A Meditation on Returning

As you may now Dear Reader, I am an expat. That means I live in a country other than the one that I was born in…and yet, I am not an immigrant. Expats are those who go to other countries for professional reasons, not necessarily looking for opportunity, but who are just working, planning on staying a couple of years, and then usually leaving to either the next post or back home. This week I’ve returned to the United States from Germany where I live for a short visit and I’ve been thinking a lot about the action of returning. How do we see something familiar anew and through the prism of gained life experience? It is a strange and yet extremely fulfilling thing to return and I believe it can offer great insight into how exactly we progress in life.

Whenever I return to the United States, I am first of all reminded of the great scale of things. Where Europe is somewhat scaled down, more concentrated, and immediate, the USA is broad, pregnant with wide open spaces, big unblocked skies and sunshine. Even overcast days are still somehow bright. I can well understand just how impressed many immigrants must have been upon arrival in this country. I am reminded of boundless possibilities, the time that journeys can take, and the distance one has to go to arrive at where one is going. Naturally, I speak of these aspects in both the literal and figurative senses, but it is the more interpretive and implied notions that are paramount in my mind these days.

Although, I’m enjoying my time being back here in my homeland, my mind has already begun to return to the things that I need to do once I get back to Europe…and there are even things that I’ve already started missing there…mostly friends. Isn’t it funny how when we are in one place, our minds often turn to another place and right the other way around? Perhaps our minds are amazed and intrigued by the other side of the coin. Maybe we always need that comparative other, the counterpart, in order to know where we are and what we’re doing and to fully appreciate what exactly we are doing in this very moment. Maybe returning, or at least the prospect of returning, is what keeps us anchored to the moments that we are away.

Needless to say, I’m having a great time so far, and have been able to really enjoy the time here. I am glad to have returned to my home and I look forward to living here again some day in the not too distant future. I’m happy to know that there is some place in the world that I can always return to, that will always offer me an alternative. My life is enriched by the ability to limb the not only the physical space, but also the notion of another place.

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Boo! 

Don’t forget that Halloween is just around the corner! I don’t know if you’ve already got a costume planned, but if not, you should really get to it! You don’t want to end up one of those poor souls who has to scrape something together at the last moment. Those tardy unfortunates always end up as something completely mundane, but just covered in fake blood…and while I suppose it’s better than nothing, everyone can see that they didn’t try very hard. Put a little effort into it, the more outlandish the better. One is never too old to make a fool of themselves, and, in my opinion, it’s a good idea to do so every now and again just to remind others (and yourself) that you don’t have to take everything in life so damn seriously!

We recognize play as a valid and integral part of growing up. We encourage children to play as much as possible. I can’t even begin to estimate the multitudes of times that my parents told me to “go play!” But, it seems that when we become adults, we forget just how good it feels to play. Letting one’s guard down and enjoying the frivolity of the human condition can only be a good thing if you ask me. In our busy lives we have to remain focused, goal oriented, and time conscious, and those things certainly all have their time and place and have helped us immeasurably throughout our human journey, but what’s the use in rushing through every moment of your life? I say a person’s got to enjoy life! Play is one way in which we can remind ourselves that all of the labors we entangle ourselves in can give way to joy if we are only willing to make time to forget ourselves sometimes.

Costumes aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I believe that dressing up as Frankenstein’s monster or Count Dracula allows us to do away with the facade of tightly controlled organization that so many of us project in our daily lives. Professionalism and public presence is important, don’t get me wrong, but letting down those walls occasionally in order to let in their opposites might allow us to better balance the dualities of our lives. We are all so many different intersectional identities, mom, teacher, best friend, care giver, bro, police officer, church choir singer, etc., and all of those identities offer us a great sense of accomplishment, belonging, and purpose, but I posit that painting yourself head to toe green and gluing bolts onto your temples can do the same. Halloween is an annual opportunity to play another role, one that is nearly free of responsibility, that is concerned only with fun and celebrating the dark, unknown, and often frightening parts of our lives, by making fun of the darkness, we quell our fear of it.

So you’d better get to it if you haven’t already started! I’d love to hear about what you’ve decided to dress up as in the comments section! Furthermore, if you’re not the costume type, that’s okay! You can still have fun by going out in your plain clothes, just be aware that everyone around you is having fun playing, so try and partake of that spirit of play. If you’re not going out at all, well, that’s okay too! Stay in and get yourself a big bunch of candy and wait for the door-bell to ring and as you open the door, arms full of sugary goodies, remember to greet those goblins and gools awaiting you with the same sense of fun and carefree silliness that has brought them to your door. Enjoy that moment between you and the monsters together and maybe try and remember that it’s not just kids who can play; it’s not just kids who can find simple joys.

