Saturday, July 29, 2006

Midnight and Madness

When I think of Hoosierweight Boxing, I think of one word: backyard.

I'm always filled with such a sense of sadness that I missed those early fights in Steve's backyard, in Roberto's. The idea of those fights fills me with this sense of what this city should be, and oddly, it always has. You wanna talk about a good show-- Steve gets it. The man puts on a good show.

Much of that has carried over into the Royale, and I understand I speak with a great amount of bias here. But when I look at the Royale, we have recreated a similar type of space, one where all the disparate elements of a place come together and fit somehow seemlessly, enriching the view. Last night was a good example. Friday night: the grill's lit up outside, the belly dancers were in doing their thing, the potholder people were there selling their crafts. It's a strange restaurant-cum-open air market with entertainment, almost more like a fairway or a street carnival. The mix of people at times makes me think of some strange futuristic Gibson novel where everything just blends, yet individuals remain somehow distinct. And I think it's somehow significant that this all goes down in what happens to be Steve's backyard, even if the Royale sign is out front.

That's why I have always loved the backyard fights: they're organic. They grew out of Steve's ideas, out of the fighters' enthusiasm, out of audience comments. They grew from a sense of desire and urgency, from a whimsey and a love. Everything that happened was about doing something differently and having a good time. And Steve is hitting that idea again, gloves flyin'.

On August 12, at midnight, Steve is throwing a round robin night of fights at the Panda. And I love the Panda. I love that Steven used to have a chicken there and would make the kids chase it. I love his office with the glass window, the espresso machine and the booze. I love watching the kids work and the coaches do what they are clearly so good at. I don't box, but I love all that the Panda is... especially the loading dock off the back. And so, fittingly, in August when it's hotter than hot anyway, Steve is having some folks over for a bit of sparring. These are not title fights. These are not even judged fights. But it's boxing, in all the glory of what it used to be in the backyard. It's boxing in all the spirit of why people do it and why people want to watch.

Last night, I got a strange preview. 2:15 am and Don, "Pride of the Southside" Beasley was moppin' the floors. I was washing glasses. The other usual suspects were doing dishes, cleaning the bathrooms, taking out the trash, and before I knew it, a challenge was leveled. Steven, on his way out the door, hat on and Caddy ready, stops to meet Don's challenge of wrestling. I called to Sarah and as we watched Steve and Don wrestle, alternately laughing, cheering, and cringing when they came close to furniture, I felt that same sense of thrill. There's something exciting about things just happening. There's something exciting about having someone to root for. And there's a strange sense of community about bearing witness to the spectacle. I'm not going to say who won, nor will I repeat any of the comments that the ragtag group of viewers yelled during the grappling, but I will say that it made me want to go sweat in the heat at the Panda and see that sparring on the 12th... and it made me wish that Steve's backyard would one day hold a fight again.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Call to Order

In Birmingham, in 1963, it was the children who really made the nation take notice of Civil Rights. King tried to organize the city, but the adults, even disenfranchised, had too much to lose and feared the repercussions of demonstrating. It was the children of Birmingham, organized by an aide of MLK, who were called to demonstrate by the coded messages of a DJ over the airwaves. It was the kids who truly befuddled the authorities with their persistence and strength; it was them who went to "jail" by the hundreds, held in the livestock quarters of the fairground stockyards when the jails became full. It was them who stayed, resilient, for days and days, some as young as three or four. The image of those kids standing up for what they deserved was what truly catapulted the nation into outrage and paved the way for Civil Rights action.

And yet, when do we hear about this? Our history books conceal it; our collective consciousness either does not remember, or care, or understand the magnitude of this event. But I tell my students this story, ordinary school kids on the North side, and they sit, spellbound, reading the first person accounts of this event. It's one of my favorite lessons. I love it because they begin to feel the power they have. I tell them so they use that power. It's like what Malcolm X said, those that can vote in a bloc and choose not to wield that power, are truly sick.

We forget that the people most ignored have the capacity to have the greatest amount of power. They just have the least amount of resources to harness that power. Some like it like that. Some would have us keep it that way.

So, I've been thinking the last few weeks, and now I am wondering if it's like Malcolm X said: are we sick? Are we lazy? Or are we, as I hope, either like those children, unaware of our power... or like those voting blocs, too disorganized to wield our power?

