“For all its material advantages, the sedentary life has left us edgy, unfulfilled. Even after 400 generations in villages and cities, we haven’t forgotten. The open road still softly calls, like nearly forgotten song of childhood. We invest far-off places with certain romance. This appeal, I suspect, has been meticulously crafted by natural selection as an essential element in our survival. Long summers, mild winters, rich harvests, plentiful game – none of them lasts forever. It is beyond our powers to predict the future. Catastrophic events have a way of sneaking up on us, of catching us unaware. Your own life, or your band’s, or even your species’ might be owed to a restless few – drawn, by a craving they can hardly articulate or understand, to undiscovered lands and new worlds.” – Carl Sagan, from Pale Blue Dot
Recently an idea, or rather a sensation has been sloshing around my skull, lacing its way through my thoughts. The phrase “what am I doing?” has inched its way in there and has on a couple of occasions, with my higher-level students, sneaked into our English-learning tutoring sessions. I was caught unready this week for one student’s (a high school teacher) question: “Which do you like better?”, in reference to the United States versus Spain.
Happily I’ve been reading a bit of Pale Blue Dot and the light of my answer to these questions has begun to burn them away. What I’ve only thus far acknowledged as “wanderlust” I’ve blamed on what I saw as an Indiana-shaped cage where I lived out the early chapters of my life. Moving from north to south and in between traveling east to west all around the state evolved into navigating about the northwest quadrant of the globe, from San Diego to the District of Columbia, and down to the Caribbean, where the sun feels benevolent only above a certain social strata. What was I doing then?
Everywhere I went I saw things I had never seen before. I had never seen the way the sun so regularly shines in Denver. I had never seen how black the green highway signs are in Los Angeles, or the flatness of Kansas, for example. Now I know what -25°F feels like, and that the thighs freeze before the fingers in a stiff, frozen wind. I understand well the repercussions of eating anything from Varsity drive-in in Atlanta, and that the heaps of trash you see in the doorways of skyscrapers in the United States’ capitol contain people. Okay, you may say; “so what?” Did I set out to have my heart wrenched by the dramatic things of the world? I think so, yes, is my answer. I set out to seek the frontiers of my own understanding of these images.
In these early voyages, I was stretching my wings. In my home country I saw many signs; “Mechanicsville” and “Leaving Mechanicsville” in the space of a highway minute, “The People of Iowa Welcome You”, and “Watch Your Step”. These small courtesies spoke to me in two languages; the first being beneficent and concerned for my well-being, calling me to attention, and an octave lower in concert with this a stiff warning: “YOU HAVE REACHED A BOUNDARY”. Thank you, signs, firstly, and now you have me puzzling over borders and questioning your tone.
A border, to me, cannot exist only in reality or only in my imagination; it must claim a plot in both spheres in order to function as per its designers’ intention. While to receive only the superficial, easily graspable information as borne by any environmental input represents the absolute frontier of most of the population’s will toward effort, I have come to regard impression, or implication as input’s primary payload.
The value of what is offered in the right hand is moderated by what is concealed in the left, and is too often, in my opinion, castrated outright by that latter substance.
Borders…where was I…oh yes, borders as limits. City limits, Austin, real music, intro and outro, stanza-stanza-feint-half-stanza-chorus-stanza-chorus-breakdown-chorus-chorus, intro and outro…
Subtle or not there is no denying the concussive nature of endings. The limit of an author’s patience with a story is not always found on the last page (nor a reader’s) but the limit of the medium is. The medium I have chosen to talk about today is the Earth and for my purposes, the human race is ink and its endless signs are chapters within books, which for my purposes are shaped like continents. In the United States there exists the illusion that once you pass the invisible lines which separate cities from the country your life is in your own hands, since you have elected to throw your lot with the hicks and mountain people. From where this notion derived I haven’t the energy or resources to research, but I can tell you from experience the sentiment is alive in US media of all stripes and therefore alive in the minds of the citizenry. City-bred Americans begin to hear banjos the moment they squeeze past that familiar membrane from busy toward calm. This sentiment is generally applicable to the borderline-agoraphobes reared in the sticks, as well; too noisy, too many people, they agree in their comfortable groups.
What I see in this case is a mutual respect of a limit, or a border. Impending change, the host element of anxiety’s active constituent, fear. (I see now that I’ve landed too early at the door of the monster I cannot slay for anyone save myself, and well, sit tight because shortly we’ll be coming to that great enemy of man.)
Likewise, the signs which demarcate places of transition aren’t in any way subtle in their delivery method. They are set at eye-level, or perched at some remove from the herd and don’t mumble. I challenge you to mark all of the announcements you see which ring in change and record for me the ones which don’t bellow like a Baptist preacher the day before Armageddon. Further, please scroll back up now and click on the picture of the Earth and moon, and let it load in your browser. When it has loaded, scan the picture for borders and consider those which don’t appear from this third-person perspective.
What have you seen? Some borders were missing, weren’t they? List them for yourself now, if you have a pen and paper. For my purposes, let’s call all of those missing borders “immaterial” (as they are, from space) and proceed with this mindset.
The Earth as it is seen from 200 miles or more away can be a useful image for our coming comparison. What happens when any of us have a traumatic personal problem? What do our friends and family tell us? In many cases, they offer that we hurt ones ought to take a step back, survey the situation from a distance so to properly order all the jagged pieces in our heads. For the sake of my argument let’s designate the Earth as a stage of more or less constant infighting since life first crawled out of the steaming muck and saw that someone was about to cut it off in traffic. This steady, everlasting tumult would have its combatants ensnared at ground-level with each other, gaining and giving inches in a grand, survival-themed fugue. Often we as individuals are dragged into conflicts of multifarious shades and likewise, families, towns, countries, and continents at times harry each other with hostile technology and words.
We should all be married for we act like quibbling spouses too alike for a common home. That, or we’d benefit as a race from a departure to a vantage more suited for learning, which action in a roundabout way captures the thrust of my argument: at some remove, be it intellectual or physical, an individual may begin to see the strings of the marionettes, so to speak, or as from an airplane window the patterns cutting across the land. Said individual may then begin to appreciate that what he sees is the firmament upon which is mounted all the signage and warnings of doom. His intercourse at this remove is that of satellites the universe through; a cousin strange enough to kiss but devastating at point-blank range, for both parties.
I have learned that what I am doing is climbing up out of myself to stand upon my own head and survey life from this higher place. There can be no knowing the rhythm of someone else’s heart without reaching out to them and waiting for a beat, and thus there can be no fully local understanding of matters foreign. Ambassadors who have burned the borders in their mind have effectively kicked holes in the borders of their towns, their countries, and their lives.
“…a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam…”
Blah, blah, blah is what you may be hearing as I gush all of these words that have been sung and shouted by others before me. You’ve heard it all before, and so have I. Observations, reflections; whatever shrapnel that lodges in you may dissolve in the static of your day but there’s more. I feel as though it is my duty to help free those of my countrymen and women who would seek to share this high branch for a time, for their own benefit. Of course, the major obstacle for all is will; will to move, will to empower oneself, will to endure the hardship of flux, or whatever. This will must be present for one to access the tools of his or her own liberation. Very often, the well is bone-dry.
I will henceforth, in the year 2011, dedicate future posts here to ways in which residents of the United States might procure citizenship in other countries and thus, passports that would grant them a greater degree of freedom than they would otherwise enjoy. Per post I will focus on one country or another, and in that way illuminate and centralize esoteric, decentralized information. Let’s call it a New Year’s resolution.
In any case, it’s a project.