just sayin”

What’s up with Personal & Cultural Identity?

On a personal level in trying to create or affirm a strong sense of who we are, we often try to distance ourselves from the confusing or painful elements of our past. Sometimes we reject all of it – even those elements which could positively impact the forging of our “unique” identities. The baby/bathwater syndrome…….
Similarly, on a societal level, in the process of re-creating or affirming a national identity in our modern world, many make the mistake of rejecting their ethnic origins as being tied to the suffering of the past: poverty, oppression, persecution, lack of education, equality, opportunity. Others, in order to feel a heightened sense of importance, legitimacy, power, etc. reject cultures they know little about, or those which are very different from their own. Thus it isn’t hard to imagine that a day will come when all unique cultural elements will be reduced to a few curious artifacts entombed in the glass cases of museums.
In truth, our diverse ethnicities are as deeply entwined as threads in the vast and rich tapestry of our humanity, which is replete with commonalities despite our best efforts to deny them. In truth we all came from the same origins, the same original pair (whether called Adam & Eve or something else). And we all came from the same place, whether we choose to believe it or not: Africa. Our “motherland” which for eons we’ve ironically and tragically ignored, neglected, forgotten, exploited. This is a black thread which is woven throughout our multi-colored human tapestry.
So I wish we could turn the world inside out for a while. You know, everything would be reversed:
– white would be black or brown, yellow, red and vice versa
– the rich would be poor and poor nations wealthy and rich with resources
– persecutors would be persecuted
– hunters would be hunted
– Muslims would be Christians, Hindus would be Muslims, Catholics would be Protestants etc. Better yet, everyone would be Buddhists, because they are (usually) accepting of everyone (except the Rohingyas of Myanmar)
– “conservatives” would be “liberals” (omg)
– slums would be mansions and estates
– deserts would become jungles or oceans
– the thin would be fat
– the hungry would be well-fed and the gluttonous would be starved
– etc.
What’s the point? Well, if I were an optimist I’d hope people would thus become more compassionate and understanding of each other. They’d realize first-hand what’s going on in other parts of our country and our small world, what it’s like to live like the “others”. Things might change, become more balanced, thoughtful, equal, fair, shared, peaceful.
Another option would be a visit by aliens from another planet. That would be a great unifying distraction from us fighting one another here on earth. No longer would we be focused on our so-called differences – rather we’d join together in solidarity to deal with this new “other”. Ideally they’d be evolved, benevolent, gentle, nonthreatening, so we’d have no excuse to project our antipathy onto them, and maybe we’d learn a helpful thing or two!

Cells Run Amok

Occasionally I occupy myself by viewing this earth-world of ours as if it were one cell in a vast humming universe of cells. All are more or less different and serve various functions but all are subtly, yet strongly connected. From this perspective it appears our own particular cell is quite bent on self-destruction with all its tiny internal parts battling each other in fierce and pointless duels. This cell obviously hasn’t the sense to realize its survival depends completely on the cooperation and mutual support of its countless parts, rather than the “victory” of one over the other.

It baffles me that after billions of years at this game of adapting, developing, and sustaining life, this cell with supposedly intelligent elements within it hasn’t yet developed better sense (the survival of the fittest stategy now being rather obsolete and all). Rather it seems profoundly dumb – not much better than an amoeba. And shockingly, in a way dumber because amoebas and most other basic organisms have parts that actually work together cooperatively to sustain their life and growth. They don’t senselessly destroy themselves!

Humans seem therefore, to be more like a virus which has taken over our cell, gobbling its parts up and everything else around it, absolutely heedless of the very real and devastating consequences including, ultimately, the complete demise of the very thing which sustains it.
What could be the vaccine for us “humanaids” who have run amok? Why have all suggested cures thus far failed? Why has the larger global entity of the cell itself not realized what’s happening? Can it not sense its illness? Why did it not long-ago recognize and stop this plague which has caused its dysfunction and contamination?

It’s incredible to me that each of us, though so much smaller than an atom in this scheme, believes that our own personal existence has such great significance, and that even our smallest actions are of great “importance” – yet we typically lack a corresponding sense of responsibility to the whole organism, without which we simply cannot exist.

