Posts Tagged ‘America’

I just got home and it was a good day today.  I say good mostly because I have a job.  A job that pays well.  This is more than a fair number of people in my neighborhood can say.  Sure, my day came with all the requisite absurdity of any day in big city America.  Noise.  Aloofness.  Frustration.  Filth.  Poverty.  Silence.  Intensity. Elation. Wealth.

I’m writing tonight because on my way up the stairs leading out of my subway stop I stopped a moment, covered as I was in a thin film of sweat and mass transit grime, to listen to three men singing “This Little Light of Mine” along with an impromptu 4th member of their group.  She was 5’8″ish, thin, with dark brown skin and thick, raven hair.  She was dressed in business attire: black heels and skirt, a royal blue blouse.  Her right heel click-clacked a righteous rhythm on the worn floor tiles as her shrill soprano voice, confident and in key, sang to the walls, turnstyles, and rush-hour passersby.

“On my way to work,” she sang as the chorus of men, all bouncing knees and swaying heads, answered back, “I’m gonna let it shine.”  I smiled.  They’re a bit of a scarce commodity these days- smiles.

I don’t care if you’re religious or even a fan of the song.  The point is that the soul of America, the thing we are all presumably fighting for one post, one protest, one donation, one rally, one youtube link, one “special report,” one vote at a time is renewed and manifested in moments like these.  For at least a moment four people were just Happy Singers- an impromptu identity more genuine and American than any you’ll find on pollster’s questionnaires or voter registration forms.

I encourage you to look for these moments no matter how busy you are, how caught up in your life and in this election you might be.

After November 4th, the mission to “save” America doesn’t stop.  Curiously though the rhetoric will.  The people we were encouraged to vilify and despise and rally against just 24 hours ago will go back to being our teachers, parents, bus drivers, bosses, colleagues, friends, band mates, volunteers, students, children…and so on.  We  will have to live here together and work together, same as we always have, same as we always will.  There will be no politicians glad handing us and handing out apologies-  they’ll leave that dirty, humbling work to us to do in the break room and around the water cooler.

I can only hope that as we head into the final weeks of this campaign, as the politicians drive Americans apart to win votes that Americans will have the integrity not to let their vote alone define who they are.

America isn’t saved by elections. America isn’t for the politicians.  The bullshit expires in less than a month.

d. zomgergen


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"Patriotic Grace" by Peggy Noonan

In my first post I spoke about the importance of finding and USING your voice to either effect a change in or at least contribute to the American dialog.  Peggy Noonan’s new book “Partiotic Grace” is an excellent example of what I’m talking about.

“Patriotic Grace” is filled with moving accounts of personal sacrifice, civic leadership, and insightful political and cultural critique that can only come from someone with a wealth of experience in the world (and the willingness to learn from it).

Part One opens with an intimate and powerful debunking of the myth that the “Greatest Generation” is somehow in the past, never to be seen again. It is a stirring defense of the hard work, sacrifice, and incredible everyday heroism of the Baby Boomers (a generation to which my own parents belong, a generation which, until now, I had never really given much credit or thought…)

“Set out runnin’ but I take my time.  A friend of the Devil is a friend of mine…”
Set out runnin but I take my time.  A friend of the Devil is a friend of mine...   Little did Gerry know hidden microphones linked to an underground CIA database had flagged him as a possible terrorist due to the Godless, Freedom hating lyrics spewing forth from his vinyl Altar of the Damned.
Little did Gerry know hidden microphones linked to an underground CIA database had flagged him as a terrorist due to the Godless, Freedom-hating lyrics spewing forth from his Vinyl Altar of the Damned.

Noonan also asks us to recognize our own current heroism and hard work in difficult and sometimes tragic personal and national circumstances.  She  declares that current generations of people should take pride in their accomplishments whether as parents, preachers, politicians, teachers, civil servants, doctors, soldiers, or any of a host of roles that call on the best aspects of Americans.

What follows in Part Two is what the author calls “a brief and mostly political attempt to come to grips with the Bush era.” In fact this notion of coming to grips with politics and culture is a recurring theme throughout the section and one which helps reveal the often overlooked trauma our national psyche battles with daily.  From partisan rancor to economic and security concerns, we are a nation in distress.  9/11 of course plays an integral role in framing this section of the book but Noonan manages to use it in service of her broader message without it coming off as cheap and formulaic as it so often does in our politics and media.

By the end of the section she has also presented a number of insightful observations about the current generation of youth, my generation

“They have been shaken by the world since 9/11, and we don’t understand how rocked they’ve been. They’ve internalized it; they never talk about it. But: They are not always sure they have a future…They are something new in America, an entire generation that does not assume their lives will be even better than their parents’.”

“They are…used to living other worlds in their heads, for many worlds have, in a lifetime of videos, CD’s and downloads, been implanted there…So they are not always in the moment, not fully aware of their surroundings…”

If only girls understood that Ziggurat the Brave is the REAL me...

If only girls understood that Ziggurat the Brave is the REAL me... /sigh

Within some of her statements I found the first accurate formulation of the dis-ease that spurs me to write for this blog, to debate politics with anyone that will listen, and to search for a way to contribute more meaningfully to this country through my work and personal life:

“I think a lot of people are carrying around in their heads, unarticulated and even in some cases, unnoticed, a sense that…in some deep and fundamental way things have broken down and can’t be fixed or won’t be fixed anytime soon.”