This is what I have in mind: revolution.

I call it our renaissance, our rebirth into what we should be, what we want, what we know somehow we are capable of as a city.

I noticed today, driving through Tower Grove Park, that all the debris from the storm last week was cleared to the side of the roads, waiting for removal. Something about that struck me. The city in such disarray and upheaval, yet people were out on the street immediately when the storm passed, cleaning. Now, those neat piles of things cast to the side are our reminders. Out with the old: move on. Can we take that premise and work with it? Can we cast aside what doesn't work anymore to clear the way for a new vision?

I was just reading a huge national report of giving. In 2005, over $93 billion was given to religious charities in the US-- more than two times the amount given to education, more than four times the amount given to healthcare. I realize that religious organizations like the Salvation Army or Catholic Charities do social work and run several programs within these other categories, but do we give to religious charities because we believe so strongly in the religious aspect (and undoubtedly, for many, that answer would be yes), or do we give to the Salvation Army because we understand how organized they are and that they have the welfare of the people at heart?

Reading on, there was a profile of Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life. He was quoted as saying, "Reformation always starts with the peasants; they don't start with the elites." As inarticulate as his wording was, point taken. He then sited the "armies" of faith-based volunteers the world over, saying that in every village in the world, there is a church.

It reminded me of one of the best marketing models I have ever seen. Chicken Soup For the Soul. Nope, I've never read it, but I am well aware of its legacy in the publishing world. This little wisdom nugget book began as a self-published deal by the authors-- small-scale, small time, but with big dreams. They packed several hundred copies in the trunk of their car and began driving the country, dropping off copies in churches, creating the buzz, and the eventual demand that sold millions of copies and made it one of the hugest (and only) non-corporate publishing successes. They now have a Chicken Soup empire.


So when I think about this-- and I'm not religious-- but there's something to be learned here. We need to look at what it is that pulls all these people together. I don't think it's as simple as just God, but there's definitely something about creating a community to belong to and about a common identified purpose. Across all these Christian faiths in America, there's a pulling together, a lack of competition (to some degree), a common goal, and a HUGE network of shared resources. Why do you think the religious right is so hated? They figured out the power, people.

Don't we have some of those same characteristics in STL? Many of us are on the front every day trying to do those same things in our own way: trying to build up neighborhoods (like Tension Head and artist Lindsey Scott on Cherokee), providing community arts resources (SCOSAG, Mad Art, KDHX), bringing people together to think (the Arch City Chronicle, CommonSpace), and running businesses that contribute to the community (MoKaBe's, the Royale, Mangia). Etc. Etc. The list goes on and on-- those are just quick ones from the top of my head and people I know. Add in all the writers, the bands, photographers, artists, non-profits, groups, neighborhood associations... and it's an army, people. Our army to do our own work.

I can only assume we all want a safe place to live, one cultivated in beauty and character and culled from diversity and innovation. I know it's not simple. The problem is creating a common culture is long-established and we have been trying to figure it out as Americans for centuries. But everyday, we create common desires, common identities, and common goals in small ways-- why not something more? How about simply, we all work together, each of us in our own way, to make this city better? But, how about we do it by forming an organization that can exist as a power in this city?

So, I ask: am I the only one who wants this?

My idea: start a South Side Arts Coalition: civic-minded, politically active, community focused and arts driven. If you're in, let me know.

Besides a church in every village, on every street on the South Side, there are people creating a better vision for this city: non-profit workers, small business owners, community activists, artists, and kids who want to be all of the above. Let's see if we can't do something together. We have our army; I'd like to start mobilizing.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

After the Storm

It's interesting that we say "I don't have any power," instead of, "My electricity is out."

Electricity has somehow become an archaic term. My parents might say that, and so would some others, but for most of us, it's "power", which begas the question of semantics. My power was out for approximately 51 hours., or two days and some change. Blessedly, it was turned back on late last night, so when I came home from work, the lights were shining in my house like a lighthouse guiding me in on the rough seas.

