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Archive for November, 2012

These are some of the reasons I’m proud of my country (or, sometimes, just my state.)  I know we aren’t perfect on most of these topics, I know we have a long way to go in some cases, but at least there are some things I can say I’m proud of.  This is a very non-exhaustive list.
Racial segregation was outlawed in Washington (when it was still a territory) when it was still legal and enforced in much of the South.

Marriage equality is now the law in Washington.

We weren’t the last to outlaw slavery.  We weren’t the first, but we weren’t the last.

We have the bill of rights which, among other things, guarantees freedom of speech, press, and religion.

I am a woman: I can work.  I can be a writer.  I can be an astronaut.  I can go to college.  I can vote.  I can choose who I marry.  I can decide my own clothing.  I can drive a car.  I can go out alone.  I can play video games.

We’re a very sympathetic and charitable people.  In general, we will pour vast amounts of resources into helping others, set up innumerable charities and NGOs to aid those most in need around the world.

On any given week, one friend will bid me goodbye in Lakota, I’ll attend Shabbat at another friend’s house, I can have a party and invite friends from another country and be reasonably confident they’ll be able to attend (huzzah for Canadian proximity), then go out to Mexican food, and see an independent French film (subtitled, of course) set in Northern Africa, and none of this strikes most people as extraordinary.  We are a remarkably diverse nation both in who we are and what we have access to.

I can view most pages on the internet without getting a “this page is not available in your country” notice.  Or having police arrive at my door.

 

This list is, sadly, a lot shorter than I’d like it to be, and in writing it I was unable to keep all the things I’m ashamed of from coming to mind, each positive point having a counter-point I wish was not so.  But you have to start somewhere, right?

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Okay so I know I said this entry was supposed to be talking about the good things in America but first I want to talk about this because it’s been on my mind lately and I think I finally found a way to articulate it.

I know a lot of people today don’t realize how much damage we did and continue to do to a lot of people, cultures, and ethnicities.  We were taught in school that these things were in the past, they were done in a different time by different people.  That’s true, but that’s not really the point.  Some of it is *still* going on today, and some of it is still affecting today, and we can’t ignore that.

I’m not saying that any person is responsible for the actions of their ancestors, however recent.  Of course you aren’t, no one can be responsible for what someone else has done, even if you are related to them.  It isn’t fair to make anyone directly accountable for a crime committed by another person.

I am saying that we need to take responsibility for what happens now.  And this is the illustration I think best sums it up:  You may not be responsible for the hitting a person crossing the road with your car, but shouldn’t you take responsibility to help them?

This isn’t about laying blame but doing the right thing.  I don’t know if *my* direct ancestors ever did anything wrong.  I don’t know if they ever owned slaves, or ever massacred Native Americas, or ever showed prejudice toward anyone.  I don’t know if they did or didn’t – and that isn’t the point.  I’m part Irish, so for all I know my ancestors may have been slaves here, too!  That isn’t the point, either.  The point is there are people who did do these things, there are people who oppressed, enslaved, committed injustices, genocide, and other horrible things.  I’m not to blame for these things, but shouldn’t I – not as a “white person” but as both an American and a human being – be taking responsibility to help set things right?

Like in my illustration, maybe it wasn’t my car or me driving, but as a bystander, don’t I still have a responsibility to help people who are injured?

So that’s my view of it.  It isn’t about laying blame, just asking people to be responsible to set right what happened and is still happening today.

I know this is actually a shock to a lot of people, too.  I was raised believing that things like racism, discrimination, and the like were all things in the past, things we had already taken care of, things our nation had risen above, moved beyond.  Sure, I knew some people still harbored prejudices, but that’s always going to be the case.  What I didn’t know was how pervasive it still is, because it wasn’t where I grew up.

I lived in a diverse neighborhood, I grew up with friends of all colors and it never even occurred to me that it should be any other way, that it wasn’t the same everywhere.  I live in a pretty tolerant area.