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There Is So Much

This is going to be a short one…because really, there is so little that I can say which will be able to encompass the sense of grandeur that I am currently feeling. There is no particular reason why I’m feeling especially in awe of anything tonight, but as I sat down to write, I was overcome by just how much there is in the world. It struck me, quite suddenly, that there is literally something everywhere that has a story, a history, a means by which it came into being, and behind all of those things is a person. While we clearly have the capacity for causing havoc, we humans can also do great things and things beyond things even. Despite our shortcomings, I still find us a generally loveable bunch.

I have a treasured book by museum director Niel MacGregor titled, A History of the World in 100 Objects. In my opinion, what makes this stocky collection so brilliant is that it’s just as visually appealing as it is wonderfully written. MacGregor does a fantastic job of giving us a guide through some of the British Museum‘s most telling treasures. Within the included selections, we are told a story through the provenance and lives of, what might at first glance appear, disparate objects. Far-flung and meticulously collected objects such as a bird shaped pestle from Papua New Guinea, a coin with the head of Alexander the Great from 305 B.C. from Turkey, the homoerotic Warren Cup from near Jerusalem, and a feather helmet from Hawaii from the 18th century all weave the story of human material culture from way back when. History is just filled with things, each of them swollen ripe with the lives of our ancestors.

It’s easy enough to take the things we are surrounded by for granted. A toaster is after all just a toaster — but is it? A mailbox seems boring enough until we recount the relatively short history of postal systems in the world, and when we consider that for most of postal history, it’s all been delivered by foot. It seems to be nothing new that humans have been telling stories, and sending them out into the world for others to enjoy. As the world grows ever more connected, and we are brought closer together by another miracle thing called the internet, which by now has it’s own mythology and heroic figures attached to it, I hope that we will still take a few moments every now and again to just look around and realize that everything, even the most mundane of objects around us,  was just an idea that someone had at one point or another.

There is an abundance of potential just waiting to help us bring or ideas to fruition. We are inventors more than we are adventurous discoverers. We are the ones who are capable of so much creative potential that we have created other things to distract us from creating. Everything has a story. Everything is someone’s idea. We’ll be alright.

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Gun Crazy

This one hurts. I am livid about the gun-related tragedies that continue to unfold on a regular basis in the USA and I find that this particular issue troubles me to such an intense degree that involving myself in it only leaves me angry, frustrated, and ashamed of my fellow citizens. But, I simply cannot be quiet. Again, the nation has endured a tragedy which has become so commonplace in the United States that fatigue has set in and many people are happy to simply look the other way. Many people, I am sure, feel that there is nothing that they can do. Yet, that is exactly what those who are profiting from the continual slaughter of innocent Americans want. Placid acceptance that their product is ubiquitous with all that is American is just what those who manufacture, sell, and trade guns designed for the sole purpose of killing humans want. Groups like the NRA seek to prop up their own agenda, for their own means, for their own profit margins…and if we have to die in order for that to happen, then that’s that! We are the only industrialized nation in the world where this happens…over and over. We have the most guns per capita of any country on earth. We have a second amendment which grants us the right to bear arms. Well, one of the definitions of the verb, to bear, is to endure (an ordeal or difficulty) — I, for one, am tired of bearing arms.

I have heard both well-founded and poorly constructed arguments as to why gun control is unnecessary. Some say that it would be ineffective and that those set on harming others would find a way to get the guns. My response is – how do you know? We cannot draw that conclusion until we have tried it. You can be sure that if weapons manufacturers found that they no longer made profits in the United States (don’t forget dear reader, those illegal arms, were manufactured and purchased at some point), they would move on to another market and there just  might be fewer possibilities to illegally get one’s hands on weapons designed for war. Why are we now perpetually at war with each other? Maybe gun control won’t work…but there is some evidence from around the world that it just might. Another argument those who insist on possessing these arms spout out is that they don’t want the government being the only ones with weapons in the country. To that I always point out that; first, we are a representative republic with power invested in democratically elected officials and institutions (for the moment), and therefore, we are the government–that’s the whole idea! Second, I ask them where the endgame for that logic leads? Should civilians have access to nuclear weapons? Most sane people agree that civilians should not be able to purchase nuclear grade weapons…that’s control, that’s regulation. Who draws that line?

Some would argue that the second amendment draws that line, and promises us the right to bear arms…but it doesn’t specify which kind of arms. So, why not nuclear arms? The truth is, we accept controls on most of the rights afforded to us by the constitution for the good of public safety. Afterall, the first amendment guarantees us freedom of speech. Yet, most people would agree that shouting FIRE! in a crowded cinema and causing an ensuing stampede is, and should remain, illegal on grounds of endangerment. I just can’t, for the life of me, understand why we cannot extend that very same reasoning to the gun control debate in the USA.