Over the past several days, the world began to look very strange to me. The night of the storm, I saw objects flying through my backyard, huge trees bending in the wind, heard things hitting the building. In terms of damage, my street fared pretty well. One tree in a car, tons of debris, but no big structural damage. Driving to the Royale Wed. night after the storm passed, I quickly realized how huge this thing was. Magnolia was blocked in two places by gigantic felled trees across the road. Even in the dark, I could see the damage to Tower Grove Park. Stoplights were out, and the evening was pitch black, save the lightning bolts spinning across the sky.

The next day, Sarah and I struck out, having sweated like crazy in the heat all night. We needed food, gas, and some air conditioning. We saw billboards torn out of roofs on Gravois, trees that had hit homes, cars srtuck with limbs on top of them. The devastation was huge, and this was a quick storm. Driving became an obstacle course, with asshole drivers weaving in and out of traffic, people not stopping at the broken stoplights, near fisticuffs at the pump. Nothing was open, and that was our first indication. Power was distributed oddly, block by block. On my street, the first night, two houses had power while the rest of us lived in utter darkness.

I went to work to read the paper, to check out info. online. There it was "State of Emergency", "National Guard", and numbers that amazed me. I realized then, that I really felt like I was without power. I'm fine without the TV. I can even live without my computer and don't mind sweating through the 100 plus temp., but not having quick access to information left me feeling more isolated than I would have guessed.

And then I kept hearing people talk. Everywhere I have been the last few days, "Do you have power?" But the funny thing is, in several situations, especially while I was at work last night, I would hear people say, "I have power and you don't," and a few times, I stopped, thinking they were not talking about electricity, but rather, actual power-- like the power to exert control. And that's what it is. What a funny thing we say.

Despite all the damage, I have seen some of the most interesting things the last few days. During the storm, because it was so hot, everyone on my street was out on their front porches, calling to one another over the rain. As I drove around that night, I saw scores of people out walking with flashlights, pulling debris, checking on people. My whole street has become a one-stop source of information, everyone hanging outside because of the heat. I've heard reports many other places of the same thing: block captains patrolling all night for safety, my neighbor staying on his porch in the pitch black, impromptu block parties to create a street presence in the dark. People opening their homes to friends, local businesses doing what they can. Last night, a bunch of people, prompted by the owner of Tension Head Records, went down to Cherokee to patrol the streets. And then today, despite all the debris in Tower Grove Park, despite the lack of power and local businnes, the Festival of Nations went on as planned in the park... and it was packed.

I like that. I like seeing community sprout up and be felt. I like people pulling together. I like that I have gotten my information for the last several days from word of mouth and from conversation, rather than from a computer. I like that in the darkness, we all have seen something different.

The other day, I told someone I felt like the city had been split in two: the "have's" and "have nots". I was a have not. Today, when I got power, I called everyone I could think of and told them they have somewhere to stay. I've realized a third category in the past few days... I'll call it, "community". Screw the power.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

STL Filmmakers' Showcase

In my quest to find a new local (and to review bars for my other blog), I skipped into the Famous Bar on Chippewa last week. Instead of what I was looking for, I found Mickey McTague, an old guy who might be one of my new favorite people. Mickey McTague kept me laughing and thinking. A stand-up comic of some sort, he has worked in the sheriff's office for years and seems to have his hand on the pulse of STL. Over an afternoon cocktail, Mickey and I discussed politics, racism, education, writing, and film. And, as it turns out, he is the star of a new Bruce Marren documentary (of Gaslight Square doc fame), Called "At Large With Mickey McTague", the doc (28 min.) will be screened next Tuesday, July 25 at 5pm at the Tivoli in the Loop. Situated with two other short docs as part of a character sketch grouping, the McTague film is part of the STL Filmmaker's showcase.

Right after Mickey's film is a brilliant little mockumentary by our friend Daniel Bowers. Starring George Malich, Ray Brewer, Tony Miller and a host of other local actors whom we have worked with, "A: Anonymous" is the little engine that could story of a group of misfits who get together to form their own self-help group. I've worked with Dan Bowers before, and anything that comes from him has a tendency to shine and shine big. With a background in documentary filmmaking, Bowers has a knack for reading characters and finding charm within their quirks and pecularities. "A" will screen at 7pm on July 25 at the Tivoli.

