Sunday, February 29, 2004

52 Degrees and Rising

In four months almost to the day I will be driving yet another Ryder truck packed full with my belongings. This one I've been preparing for for about two years. It's the big one, the return home.

Perceptions of home retain their quality of the things you left for, what it couldn't give you, for no finite period of time. It lingers, in the front of your mind, on the tips of words you are surprised to find spilling out of your mouth to strangers when they ask polite questions about your place of birth. But all the while home remains your identity. I met James last night in the City. He checked my driver's license and asked what part of Texas I grew up in. "Austin" (me). "Born and raised" (him). And do you know what I did? I put my backpack down and gave him a hug. "I can tell you're from Texas" (him). James told me his whole building is full of people from the Lone Star State. I nodded because I understood. We leave, but we find each other out there.

I wasn't able to let go of those lingering perceptions of the things I left for until recently. When people move, there seems to be this great debate about whether one is running from something, or forever searching for something within a locale rather than within oneself. Moving from state to state doesn't seem to be an epidemic, so I wonder why people fear this as a harm to which their loved ones are susceptible. There is purpose in it--moving. Forward motion to give a dream a chance, to go to school, to see how a different environment suits your temperament, or sometimes to leave something behind that needs leaving.

When I left the Promised Land, it wasn't feeding me. I needed pushes in all sorts of ways, the sorts of ways an unfamiliar place can give you. I needed to stand alone, away from my identity for awhile, so as not to rely upon it. I needed to find out what did feed me, because I was good at things, I had friends and family near, but what mattered? I am someone who needs to know what matters, to get clear on that, as a foundation. Some people's foundations are built up nice and sturdy by their families, or maybe they're born with it, an innate sense of direction and self-knowledge. I've been building mine through the experience of the unknown.

The drive to test life isn't at the front of my mind anymore. It faded away, little by little, while other aspects made themselves known, like being close to loved ones. I ventured at first with the intention of relying upon myself. Then, I ventured to find folks I could rely upon. Stage 3: I'm not so much fighting anymore. I've got a lot of inner fight, a quality that serves to help things sit right within. It's like jostling all the flakes in a snow globe and following them as they gently lay down. The forward motion of moving has helped things settle inside; it's helped me be able to acknowledge the irreplaceable spaces where family, friends, and love hold me together. These revelations are with me to take wherever I go.

I'm going home because it's where I come from. The scenes outside the car window, I want to see again.

Last night an old friend of my brother's played guitar and sang at a venue on the Lower East Side. The performance was low-key, sometimes just Amy (the singer) on stage, at other times my sister-in-law joining her on back-up vocals, her husband blending in on piano, and my brother adding in rhythm on bass. Pieces of home. Where you come from. Your history and memory and makeup. Walking through Central Park yesterday winter was breaking into spring, fifty-two degrees outside.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

The first time I heard about Dean was after an appearance he'd made on Meet the Press in the beginning of 2003. My brother, ever keeping the pulse of the American political system and its inhabitants, had begun to hear his name, had read some articles from pundits who'd been looking through their binoculars and spotted the little guy on top of the Green Mountains, rolling up his sleeves to show Popeye-like forearm muscles. Jeff told me Dean was good, just a few simple words and a knowing, affirmative head-shake. He smiled when he told me. All I had to do was listen to him speak and I would understand. Jeff was thrilled.

How many of us feel thrill when we see a political candidate, quick, like a surge on a heart monitor, but not fleeting--a sense that burrows itself within your ideology? Jeff and I are die-hard Democrats (him more than me, granted), like most of our friends and family. We grew up that way. We latch on and champion each candidate for the different aspects of their makeup, Clinton's rock-star brilliance, Gore's family tree of steadfastness in the principles of what is good for the society. And we allow for the flaws, acknowledging them, but cheering for the better sides to come forth, to resonate and take hold so that we will be doing our best each day without injustice. Now I'm speaking more for myself. What is politics for anyway? So many choose not to listen because of the dissonance.

Chris Matthews calls Dean a maverick, one who resists adherence to a group. Perfect. From Jefe to Sistra, to our friends, to six degrees of separation branching out across the Internet, to Meet-ups, to caravans from Austin to Iowa, campfire chats where Janeane Garofalo and Joan Jett drop by . . . to Caucus Day. Many of us recognized that thrill given off by Dean. The way people talk, not what they say, is more telling.

When you belong to a group for a long time, like your company for instance, your school where you teach, your acupuncture lounge, your theatre troupe, you learn how to communicate in that arena to become a better communicator--to know your audience. Politicians do the same to convey that they are not out of touch with the American people (a touchstone of the pundits). If you choose this road in politics, connecting-with-the-people speak, you end up coasting on the crest of good message delivery and talking without saying anything. To us folks out there, oh, I don't know who we are, folks like me, this is all so flat. The campaign season is rote. I only ever look forward to the debates because inherent within them is having to think on your feet. There's no way around it. (That's why I was so dumbfounded last time around when Bush actually did well.)

It is interesting when a person stands before you and can respond in time. What comes forth may not be tempered. It may just end up being a "Neeeyah" yip. But those yips tell you that who is before you is not someone hidden under layers of spinning webs or smooth frosting. That person is honest with himself or herself, and therefore conveys to us that he or she is honest with us. Not only this, but to respond in time means that you have to examine, think, and consider, fantastic qualities in a leader.

What does happen behind closed doors? It really isn't our right to know about foreign policy roundtables with Condi Rice et al. All debates and decision-making should not be open for public scrutiny every step of the way, especially when they are threatening to the public. In such cases, we examine, we elect, and we must trust that Mr. President is acting in good faith. I want to know that he is thinking and honestly looking at a situation from as many perspectives as he can before making decisions.

What Matthews looks for and admires is what he calls speaking out when everyone says you're wrong. He noted Teddy Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Jr., Winston Churchill, John Brown, and finished with Howard Dean. For me you do not need opposition in order for it to come forth. It's in the way people speak. Are they talking on top of the subject, or are they speaking from within it?

Funny enough, this morning while studying Arnold Scwarzenegger during a 20-minute segment with Tim Russert, I felt a good vibe and couldn't understand why. Now I understand.

People, the enemy (one who will do harm) cannot simply be identified through one's political affiliation or even their opinions on the issues, such as opposing same-sex marriage.

I read a very good quote recently from William Falk, editor of The Week. He says:
Consistency is a highly overrated virtue. I'm not ashamed to admit that I no longer believe half of what I was sure of 10 years ago, or that I've come to see wisdom in hoary ideas my younger self would have dismissed. You make mistakes, you get new information, you change your mind along the way.

The enemy is much more likely to be found in an individual who does not examine, who is not willing to make mistakes, who is suspect of those inclinations within himself or herself and keeps them hidden.