙂 The bad reputation is in many ways deserved. Politicians hem and haw and prevaricate and split hairs and do all manner of things that any of us would find extremely annoying if dealing with somebody in a personal relationship. As things heat up for the 2020 race I’ve decided to simplify matters for myself and use a personal litmus test. I myself will be the sole and final arbiter of the behavioral evidence put forth. I will personally decide in the case of any political figure whether I would allow that person into or retain them in my personal sphere of acquaintance. You’re either in or out, there’s no inbetween. And I mean business, I’m not just whistling Dixie here. Get on my bad side and you’re history with a capital H. I don’t give a rip how you’re doing in the polls. You either cut the mustard or you don’t, it’s that simple.
Using this approach simplifies life enormously in the Age of Gaslighting we currently inhabit. Such torrents of BS spew forth from so many quarters of the public commons that the task an individual citizen faces in attempting to steer a path around the messes on the sidewalk becomes fraught beyond measure. We need a way to clear the path forward. So here’s mine: would you invite this person to dinner with friends?
The question addresses basic issues of humanity and humaneness rather than focusing solely on political issues. It assesses fitness as a human being more than it searches out the presence or absence of particular political qualifiers. As with friends the arrangement need not be permanent. It’s certainly possible for people to mess up to the point that you ditch them — this isn’t like family where you just have to put up with their nonsense because you ‘re stuck with them by reason of blood relation. These are voluntary associations that can form and unform as the bottom line holds or vanishes. That’s the only way to go with politicians because all of them are temporary. They have to stay on the right side of the line or they become temporary effective immediately. As in: outta here.
As I think of the people on the current political scene I’d invite to my table the number is small but the representation of perspectives is broad. There would be Republicans (of the never-Trump persuasion), Democrats surely, Democratic Socialists — all the major flavors would have a place. I imagine the discussion being lively and at times quite contentious. But nobody around the table, for example, would think that putting kids in cages is a good idea. That idea doesn’t offend politically, it offends against humanity and we around the table will have no truck with such things. Neither would we allow someone to spout falsehoods without immediate and categorical objection joined with insistence that facts be kept straight and respected as a bottom line. In a word: there’s no place for ideologues at the table. There’s a magical sign above my front door in invisible letters and of great protective power that reads: Abandon All BS Ye Who Enter Here. Differences of opinion are inevitable — differences of base reality are unconscionable. The only gaslighting allowed happens in the barbecue on the patio. Try it at the dinner table and you’ll be forcefully ejected before you know what hit you.
Since I’m outside the political machinery I feel perfectly justified in making public figures optional in my domain of attention based on their index of acceptability. At present I wouldn’t need to bring up any extra chairs from the basement. Here’s hoping that in future — perhaps after 2020? — it will be time to hire in a few banquet tables due to a swelling crowd. Keep those fingers crossed …
Having the Reins in My Hands, Finally!
It’s almost a daily occurrence now that I thank my lucky stars I’m free as a bird and can decide my own fate. Especially these days as I plan out the nomad phase that comes next for me, the freedom to put anything down on the list as long as I can afford it is a continual breath of fresh air. I sit with the list and think, “So, bucko, where do you want to go?” The sky’s the limit. How cool is that?
I feel fortunate that I was able to jump ship early from the world of wage slavery, but a large part of the credit for that is due to the youthful Yours Truly. I remember only too well the reaction of my twenty-something self to the decades of schlogging that awaited me, barring a big win in the lottery or some such thing that obviated the course of life I anticipated like most of my fellows outside the infamous 1%. My reaction was a mixture of sinking feeling in the pit of the stomach and outrage. It’s not like anybody checked with me if that was OK before I popped out of the womb. I don’t even remember signing up for this whole incarnation thing, and then come to find out I’m stuck in wage slavery for 40 years. Man, talk about a raw deal …
Those days are over, thank God. At long last the reins are in my hands and the pony goes in whatever direction I point it. Yeehaw. I won’t grouse about the fact that it took becoming a Golden Oldie to get here, I’ll just enjoy my state of freedom and not look backward over travelled roads. It requires an effort of will to do that, to be honest. As I look around the world and see all the cool stuff there is to see and do, my first thought is, “OMG I’ll only get through a fraction of this, what have I been doing all my life??” The answer isn’t far to seek: I was busy being a wage slave.