When the internet allowed me to basically reach beyond where I lived and meet people and see people in larger cities or less diverse areas, I was shocked and sickened by some of what I heard.  I couldn’t comprehend the mindset of people to think or act in these ways.

I’ve been brought to silent tears on a number of occasions as my friend rather casually recounts her experiences growing up on and off the Res, and it just makes me sick.  It makes me angry.  It makes me feel so helpless to do anything about it, either.  But I’m trying, and hopefully things like this can help make a difference.

To everyone who has ever wondered why we still have Affirmative Action; to everyone who ever gets angry that we still talk about slavery and the Native American genocide; to everyone who ever was raised to think that these things are decades or centuries in the past, the sad truth is they are not.  The sad truth is we still need to help balance the scales.  The sad truth is even if you aren’t prejudice, you live in a country that still is.  Sometimes balancing the scales isn’t fair to the individual – you *are* paying for the mistakes of your predecessors – but it is a necessary sacrifice to help the whole.

And that kind of sacrifice for society is something American Culture is really bad at – it’s a time when we really need to look at other cultures and understand that sometimes the individual does need to step back a little and look at how we all are connected in so many ways.  To quote Spock (who was probably quoting someone else anyway) “The good of the many outweighs the good of the few or the one.” (yay, geek moment.)

Being so focused on the individual isn’t wrong, per se, but sometimes it can be short-sighted and harmful to many more.

So what can I do?  I’m still not really sure.  I can pay attention to political platforms, but if no one is talking about the problems it can be hard to decide who would do better with them.  So I guess the first thing that needs to be done is get people talking about it.  Get people aware that these problems are still real, still relevant, still exist today.  Get people to stop treating Affirmative Action as if it’s the problem – like everything would be okay without laws like that.  Get people to realize that even if the immigrants weren’t working in our fields, it doesn’t mean the out of work Americans would be!  (Because, you know, people who complain that immigrants take ‘our jobs’ wouldn’t stoop to doing those jobs themselves anyway.)

Just be aware, be conscious of it.  You don’t have to feel guilty or take it personally.  This is a problem with our society, and that means as a society we have to change.  That takes time.  I think we’re about half way there.  I think we’re finally reaching that tipping point where enough people born today are understanding this that eventually they will be the ones who by sheer numbers will make things better.  But half way in 40+ years means we still have a LONG way to go.  There are still a lot of prejudices out there to try to counter.   There is still a lot that society needs to do to really balance the scales.

What will *you* do?

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I’ve always wondered whether people were simply incapable of not hating something or other. Every time we manage to suppress one kind of prejudice, another rears its head. When one kind of hate is out of fashion, another in en vogue. It’s why I’ve always believed that world peace will only be achieved when there is an alien invasion, because we will finally have an ‘other’ that is more ‘other’ to all of us than we are to each other.

It’s like the Omega wolf in wolf packs. The member that helps maintain the mental and emotional health of the pack by being literally the whipping boy for the rest: the one who gets picked on, that the others take their frustrations out on. Humanity is very much like a wolf pack

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Part of what contributes to the general apathy and sense of absent culture in America is that very little of America’s culture actually means anything!

I realized this at last when watching a documentary about the rise of Ghost Dances among Native American/American Indian (please pick your preferred adjective) tribes.  These dances had profound meaning to the tribes who practiced them.

That’s what got me thinking about what anything in American culture means, and realizing it means nothing.  There is no spiritual aspect to our dances, there is no deeper heritage connected to our daily lives, our folk-tales no longer teach or warn but have been watered down and sterilized for the masses by Disney.  Even our holidays have limited historical context and are either highly commercialized or highly alcoholized.

Drive fast, shoot guns, buy shit, get drunk, and live happily ever after!  Fuck Yeah, ‘Merica!

Parts of the country have communities that share more among their neighbors than merely streets of address but there is very little depth to any aspect of uniquely American culture.