If we were more sensitive and attentive to our surroundings, wouldn’t more of us realize something is very wrong and getting dangerously wronger? Wouldn’t we understand that we’re fouling our own nest and even killing our own kind? Why are we so bloody obtuse? Isn’t it our role (as the “most intelligent” elements of our cell) to be conscious custodians? We arrogantly think of ourselves as in charge of it all, but every day each of us inadvertently does some thing or, even more ignorantly, many things to help destroy our life support system.

What is being worked out here?
Is this just a small faulty cell in the vast universe that will, and must, eventually destroy itself? (So far it has been amazingly resilient – surviving so many brutal forms of internal assault. But really, how long can this last?)

Or has something else gone just terribly wrong with an experiment called human life, and it’s doomed to fail? Is this also happening elsewhere in other cells in the universe, so no big deal – it’s just the normal cycle of life and death being repeated? On the other hand, as with all other living things (like those amoebas), will the instinctive drive toward survival ultimately produce a viable new adaptation or mutation which will lead us, and the cell in which we dwell, in a more sustainable direction?

Obviously we’re still just at the beginning stages of the slow evolution of these mysteriously endowed and largely unused brains of ours. My worry is that in the meantime, our stupidity combined with our destructive power will put an unfortunate and premature end to it all, taking everything else down with us. But maybe that’s okay too, being as we’re not as “precious” as we seem to think we are. Other forms of life would arise and perhaps do a better job. That I’d like to see………..

On Writing Like D.B.

I’ve always wanted to write like Dave Barry. But to do that honestly I’d have to be Dave Barry, and unless he’s secretly a sixty-ish, slightly crotchety, yet still-young-at-heart woman, that ain’t gonna happen. So I must be content to continue with the kind of short essays I’ve always written which address whatever serious issue captures my fancy at the moment. Or more accurately, whatever gets my goat at the moment. (If I were Dave Barry I’d now insert a clever little aside like: “What if I don’t have a goat to be got?” And readers would howl with laughter. Alas it seems only Dave can pull that off, and I shall have to live with DB envy forevermore.)

The best approximation of DB’s style I can muster is snarky, satirical, or ironic snidery that hopefully elicits at least a chuckle or smile. But better yet, a jolt of recognition, because ultimately my goal is not to amuse but to pull the wool off rather than over, uncloud, remind, illustrate, clarify, illuminate, awaken. To that end, my writing typically focuses on observations about culture, society, politics etc. and may at times seem esoteric, or even convoluted. (My father complained the stuff’s too complicated. This is a bit worrisome, because he was one of the kinds of folks I most want to reach! Not quite “Joe the plumber” but close enough.)

The writing doesn’t always start out that way, but ends up like that due to the way my brain works. I can take a pretty straightforward topic and by the time I’m done with it, there are all sorts of interconnections and extrapolations caught up in the tight net I’ve cast in the process of elaborating.

In my defense I truly do strive for clarity, so don’t know exactly how what I was trying to say sometimes gets tangled up like yarn after a cat attack. During one reading it will all seem crystal clear, verging on dare-I-say “astute”? Yet reading the same essay another time can feel like I’m trudging thru water loaded with sediment. It’s like two people with entirely different sensibilities are reading the same stuff. Crazy.

Plus, as you can see, I like to use a lot of descriptive words, commas, italics, and quotation marks. Thanks to attending an almighty Journalism School I know I’m not “supposed” to, but I just can’t help it. They seem to have to be there for me to make my point. Does that mean I’m a crappy writer who uses these cheap and despised “gimmicks” (see there they are again) to make my points? I don’t know, maybe. Honestly I’ve tried to do without these punctuation crutches as much as possible, and with enough revising often find that I can eliminate some. But oftentimes not, so there they stay like so much confetti strewn upon the pages. Just think of them as hieroglyphics……there for some very mysterious but “good” reason. (BTW have I used enough mixed metaphors?)

On the other hand some folks who’ve read my work have described it as: “like a dream”; “lyrical”; “painting terrific word pictures”; “a joy to read”; “beautiful prose”. They obviously know more than I do about what constitutes good writing! (And no, though tempting, I will absolutely NOT stick an lol in here. I abhor the things. But trust me I am, as I write, laughing at myself.)

So hearing from you and getting your feedback would be both enlightening and terrifying. I look forward to it! – AH