Tickets for both films are available at the Tivoli box office. Individual screenings are $9. STL has proven over and over to have a fantastic filmmaking community. The Filmmakers' Showcase is well worth checking out-- both to be entertained, as well as to support the talent and creativity of those who create within our city.

Viva la local film!

more ticket and screening information at

lost amid the thickness

You all know how it is when you feel lost... when you look around and see people's mouths' moving, but you're not sure what they're saying. You're not sure they're making sense. It's that way when everything that was once familiar now looks more alien than you would like. The landscape of my conversations has that tone lately, one of dread and doom. It's strange, because theere has been more laughter than usual, but it's like the uncomfortable sound that covers a funeral.

There is talk of war. Peace is gone and battles continue to break out, day by day and hour by hour. The forces align, and it is all whispered about late at night. It's not just the Middle East. It;s not as simple as one region anymore. The heat of summer is getting to us, and we all feel it closing in, a strange pressure.

Out tonight, we talked of feeling foreign, all of us in our own circumstances, in our own worlds. Sometimes I cringe at the momentum. We talked about home, about the way we grew up, about slowness, anonymity, and isolation. There seems a fine line at times, and my guess is much of it depends on your mood. And it's funny, but sometimes, what we need are those outside sources keeping us on the straight and narrow, like a map with huge arrows pointing to the road home.

And then we talked about our friends, our "urban tribes" as my good friend Mike used to refer to it. We discussed family, and home, and how fluid those terms can become. Two of us have found ourselves without our urban home, two people without a public house, and we're looking. The city is a constant maze of walking backwards, a rare place of opportunity and feeling awash amid the thickness-- stifled.

So I'm looking for a new place in the middle of it all. Something close to home proper. Some place where I can read and laugh, where I can talk and question, some place where I know what to expect and understand what I will get from the time I put in. I'm looking for a new public house. Not a bar. A bar is something much more common, and much less discerning. I am looking for a new place to be myself, and a new place to go when the thickness outside begins to weigh down the inside. The other day showed me a new side of the Famous Bar, but right now, I'm like a woman in the wilderness. I have a map, but I'm not sure which way is the right way to go. I need my arrow.

Suggestions or comments? Help me find a new second home.

Friday, July 14, 2006

trivia: geeks like the rest of us

Q: What's the most fun way to show everyone you know how smart you are and not be a prententious ass?

A: Trivia Night

Those fine folks over at 52nd City are releasing their 2nd edition of their fine lit mag tonight at Mad Art. It's a Faith issue, and the preview online suggests even more great stuff to follow from editors Thomas Crone, Andrea Avery, and Stefene Russell. If you want to get down with the movers and shakers in this city (the cool kind, not the ones who just have big names and do nothing), then head out to Mad Art tonight for trivia. The proceeds go to keeping their gem of a magazine running. They have some cool raffle prizes. And really, we're all big geeks. Go give 'em hell!

For more info, hit up

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Trespassing, UP style

So last night, our barback was late to work. He used that fancy cell phone to call in and tell me he wasn't too far away, then said hurriedly, something about getting "kind of" arrested. Now, he's an upstanding kind of guy-- yep, he's a bit punck rock, but in the older more mature sense. And he is as quiet and gentle and good as seemingly someone can be. Yet for someone who fits this characterization, he seems to have some run-ins with the law-- all for basically nothing. (My favorite was when he told me he was arrested for littering downtown. Yet, apparently, there is no law against said offense, so officially he was charged with "failure to keep clean" or some such nonsense).

We were talking later and he told me he had cut through the Union Pacific railroad tracks and someone had called the police. In fairness, I guess he'd been stopped other times and warned. So when he hit Morganford, as he walked beneath on the tracks, above him on the road, there were cops waiting. Mind you, this was in the afternoon. He was dressed in a white shirt and shorts, and clearly walking.

What a different age we live in than when we were all younger. I don't know if it's the Privacy-and-Property reigns supreme bug that everyone seems to have caught in the last few years, or if it's the contemporary fear of terrorism. Everything and everyone is a threat. All the time. No exceptions. Zero tolerance. What a shame that our landscape has become so closed off.

I have walked many a train track in my days. (And in my extreme youth, my father and I weekly picked raspberries on the old trolley lines throughout the Pittsburgh suburbs.) I have flattened my pennies. I have sat and waited for the strict dependency of frrights wailing through at certain times (it used to be 3 and 5 am in Normal, IL). I have eaten ice cream and drank beer beside railroad tracks. None of this was in the spirit of criminal behavior or vandalism. I just like trains.