Even parts of it that aren’t unique have less depth for us than for others.  We have a pitiful voter turn-out rate.  I remember watching the news a few years back where people in Iraq brave IEDs, suicide bombers, and more just to cast their vote.  In the US, a heavy rain can keep someone from the polls.  Even among those who had to fight hardest to get the right to vote, there is a sad turn-out of voters.

Without any meaning to why we do some things, the things themselves become empty gestures, traditions without foundations.  No wonder so many people seek meaning elsewhere, from other places in the world.  There is nothing that American culture has to offer the spirit.

We have fast food outlets in hospital cafeterias while proposing laws regarding the size of our sodas and whether or not we can have table salt in restaurant dishes.  We are a culture that has embraced a certain level of daily insanity to the point that we can’t even see that it’s insane.

Meanwhile, I curl up in my 58 degree Fahrenheit house eating cold food with my fingers that society tells me should be eaten hot with utensils while discussing the insanity in our politics and social interactions, and am thus informed of how not normal I am (totally complementary, by the way) by those closest and dearest to me, leaving me to wonder what normal is for everyone else because this *is* normal for me, I don’t know any other way of living and thinking.

Sometimes we focus too much on what other people think.  Sometimes we don’t think enough of how other people will feel.  We play a strange balancing act between herd mentality and individuality.

We dress just like everyone else in the latest brands, then get upset if someone else is wearing the same thing we are.
We want to have the same stores available no matter where we go but we want everything packaged in single servings.
We go to the same restaurants but have ten caveats for every meal we order.

It used to be if you visited a different town, you had different stores, because stores were owned by people instead of nation-wide franchises.  If you wanted Bill’s Best Garden Tools you had to either be lucky enough to live near Bill’s town, have a relative in Bill’s town, or you had to travel.

Later we had Bill teaming up with Ted to bring Bill’s goods to Ted’s store in another town, Bill’s goods being popular enough to demand a greater supply and Bill being able to produce enough to supply a greater demand.  This was great, especially if the local Garden Tool guy’s goods weren’t very good quality, or maybe you just really didn’t like him.

Now you can travel not just town to town but state to state and find not only the exact same stores, but the store looks exactly the same, the building is built the same, the inside is laid out the same.

Sure, it’s nice I guess, but we’ve lost so much richness and creativity to this kind of universal conformity.  It means nothing we buy really means anything, either.  Half of it is disposable to begin with, and for all we value individuality we have almost nothing that is truly unique (and then we go to other countries and tell them to be just like us!)

So now we have useless traditions filled with meaningless objects and we can move anywhere and have all the things we’re used to and yet we belong nowhere.  And the more we’re forced to be the same the more we act out to set ourselves apart, the more we look to other cultures to find some sense of meaning and fulfillment because American Culture is rooted in being dissatisfied with what you have and who you are: you don’t make enough, you don’t own enough, you aren’t thin enough, your hair isn’t straight enough, your clothes aren’t new enough, your beat poetry isn’t edgy enough, and no one understands you!

So what?

Maybe the reason no one cares about American Culture is there’s a whole lot that isn’t worth caring about.  But there is some that is.  There are some beautiful, golden threads to be found in this vast American tapestry we have woven.   I think my next entry will be looking at some of those.

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I don’t want to change my name when I get married.

Not out of some feminist stance against male domination, not out of some fight against custom, not out of some desire to constantly correct people who will think me and my future theoretical non-existent husband are not married…

Because I like my name.  It’s the only name I’ve ever had.  It belonged to my father, and he passed it to me, and I don’t want to give it up just cause I’m ‘a girl.’

Okay, so maybe it IS some fight against custom and male domination.  It’s not that I think women change their names *today* because there is some misogynistic conspiracy to keep women down.  I think it is a hold-over from a time when women were property, though.  Just because something is a tradition doesn’t mean we have to follow it.  Even if the meaning behind a custom changes to something neutral or good doesn’t mean I have to follow it now.

Think about it.  A woman used to be her father’s property, until a husband bought her (or was paid to take her, whichever way the dowry went in a particular culture) at which point she was transferred to the ownership of her husband, illustrated through taking his name.