“I mean I believe there’s a general and amorphous sense that things are broken and tough history is coming.”

By Part Three the author has built a strong foundation for her appeal to change American culture, to reorient our relationships with and sense of duty to one another. It is a call for a political culture that matches the challenges of the world as it is today: rife with conflict, complexity, and uncertainty. Interestingly she devotes a fair amount of time to pointing out the immense expectations we place on politicians (who after all are just normal people like you and I).  Why is it that we balk at their failings when we expect them to have an answer for everything no matter how scientific, philosophical, complex or obscure the matter?

Now just hold on a second.  I know I left my talking points in here somewhere.

I know I left my talking points in here somewhere...

Ultimately her plea for mature, responsible, and well-tempered leadership along with a culture of peace and preparedness is nothing if not timely.  For Noonan it is not a question of IF we are faced with tragedy again but WHEN. Her criticism of the lack of focus on this by both McCain and Obama  as well as the media is salient and worth heeding when discussing the candidates’ relative merits.  Why aren’t we asking candidates how they would prepare for and handle a crisis like 9/11?  How will we as a nation, under a newly elected leader move forward as a strong, responsible, and intelligent leader of the world?

Despite any political differences I may have with her as a conservative, I could not agree more wholeheartedly that cultural unity, civil defense, and thoughtful leadership will be key in preparing our best defense against what awaits this country in its uncertain and seemingly ominous future.

I consider this a must read for any thoughtful citizen.  I think the vast majority of readers will find it both inspiring and provocative regardless of their political affiliation.

Buy it here or pick it up at your local book store.  It’ll be a hell of a lot better than spending your money on this.

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I just got in from a night out and found my roommates tuned into the most recent episode of Gossip Girl. It could be worse, I tell myself…they could be watching network news.

On my subway ride home I sat across from two black men.  One young, in a smart, slick suit and the other older sporting a worn T-shirt, paint stained jeans and a baseball cap.  I eavesdropped, as New Yorkers are prone to do amidst so many converging life stories.  They were discussing Brown vs. The Board of Education but the finer points were lost amidst the background cacophony of subway noise.  The conversation turned to the economy and I hopped off.

Heading out to 125th St. I bought a copy of “The Final Call” for a dollar from a young, sharply dressed man (I gave him two— that CAN’T be a fun job) and pondered for a moment it’s front page article: “The United States Draft: Will you answer the call?” by the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan. An interesting civic dilemma, no doubt.

125th is empty tonight where I had half expected to see a sidewalk filled with congregation members from our local Pentecostal church. It’s not unusual on warm summer nights to turn the corner and be waist deep in a Southern style revival with its insistent demand to be heard above the din of the city. Tonight my companions on the walk home are tattered copies of the day’s newspapers and the odd Styrofoam cup, leaving a distinct lack of saving grace hanging in the air.

This is a day in America.  Honest, hardworking people, all of them. Some just need a break from their over stimulated media rich lives, a little peace and quiet or simple entertainment. Others are just looking for a dose of human contact, a genuine conversation or debate about the broad strokes of America as they pertain to their lives. A small sampling?  No doubt.  Indicative of the whole?  Not at all.  A snapshot of America?  To be sure.

It occurs to me as I grab a glass of water back in my apartment, this is the conflict in America in so many ways.   The media is there, two faced and double edged.  News and entertainment mixed until gray then blended with ads pushing Dunkin’ Donuts “Egg-white Flat breads,” and drugs for diseases you didn’t even know existed but now fear you may have.

This is life in America— a life spent sifting daily through the noise and sorting out the devils in the details of everyday life. We walk a tenuous line between an honest day’s work, little luxuries, relationships, and our nagging civic commitment. We bring with us the myriad passions and distractions that define who we are, who we have been, and who we aspire to be.

Who DO we aspire to be? Somewhere between book reading binges, reruns of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and a healthy dose of the Blues, I recognize my own failings at asking this question. It can be tough to stop and ask yourself what you believe, why, and how to act on it. But do so we must. We must stand up and accept the responsibility of American Citizenship.

This is a great country, with great people, but only insofar as we bother to BE great people and work to MAKE a great nation.  America is NOT great because of the officials we elect and the agencies our government builds (certainly they help…sometimes).  It is great by virtue of the hard work of US, the unsung masses. It is strong thanks to the personal struggle we put into our lives and communities; this renews our nation every day, this turns the gears of American progress and prosperity.

It is my hope as this blog moves forward that regardless of our failures and shortcomings as people (and perhaps as writers!) we will succeed in showing the importance of people finding their own democratic voice and USING it.  In a world of a million voices spewing the profane and the sacred, the enlightened and idiotic, the cruel and the compassionate…sometimes you have to talk LOUD.

To raise one another by the quality of our ideas and passion of our commitment is part of what it means to be an American and it necessitates that we raise our voice.

Because we do not live alone in a vacuum, quarantined from the actions of others; we live with families and friends, in communities and cities and states which united form this one nation, this America.  Because to remain silent is to surrender your voice to someone else, is to open the door to an insidious apathy that would steal the very spirit of America from your lips.  Because we do not need to, nor do we wish to “lead lives of quiet desperation”; but would rather be bold in our pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness.  Because the first step is to say “I Will” and because sometimes “Talking LOUD is the ONLY way.”

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