I like everything about them. I like how they connect things. I like how they sound in the middle of the night when all other noises fade and you think you are totally alone. I like that in the city, you can hear them from miles off late at night, when during the day all you hear is sirens and dogs barking. I like the romance of trains. North by Northwest. Hoboes riding the rails. The buddy idea in Stand by Me. There is a beauty to walking the tracks.

Now, my barback just wanted to take the shortest route to work, and who can blame him? And again, I guess I can understand the issue a bit from UP's perspective. But, for me, it signals the end of something. The city, no longer a place where things are connected. Now, a place where everyone is out for himself, a kill or be killed (metaphorically, of course) kind of thing. Maybe the romance of the city, that idea of fluid movement, of trains passing in the night, maybe it is changing. If we can no longer see the trains, maybe we will stop being able to see other things.

I wonder what's next-- kids not being allowed to play on the sidewalk because it's " in front" of someone else's property? Oh, if only everyone else wouldn't spoil it for the rest of us.

Rest in peace, age of desparate wanderlust.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Hip-Hop Nation

It's funny, because sometimes I forget hip-hop has become a shorthand. Used differently in diffeent places and situations, it seems to be a link to something else that we can't find otherwise. For the kids that I teach, hip-hop is a way of life, in many forms. With the younger kids, I try to teach them about the value of hip-hop, usually trying to lure them to my side of the coin that hip-hop isn't about drugs and sex. For me, it's about an organic urban experience (and I realize this often involves drugs and sex, but they're nine, I'm trying to give them a break). Hip-hop is very much a currency, even moreso these days as it has begun to gain all kinds of economic meaning. Hip-hop is hot and it carries a pricetag and a certain amount of material collateral. That is not so much my hip-hop.

I think about this though, about the expression involved in hip-hop, and about the cultural currency of it. There is value and validation in the expansion of hip-hop. That's the direction I move with my older students, and that is very much why I am teaching hip-hop studies to my seventh graders next year. There is a continuation of African American culture within it. There is a certain nowness to it because it involves media, images, music, fashion, language, and history. It involves attitude and personas.

I was home this weekend and saw a different side to hip-hop, a very mainstream accessibility and acceptability. Years ago, I had to convince my mom that Eminem wasn't Satan (and I was in my mid-twenties, mind you), that NWA had value culturally and historically in recent events. I've made CD's for my brother (a civil servant of the law enforcement variety). They just didn't quite get it, and I understand. That is not a world which they see, though it is one which I am invited into quite regularly through teaching. I came downstairs this weekend to my brother playing Ciara on his iPod while my nieces played. My mom then stated she had begun to like hip-hop-- both of which floored me. Later, watching my five-year-old niece's dance recital, I paid attention to some of the songs and clips from other numbers-- it was almost all hip-hop. One ballet routine, and a tap number from the little kids-- everything else was street. In the fashion of recitals, these kids were not dancers, but there was something very interesting about seeing a class of 12 year old boys dancing to OutKast-- white boys from the Colorado suburbs. There was obviously a strange artifice to it, for me, and one that had nothing to do with the lack of mastery of the moves. It was seeing my world so far out of context and so into the mainstream as to infiltrate all aspects of my family where years ago they saw me as crazy. But then, I kept wondering, why is this? Why is hip-hop everywhere?

There's the cool quotient, of course. The aspect of now-ness, of a complete contemporary aesthetic. But I wondered what are those little boys seeing when they dance to it? Why do they do it? It's not like watching the 12 year old boys in my class, some of whom have more skills as an emcee than anyone I have ever listened to on a CD. It's not like listening to the little girls I teach talk about their clothes. For my students, they see themselves reflected back in hip-hop and it's one of the few ways African-Americans, especially younger people, are reflected back in culture. But do other people see an earnestness in those lyrics, a truth? Do they feel the organic qualities I feel, do they understand the neccessity of it and the wanting even if it's not their lives?

