Saturday, May 26, 2012

Drive Towards Motion and the Wackiness of Weeks

Single Fun! 
Today was a nice morning. Exhausting, but in a good way. I took the kids for an extended downtown Ithaca sojourn, picked up a few good records (first Queen! R.E.M. single!) I'm quickly discovering that Angry Mom Records is one of my new favorite places.

Generally, I spent some kid time on a sunny summer day having fun. I needed a walk and a romp through some playgrounds to clear my head. We've been having a crazy week. Nothing spectacular, of course. But sometimes the little crazies can bond together to create an amalgam of wackiness that needs to be addressed. This week was filled with those little sticky blobs of wacky. (Sticky Blobs of Wacky, by the way, is a terrible name for a restaurant.) (Buffet the Appetite Slayer is a great name for a restaurant.)

After the busy morning, I've spent the rest of the afternoon cleaning, listening to music, and thinking about next steps.

This year is all about evaluating those next steps, and deciding where to go next as a family. In two key ways: we want to understand where we can live and settle down, and what our next steps are in terms of career. (Jaime and I, that is. The kids are busy being kids. Although Viri has career on his mind as much as we do, at this point.) (Arkaedi, however: "I'm just having fun!")

It looks like we're headed back to the NW next year. At this point I can't imagine anything else, and nothing here is really tempting in the long term. It was a fun experiment- good for us, especially me. I needed this time back east, back in a small town. But I've learned what I needed to learn, and I'm ready for the return journey. I wouldn't be a good hobbit without a There and Back Again story. And I am nothing if not a good hobbit.

The kids are too young to really have input into a decision like moving. But it's funny to see what they have to say. Both of them are excited to live somewhere with animals and zoos. They don't remember Seattle, really. They are the most important factor in the discussion, however. Soon they'll be too old to be comfortable uprooting and transplanting. They already have friends and connections here, relationships that make moving complex. J and I are more mobile. In part because our best friends are people we stay in touch with regardless, and in part because we chose a life of rambling the moment we moved to Japan in 2000. Maybe earlier- leaving our tight circle of friends in 1998 for college in Japan was a major step. We knew once we made that choice that our world would never be as small and cozy again. And we're okay with that.

There are some factors to consider that may shape the decision. We're always on the lookout for a new country to explore. Viri especially is excited to try Australia, and I'm never one to totally rule out A) foreign adventure or B) Viri's ideas. (Seriously, every day that boy is growing more powerful. "Join me, Arkaedi. Together we can overthrow the Papa and rule the galaxy as Pretty and Bubba!") But barring some wonderfully insane stroke of crazy, we'll be headed back to the NW. Either Portland or Seattle, or an outlying town near enough to one of those. Maybe even Olympia, if we're feeling nutty.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Love in the Time of America

Henry Miller in Big Sur
I'm feeling restless. It's my affliction. It's not a bad one, as afflictions go- I could be a grown man in shorts. Or do heroin. But I am restless, and feel the need to move.

Writers love this disease. If they don't have it themselves, they tell the story of it. So many great stories are based on the love of moving right along. Talking to my good friend and official demi-god The Mighty Hercules lately about road novels, I was inspired to revisit one of my favorites, Henry Miller's The Air-Conditioned Nightmare. It is my favorite thing of Miller's and one road novel that really stays with me. The basic overview of the book is simple: Miller comes back to the States as an expat, escaping war in Europe. He is disgusted by much of what he sees, but he finds positive aspects of America while he travels. It isn't a story of growth or acceptance. Like all great road novels, it's about the journey for the sake of the journey. Miller tells of his travels because that is what is happening.

I've been reading a lot of these books lately. I find myself relishing novels by Kerouac, Miller, lesser known gems like I See By My Outfit by Peter Beagle. I think they make sense to me now in a way that they didn't before, as I've traveled more, spent nearly five years overseas, and felt more restricted by life circumstances. I loved these books when I first read them at 19 and 20. I appreciate them now. Back then they represented possibilities, potential futures that myself and my friends could live. Now they mean something more complex and strange- the sense of community and isolation that I have as a (Oh My) basically middle aged man. (Wait is 35 middle aged? I guess not... but close?)

America is such a country of potential. It is frustrating because the greatness that lurks everywhere. The geographical perfection, the powerful ambition and drive... these are balanced by the greed and pathological individualism that infects us. Having spent time in a other countries always makes Americans conscious of this contrast in identity. It's a personality disorder on a nationwide scale. We are what we pretend to be, and what we have chosen to be. We are the past and the future. Reading stories of our past back to Whitman and Emerson, it seems like this has always been the case. We've always been a nation of confused identity. Or at least our writers and scholars have thought so.

Living currently in small town America, I have a desire to go to cities, to see more of the urban America. A part of me, logically or not, always sees urban America as the authentic experience of being the United States. Funnily enough, most Americans I talk to don't think this, but many foreign visitors do. They see America as big city because of their own media and preconceptions, I suppose. I'm not sure why I do. But there it is.

The road novels I love mostly talk about small town America. They love the cities intensely, or hate them with equal passion. But they talk more about rural and small town America. I wonder if it that is because, like me, they see it as strange and confusing. Or because they see the real essence of the American experience there, and wish to explore it. Kerouac is especially hilarious in this regard, since he sings the praises of these little towns that he spends hours visiting, and then complains about the cities that he settles in for years.

Kerouac eventually went home, to his small town New England past. He resigned himself to unhappily finishing his years with the familiar. I can't imagine doing that, personally. It's actually a deep-seated fear of mine. When I was young, I was firmly convinced (like every young man reading Kerouac and listening to punk rock, I'm sure) that my life was destined to be lived out penniless and free, drifting from place to place, without a home. Of course that is silly- and mostly untrue. (Well, I'm penniless enough. And I do tend to drift. But I take a lot of home with me.)

But in all of the nonsensical romanticism and flowery prose of the myth, there is a glimmer of reality hidden. I'm still desperate to find that authentic identity of my country, and myself. I still pull up roots and change what I can to see the United States from a new angle, to approach the problem of our national disorder from a new perspective. I'm interested in it, perhaps above everything else in my life. I want to understand it.  Reading those novels about travel, traveling myself for so much of my life... these are ways to find those stories again, and gain some comprehension. Until I get that... Well, I'll be restless. Ready to move.