I’m tired of people calling for prayer to solve an issue that is within our own power to solve. Delegating this gaping national mistake to a metaphysical power outside of us only allows us to persuade ourselves that we are powerless to change, that we needn’t feel ashamed of ourselves for permitting college students, concert goers, and first graders to be murdered again and again. These prayers are not working…or maybe they already have. Maybe we’ve already got exactly what it takes to make sure that this never happens again. Maybe it is well within our own power to end this national tragedy…and we do nothing! Evidence proves that after a mass shooting such as the one in Las Vegas gun purchases increase in the country. That means that every time our innocent citizens die full of bullets, we reward the weapons industry by fattening their pockets. It is insanity! I refuse to submit my rational mind to insanity! NEVER!

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You Better THINK (‘Bout What You’re Trying To Do To Me!)

There is seemingly nothing of actual importance to deal with in the United States of America these days, not the great swathes of the country demolished by hurricanes, not the ever increasingly erratic president who creates African countries and publicly calls anyone he perceives as fodder (which is apparently everyone) names, not the painful racial division and ongoing racial discord within the country – none of that seems especially poignant. However, according to my Facebook feed and the ongoing news media cycle, one cannot escape the meaningless feud that the president and “conservatives” have decided to engage in surrounding the issue of standing for the national anthem during sporting events. Seriously, the level of outrage and indignant chest pounding over this non-issue is baffling! I just can’t quite comprehend why this is an issue so worthy of the entire nation’s attention!

First and foremost, I believe it is blatantly clear that the first amendment protects both standing as a sign of reverence during the national anthem and also the opposite – not standing. By choosing to kneel, citizens (whether they happen to be multi-millionaire players or not) are practicing their first amendment rights. Naturally, others have the right to free speech, to disagree, to dissent, to adamantly and spiritedly debate the patriotic merits of such actions, but we must never forget that there is absolutely no law establishing a test of loyalty to our country. Just as we are free to choose where, when, and how we will practice our religions (or not practice them), we are free to decide how we personally interpret our patriotism and roles as citizens. To suggest that another citizen should perform the same rituals and prescribe to the same nationalistic behaviours as I do, is (and I do not say this without fully understanding the implications of my words) pure fascism. Under fascist regimes, the entire populace, either by force or by conviction, subjugate their own personal opinions to the norms of the state, for the glory of the state, because there is nothing other than the state. The citizen is no longer an individual, but rather a simple, nearly meaningless unit within the collective vessel of the state.

For all of the fiery rhetoric that many conservatives spew surrounding their wish to limit the role of government, to uphold the centrality of the individual against the notion of the nation-state, and their often convinced positions against anything which might benefit the collective, they sure do seem to rally around an ideal of patriotic conformity like a plague of locusts. By allowing the president of the United States to publicly, and in the capacity of the office, call someone a “Son of a Bitch” for not subscribing to the same brand of involved citizenship that he feels is standard, we are allowing for the erosion of our standards of individuality; our freedom.

If you, dear reader, think that the current occupant of the office of president of the United States of America cares what another multi-millionaire does at work, then you are, I am sorry to say, too far gone for me to reason with. By calling a player who chooses to fully exercise his first amendment rights differently than others might a, “son of a bitch,” the president insults not only the player, not only the player’s mother whom he has decided is a bitch, but also every American citizen! Though this should not be surprising, and I seriously am amazed at how I can continue to be so unpleasantly surprised by this accursed man, I am shocked at how the American people have not taken him to task over his demand that dissent be punished. Our entire country is built on the idea of dissent! The colonists, in the ultimate act of dissention, chose to act out of their greater sense of freedom, out of a belief that the individual and their conscience is of far greater importance than the whims of a monarch, an established church, or an unjust law or tax, and birthed a nation.

I do not know exactly what the solution to any of this should be. I am a writer, not a constitutional expert or policy wonk, but what I do know for sure, is that I am tired of seeing messages on my feed detailing how the flag (an arbitrary national symbol subject to change),  or the national anthem (which is just a song after all and cannot feed your children or pay your mortgage), are somehow superior expressions of one’s love of nation and people. There is no greater expression of love, in my opinion than freedom, and that includes the freedom to not do what everyone else thinks you should do. Love of nation, in my eyes, is much more colorful than red, white, and blue, and much more nuanced in lyric than anything Francis Scott Key could pen. Indeed, love might just look like a rich man wearing a helmet and bulky padding, on one knee, begging for his fellow citizens to simply THINK!

“People walk around everyday, playing games, taking scores —

Trying to make other people lose their minds.

Well, be careful! You’re gonna’ lose yours!

You better think! Think ’bout what you’re trying to do to me! 

Yeah, think! Let your mind go, let yourself be free! 

Oh, Freedom! Freedom! Yeah, Freedom!

Freedom!”

– Aretha Franklin

Think,” Aretha Now (1968)

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