I'm just so very curious. But one thing's for sure, hip-hop has come a long way. It has hit the mainstream (even if with the worst of it, and the good barely ever surfacing on the radio). We're begging the questions that are being asked, but maybe at some point, it'll open up. Maybe not just hip-hop, but race and a discussion of it, will hit the mainstream in another five years. One down, and with the other, I keep hoping.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Farenheit 451

It's a sad day when arsonists set fire to the same library twice in two weeks. The Julia Davis branch of St, Louis Library was vandalized and set ablaze with an accelerant (again) around 4am on Thursday. Luckily, the fire was contained and not very large, and even more lucky, most of the books were not harmed. Several had water damage and the building will be closed until sometime next week for repairs.

Here's the thing though, it's a library. Who can you possibly be making a stand against or trying to piss off? It's not like you're giving the finger to The Man. You're spitting on your own community. You're taking away something that belongs to everyone, and for what? I love that library. I drive past it all the time on the way to work. It's a nice branch, and it's used-- a lot. Especially in summer, when school is out. Many of my students, the lucky ones, go there habitually. When I was a kid, a week without a trip to the library would have been like a week of the silent treatment. For so many people, the library is their only communication, their only escape, their route to the power of language.

It just makes me angry.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Compete or Retreat?

I was having a meeting with a friend this morning, seeking some feedback on a project I want to start-- an arts organization. He and I have worked together on other things before and I value his opinion, especially because his views are often counter to my own-- a very valuable thing to have in feedback. So I explained my idea and we discussed it. We talked about other stuff I'm doing, things he's doing. And then the question came up, somewhat in relation to it all...

Are we not competitive? As a city, do we have that desire within us.

This word has come up a lot lately, and I am beginning to wonder where he truth lies. I loved going to grad school in England. I loved it even more because I did not find the students to be competitive, which is ironic in many ways. To get to university in England, you have to be bright, especially when it was free. Now that they are moving to a more consumer educational system like the US, the standards are falling off a little. That being said, to get to grad school, you have to be the freakin' creme of the crop, the best of the best. There are then only so many jobs for those people, but just getting that far almost assures you one-- even in the arts. It's not like in the US where your earning potential actually goes down with a MA. So, it always shocked me to hear my American counterparts talking about the competition in school, about the cattiness, the cheating, the push to get ahead at all costs, and the fact that the professors and administrators were perpetuating this. I work in an innerdisiplinary field, so my academic advancement and intellectual understanding is stimulated by different people, by collaboration. We would get done with a seminar and hop to the pub, where we would continue talking about what we read. If we had a bad class, which often happened in my Gender seminars, we would hit the pub and continue to ask the questions which were silenced in class. Point is, it wasn't just us. That's what people do there.

I don't believe in competition, personally. It's healthy to a degree, and it's somewhat nice knowing it's there, but I don't participate in it. Never have. I grew up liking individual sports because I wanted to have fun and beat myself. I don't like working for companies because they foster this eat-or-be-eaten attitude. And that's what I have always loved about St. Louis. I don't see competition here, but now I am wondering if that's true, and moreover, if that's healthy.

In recent discussions of my project, I have heard people say that they have observed just the opposite. That they perceive a lot of competition and perhaps an unwillingness to pull together in any real way. Perhaps a battle for an audience, or a market. Perhaps because people don't want to sell out or feel pulled in some kind of self-sacrificial way. Perhaps they just don't have the motivation. Last week I heard people call it a laziness.

It's funny though, because that's not what I see. I see a general, and genuine, desire for people to help one another. To collaborate and promote. I also see people without the resources to get much further than what they are currently doing. Some might be happy with that, but others are certainly frustrated. I see people being so involved in what they are doing and so passionate, that they don't have the time to become more visible. When you split your time between some kind of full-time paid work to get the bills done and your art or passion, something has to give, and it seems that's often the fine line of recognition and success.

My mission has always been to publicize what we're doing-- individually, collectively, as communities, and as a city. Is it to our advantage that we're not competitive, or is that why we are where we are? It's something I will continue to think about. When that word was brought up this morning, we found examples of ways we are competitive, and ways that's fueling our creativity. For me, it just makes me think maybe we break the mold. STL has its own style, and maybe if we pull together, we can make that work for us, and then as a city, as a larger body, we will be a force to be reckoned with. We will be competitive-- but only when it truly serves us.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


It's a strange era to be a patriot.