This state of affairs completely inverts the scenario society furnishes for what being a retiree means. The truth of the matter is: this is your last chance to do all the stuff you always wanted to do and any new stuff you can dream up. It isn’t a dress rehearsal, you either do it now or it’s toast. At some point your physical apparatus gives out and your travelling days are over. The takeaway: get busy before it’s too late.
The way humans organize life has never made very much sense to me and I stopped trying to figure it out a long time ago. I have a particular set of circumstances facing me — lots to do and little time to do it — so that’s what I’ll work with. It would have been nice to have more time, but I’ll take what I can get. It beats the hell out of Death By Cubicle, trust me on that one.
So it’s time to put to spurs to that pony and get into a gallop, there’s miles to go before I sleep (as in Big Sleep). What a treat finally, FINALLY to have the reins in my hands. 🙂
I’m taking my cue from a song I remember well by The 5th Dimension, a group only somebody my age would recall LOL:
The world’s a nicer place in my beautiful balloon
It wears a nicer face in my beautiful balloon
We can sing a song and sail along the silver sky
For we can fly, we can fly.
So off I go. 🙂
Time to Retire the Thought Journal …
Well it’s been fun, but all good things must come to an end. I started the thought journal in January thinking I’d continue it throughout the year, but things change. As I get ready to head into a new phase of activity as a global nomad, I see that the time and research wattage I spend on pieces for the journal would be better spent on other things like travel posts. They’re more fun to read, for sure.
But I’m glad I started the journal posts in January. Writing the bits and bobs I’ve done since January has helped me focus on important things in the political and social arena that deserved my attention as I sort out my own stance. We’re all going through that process now as the 2020 election begins to loom on the horizon. This is a good jumping off point because it looks — to me at least — like the major themes are already in place. It’s just a question of how things play out, and as a member of the general electorate from a state that has no part in the all-important primaries all I can do is observe and comment from the sidelines. There are forty million other people doing that so my voice is hardly a critical factor in the fray.
And in the interest of transparency I have to admit that I’m weary of staring into the abyss that the current political situation has become. It’s a critical time in U.S. public life and I’ll certainly continue to follow developments. The practical work of preserving American democracy and the rule of law lies in the hands of those people with the ability to act directly. I’m just on the sidelines with the bulk of the American population watching anxiously as things develop. My fingers are crossed that things will get sorted out.
If the urge to write a post on political analysis of one thing or another arises over the coming months I’ll surely give in to the impulse to write more posts like the ones I’ve written on Democratic Socialists and on the problems with the presidency. A few days ago I went through the resources I’ve collected for political pieces and found they fall into a few clear categories: gaslighting from the Trump administration, global debt and its implications for future economic stability and a rehash of the old “decline of the West” trope that first emerged at the end of the 19th century and seems wholly pertinent to our own times. The issue of authoritarianism also remains in the mix. There are plenty of opinions floating about on that issue. I’m not convinced that my thoughts add anything substantive to the general discussion so it’s probably a wise course to keep them to myself for the time being. If something goes over the edge I’ll pipe up, to be sure. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen, it’s the last thing we need. We’ve had our hair on fire quite enough already, thank you very much.
So it’s fare thee well to the monthly thought journal. I’ll turn my attentions to the many new things coming my way as I engage the global nomad life. Sharing those discoveries will be fun and more enjoyable to read than the stomp through the swamp that U.S. political life has become. So here’s to new horizons! Cowabunga 🙂