Well, I don't seem to be done, after all. I think I'll be pursuing the following line of thought, interspersed with links and regular blogging, but not on the demanding schedule of November.
Halfway through last month’s blogging series, I wrote this to a friend who had checked in offline:
What felt fraught about my relationship with my mother was "trying to do the right thing" -- and the difficulty of figuring out what that was. Culturally our experiences became different enough that I came to identify with immigrants who talk about trying to balance their parents' culture and understanding and expectations with their entirely different life in "the new world." That's what I think an interesting book could be based on, precisely because I'm NOT an ethnic immigrant, but an American balancing a traditional/rural and post-modern cultural clash in her own life.
How we perceive and deal with cultural clashes varies greatly, doesn’t it? Whole literatures seem based on this question, especially now with so many talented young American writers of various heritages – Indian, African, Chinese, Middle Eastern – turning out thinly disguised autobiographical fiction. In a way, the fascination of an English-speaking public and literary establishment with these subjects and their authors seems like yet another form of the “Orientalism” of which Edward Said wrote – an exoticism that is not only politically correct, but chic, seeming to deny one’s own over-examined, over-written-about heritage in favor of the lure of societies which may not only seem more colorful and exotic, but even dangerous. I read a great deal of this genre myself, hopefully to learn more, but also because I am terminally bored with Jane Austen.
Be that as it may, I was brought up short when talking about this to a friend a long while back, bemoaning my bland, white, American non-culture. He retorted that “we are just as ethnic as anyone else.” Hmm, I thought. Maybe he’s right. And maybe that ethnicity, while having a good deal to do with the culture revealed in much British and American writing and the legends that went before, also might be involved with particular new-world experiences that are ongoing not only for people who have come lately, but people like me whose ancestors have been here for centuries but who are – right now - coming to terms with a post-modern world and feeling themselves being changed by it.
The world my mother inhabited and loved - and was often fiercely defensive about – belongs to the past. It will persist for a while, and frankly I hope it does because there is much about it that I love too – but it is just as endangered as any “traditional” culture in the world today – hence the blue state/red state divide, the rural defensiveness against the flocking of city dwellers with their suburban values into the countryside, and the despair about the continual drain of bright achievement-oriented students migrating from rural areas toward the cities and more prosperous coasts.
I’m an example of that migration: frustrated by the lack of opportunity in the depressed but achingly beautiful area where I grew up, I’ve lived for thirty years in a prosperous semi-rural area, closer to eastern urban centers, which is now being taken over by former city-dwellers and suburbanites seeking their piece of paradise, but who have very little understanding of rural life or rural people: theirs is the Disneyland version. At this point in my life, I would much sooner go back to a truly rural existence, or live in a real city, which like the country has genuine grit and glory.
We hear so much about the impact of the West on the East, but Western culture is also changing. Some of this – much of it – is reactionary, as we feel the pressures pushing back at us and react in fear and anger. The rise of anxiety in America is palpable to me now whenever I go back into the country from Canada, although I think it’s come upon us slowly enough to be largely imperceptible to Americans who don’t travel that much. And I’m talking not just about changes at the border, or Homeland Security updates, but about the way people’s faces look, the way they walk, the way they drive, the way they interact with their children and with strangers, the subjects they are focused on and the subjects they ignore. The more money people have, the more protected they seem to feel, but the water level is rising to the point where all classes seem, to me, to be affected.
There are people who see this and are young enough to want to do something about it. Some of them are my companions here in the world of blogging; some are friends in everyday life. Some of us are trying, first, to make sense of the world in which we find ourselves by stepping outside of the normal channels of discourse and information-dissemination; by thinking deeply and engaging in dialogue; by challenging assumptions; by forming friendships that freely and deliberately cross ethnic, social, religious and sexual divides. And based on what we’re learning from that process, I see myself and other people not only changing but making fairly radical choices about our lives, including what to do with our creative abilities.
The world has always been filled with idealistic, iconoclastic youth. They are not who I’m primarily talking about, though I do see these same ideas and values at work among some of the young. The people I’m referring to are generally older – old enough to have lived and seen and even longed for “success” in a traditional American sense, but intelligent and experienced enough by now to have seen the holes in that fabric and even the increasing disintegration of the looms. The number of people dropping out and looking for new paths may be small, but they are an interesting lot: ambitious in a, shall we say, non-violent way; committed to preserving their own integrity as they slip through the cracks of a crumbling edifice, and not averse to looking for the still-strong supporting beams when swinging through the rooms on their way out to the overgrown back garden.