It’s also why I don’t like engagement rings.  Why is a woman marked as his property and taken, but a man isn’t?

This is also why I REALLY. F#*ING. HATE. when people start talking about the ‘traditional definition of marriage’ because the traditional definition was the transfer of ownership from father to husband the valuable property known as ‘woman’ (or girl), and she was marked as his belonging.  That is why women suffer most for things such as family “honour”.  She is not a person, she is a token, a prize.  And more often than not, shared this role with other women for the man’s benefit.

So no, I don’t give a S*%T about the ‘traditional’ definition as something sacred to be protected or defended.  Every generation gets to define the world around itself.  This is how changes happen at all, because one day someone decided something needed to be done, or needed to stop being done, and enough people finally agreed, and they changed it.  So yes, change the definition: marriage is no longer about possession and ownership, it’s about love and commitment, and that is NOT confined to “one woman, one man.”

…where was I?  Oh, right, my name.

So someday I really do want to get married.  Really, I had intended to have done that by now – get married, have some kids, maybe adopt (I’d really love to adopt or foster) – but I haven’t managed to find anyone who is either capable of living with me, or who I’m capable of living with.  I know they’re out there, these compatible people, but they’re sort of like Schrodinger’s Cat: until one is observed, they will exist in a purely theoretical state of simultaneous existence and non-existence.

But when I do get married, I won’t change my name.  I’ve actually had this thought for a long time, but didn’t have the nerve to buck social convention, but it’s my name, dammit, and it’d be my marriage, and it’s ME, and that gives me the right to do it how I want.

Which may just be why I’ve yet to find Mr. Compatible.

Because let’s face it, there’s no such thing as Mr. Perfect and dear god how boring would he be anyway!?  So Mr. Compatible it is.  Or Miss, I suppose, might happen.  I’m not going to close off my options.  That’s a whole level of social upset that I’m happy to fight for, but not necessarily for myself yet.

And yet I still identify as straight, even though I am probably more bi, but really only in a romantic way rather than a sexual way.  That might need its own entry…

So, Washington, and some of you other states who are thinking about it, there’s only a few days left, but you can really make a difference for a lot of couples who desperately need the protection of law for their families.  Vote to allow same-sex couples to get married, k?  It really ISN’T going to hurt anyone to have the same rights most of us already have.

And if you mention “but a child needs a mother *and* a father” bull, I’ll ask why you aren’t out there petitioning to have CPS take all children away from single-parent households since clearly these are not in the best interests of the child, by your own definition.

I think I’ve wandered off-topic again.

No to changing my name.  No to an engagement ring.  I’m not property, you aren’t buying me, branding me, or warning others that I’m ‘taken’.  I’m quite capable of informing people myself if I’m engaged, and if I don’t, then why would you want to marry me anyway?

And I guess I’ll just learn to live with correcting people or explaining myself.  I already do anyway when I have to explain to people I don’t eat pork (no, not for any religious reason) and I’m lactose intolerant, but only a little so long as I don’t have too much dairy or have it too often.

Let’s face it, we live in a world of norms.  That does not make being outside the norm *bad*, it just makes it not assumed, and therefore usually requires at least a very small amount of commentary when interacting with people when these particular un-norms come into play.

It’s why I get upset when people get upset that someone assumed they were something they aren’t when 93% of people are.  Maybe it is tiring to constantly correct people, but it’s to be expected.

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It’s a question that has haunted many a person throughout history.  The question of not just who we are as individuals, but what that means, what it means for us and for others.  The question of our place in the world, in the universe, in the scheme of things has spawned philosophies and religions, wars and enlightenments, and of course, personal midlife crises when people go to ‘find themselves.’

I’m not going to go find myself anywhere because I’m here.  I am the embodiment of my existence and I’m not going to find sudden personal enlightenment by traveling somewhere.  I am already here.

