whackanarwhal

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on saying something

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I have a complicated relationship with my country.

It therefore follows that I have a complicated relationship with the Fourth of July.

I got home from eleven months in Turkey late July 3, 2009; I was jetlagged, emotionally drained, couldn’t remember what language I was supposed to be speaking, and couldn’t remember the location of a light switch in the entire house. The next morning, we had Pop Tarts and cold pizza for breakfast (I gather the days before my return had been somewhat harried); friends came over for a cookout around lunchtime (hot dogs! Burgers! More hot dogs! More burgers!), and then in late afternoon we drove out to the middle of nowhere to have another cookout with a friend (hot dogs! Burgers! More hot dogs! More burgers!) and light off homemade fireworks in trash cans – a singular advantage of living in the boonies. That evening, I reflected that I hadn’t had a vegetable all day, I smelled like smoke, and there was marshmallow fluff in my hair from a mishap involving a s’more. I felt quintessentially American.

On the car on the way back from the grocery a few days ago, I commented on the approximately 149,000 flags that appear to have spontaneously sprung up downtown over the last few days. Copious flags freak me out a little bit – almost any display of overt nationalism freaks me out a little bit. You know: We were born here! That makes us awesome! Because it nearly always seems to lead to: Fear us, you suckers!

I tend to subscribe to a somewhat alternate theory.


I ran this past my Dad.

“I dunno,” Dad said. “I sort of miss the days of the big community Fourth of July celebrations, when there would be two or three speeches and a band and everyone would just sort of turn out. It was an actual celebration, you know?”

That smelled suspiciously like nostalgia to me.

The disobedience circuits automatically kicked in, and my brain helpfully filled in the gaps, albeit with some liberties.

“Although,” Dad added reflectively, “that’s probably easier to put together in a town of 3,000 people than a city of 50,000.” Which was fair enough.

I started wondering what those speeches would actually say.

I figured I had a pretty good idea.

…it was not an image that I was, as the kids say today, “down with.”

And then I started wondering what I‘d want those speeches to say.

Patriotism, for me, involves a certain unwillingness to let things slide.

I worry a lot (you may have noticed!).

It’s part of the motivation behind this blog, the constant fear the people aren’t paying attention; it’s also part of what muzzles me at times. I don’t feel qualified to discuss a lot of what I see happening –

– and it’s a constant balancing act between opining/reporting something I don’t fully understand (for all values of understand), or instead electing to parrot someone I’m not convinced understands the situation any more than I do.

For a few minutes of pavement, I thought that maybe it’s best that the speeches and band and gazebo have fallen by the wayside; there’s no way, I thought, that those speeches would be for me, or for people I love, or even for people that I’m not particularly fond of but respect nonetheless.

Those speeches – that stage time and rhetoric and endorsement – would be for the middle of the bell curve. Not for me, in other words. If you’re reading this, probably not for you, either.

But then – what if nothing was said? What if we opted for silence instead?

I’m sort-of halfway through a sociology degree, so let’s talk social movements for a moment.

Here’s a fun fact: change requires tension. It requires dialogue. It requires energy, and collision, and reaction.

Without all of that oomph, without that pain and human energy, nothing moves. Nothing. And I believe I would rather take the stress and conflict of actual movement than a shuddering, fearful, silent peace.

So that’s why, I think, my Fourth of July will probably involve cookouts (can you grill a Tofu Pup? I suppose we’ll find out) and gunpowder and marshmallow fluff and violation of multiple city ordinances.

Because that’s what you do. But it’ll also be my celebration of my country; my country that produces days where I can’t stand to open a newspaper, and apparently neither can a lot of other people.

– my “I will not obey” country –

– my “as they say in the song, ‘you done me wrong'” country –

– my “I ain’t gonna roll with it anymore” country.

So you don’t always know what you’re trying to say; so you’re terrified that you’re going to inadvertently leave someone out or push someone out or just plain get your numbers wrong. It happens.

But what’s your other option?

This country drives me up a wall. Some days, I think I preface half my posts with “I swear I am not making this up.”

But I get to say something. And so do you.

That tension, that sound and that fury which is not always meaningless, is to me a sign of movement.

So let’s have that speech in the gazebo with the band. Heck, let’s even foul up traffic to do it (rebellious, I know).

And then lets respond.

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Written by whackanarwhal

July 4, 2011 at 9:28 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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