I’m also not going to try to answer the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything (42) nor am I going to try to be somehow inclusive and balanced.  This is solely about my own personal journey to understand myself, and therefore everything will be presented through my own eyes, my own understandings.  You can say your experience has been different, but you can’t say mine hasn’t been mine.

Despite this, I will welcome anyone who finds this interesting to come along.  Maybe together we can find out more about who we all are, and that would be wonderful.  As much as this will be my journey, my journey inherently involves others, involves my community, my country, even my global interactions.  No man is an island, is the famous phrase.  No one lives in a vacuum.

But I will admit to having very limited experiences in some ways.  I have never lived outside of my country, outside of my state, outside of my county.  I have lived within 30 miles of my birth my entire life.  I have visited other places, other countries, but I have never lived there.

The name of this blog is due to a sadness I have always felt at lacking a culture to call my own.  While I will not say I *don’t* have one, I have always *felt* the lack of one, and sometimes our perceptions affect us more than reality and so are more important to address.

I have never felt an overabundance of belonging to any group.  I am closest to Washington culture, but am still different than many others in this state.  I am even different than many in my family!  I can ethnically trace my family back to Scotland, Sweden, and parts of Ireland and England.  If I trace back far enough through my family name, I can get to Denmark (Flanders).  In my family, though not blood related, I also have Latvian, Mexican, Lummi Indian, Ugandan and Portuguese.  Some great grandfather/mother was from Canada, but I think they were still from Scotland ultimately.

Though I can say my family – or some of my family – comes from these places, I do not share a common culture with these places, and would feel just as out of place in Sweden as I would in Swaziland.

I also feel out of place in Seattle, despite living only 2 hours from there, but at least I am familiar with everything I see.  I recognize store names, brands, people’s clothes… I can’t say I always understand the people themselves, but this is as much my home as anywhere.  I think that’s why I feel so disconnected is because people I can’t relate to are still the closest I have to a cultural community.

Or are they?  Maybe that is the very heart of why so many have found refuge in online communities, that they are not based in geography, ethnicity, social class: they are based at their very core in shared values, shared understandings, shared desires and enjoyments.  I can say I have friends in Canada, Poland, Holland, Japan, and though we don’t share a common personal culture, together we share quite a lot in common.  Beyond culture and borders, there are commonalities between all people, common needs, wants and dreams.

Sometimes I think we define ourselves by negatives.  Not that we are negative against ourselves, but we define or are defined by what we are not.  I can only pinpoint aspects of my culture by the fact these things differ from other cultures.  Without a backdrop of difference, things start to disappear.  Have you ever rearranged a room, changed where your furniture sits or where your art hangs, and for the next week or so, you constantly ‘see’ it again.

It’s sort of like that.  As someone else said once, it’s like asking a fish to be conscious of the water around it.  When you are so immersed in your surroundings, you tend not to see them until something comes along to switch things up, to make it stand out, you see something that *isn’t* to make you realize what *is*.

I’ve become, I think, part of the American culture that is rejecting American culture.  Stop buying so much, stop eating so much, stop spending so much, stop using credit cards, stop fast food addictions, stop dumping so much garbage, becoming both more and less individualistic at the same time.

It can be exhausting fighting against the culture you live in, to constantly have to resist falling into the expected and once familiar patterns of life and remember every day to make that conscious decision not to take the easy way but to keep fighting for a better way.

In a nation fixated on a two-party system – I vote for a third.
In a nation fixated on faster, cheaper, disposable – I choose slower, sustainable, reusable.
In a nation fixated on pop-culture and celebrity icons – I focus on things close to me, relevant to my life.
In a nation fixated on appearance, I don’t spend thousands on clothes, shoes, hair, make-up or plastic surgery.
In a nation fixated on more More MORE, I am trying to learn to live with less, use less, waste less.
In a nation fixated on self (and *itself*), I do what I can to reach beyond me, to see and understand the world, not just my little part of it.

I still don’t know what that makes me.  Does it somehow make me un-American?  What *does* it make me!?

I don’t know.  I guess that’s what I’m going to try to find out.

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