I love the Fourth of July. As a kid, it was my favorite holiday. My dad would line flags up and down our driveway; these days, he lines the dock. There is something about it that's timeless. It exists, largely the same, as it did when I was younger. There are barbeques, I watch Wimbledon, there's the sound of firecrackers. Yesterday, I wanted to go watch fireworks. Any fireworks anywhere-- there's just some sense of wonder and continuity. It's pretty, and not just because of the color and the display. It's a pretty thing, all those people out in the same place, heads tilted skyward in awe. The fear and anxiety of small children, coupled with their glee and amazement. I still feel the same way.

It rained though, and no one else wanted to go. So I skipped dinner and left everyone at my house sitting in the air conditioning, and drove through the rain listening to the Pixies. Webster Groves. I could see the smoke before I saw the explosions. Turning off the interstate, the sidewalks, parking lots and grass were thronged with people, even as it poured. They stood holding hands, huddled under umbrellas, pushing children skyward as if those few extra feet would make a difference. It was beautiful. That was beautiful, seeing all those people in the rain. Our nation's birth.

I parked on a side street and stood alone in the rain, humming the national anthem. It's a strange thing for me, patriotism. I love America and yet am also disappointed in it. I am humbled and humiliated. I am entrigued and baffled. The concept of nationalism has always been a tricky one. It has been intertwined with patriotism, and both have become dirty... and yet not feeling either has become a sort of treason. It's complicated, and I can only imagine that it has always been so.

Living in England when I was 20 was my first inkling of real confusion. I knew what it meant to be American living on this continent; it means something wholly different when abroad. Suddenly I was charged with all the crimes of my nation. I stood for this country, and to those whom I met, I was America-- not simply an American. I was bullied, mocked, stalked, kicked out of classes, treated better than I should have been, and worse than I deserved-- all because of my nationality. I was punished; I was lauded. It was strange, and I felt very strange within it.

For someone who has always looked at this country critically, I was left alone. I love the idea of America, and I am fascinated by what we have become-- not because I always agree with it, nor even approve. But I am fascinated with the process of being a nation-- with the process of coming together and falling apart, of uniting and dissolving. It's what I have always studied, and it's what I have always known. For me, it is about finding something in common.

9/11 proved me to not be a patriot in the eyes of most citizens because I did not want to go to war. Traveling abroad, I often pretend I am Canadian because then I don't have to answer for the mistakes that our government has made. And yet, I am fiercely defensive of being an American-- but that's just it... I am AN American, not American. I do not embody all that this nation does; I am simply an ambassador of what it can be.

Yesterday in the rain, watching those fireworks burst into the sky, thinking of what that meant, I thought of the missiles being launched from N. Korea. I thought of the Space Shuttle launching. I thought of living in England when Parliament tried to ban nationalism in the UK. I realize it is much more these days, but to me, a nation is a concept. It is a thought, and a belief. And I do believe-- not always in who we are or what we are doing, but I believe in our constant power to re-invent ourselves and our ability to change. Nations are not static, nor is the word patriot. Gone are the days where the patriots rush with bayonets towards the oncoming oppressors. We are the oppressors in many ways-- and we thwart our own goals. I wish the patriots would start charging at the opposition with ideas. Maybe then I won't have to stand alone in the rain on the Fourth of July; maybe soon people who think like me won't stand alone at all.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

From Here to Boonville

We took off early in the morning after a late night at work and too few hours of sleep. Caffeine-charged and rearing to go in the heat, we headed the little Honda west on 44, and sped off. No, we were not headed to the lake, nor to some distant and exotic locale. Sarah and I were headed to Boonville.

We drove the back way, talking about growing up, about the fields, about what we love about driving. We thought. We planned. We dreamed a little. And then we had a meeting with her mom-- thinking and planning, and dreaming a little more. There were vegetables to pick in the back garden of her parents' house, and we left loaded down with carrots, green beans, onions, and lettuce.

Through the back roads once more, we worked our way towards Boonville, a town that's fabled amongst our friends-- and a place I can relate to. Though we might be South Side girls now, we haven't always been that way. There are those of us who grew up in small towns, and those of us who wondered. The notion of driving a half hour to the nearest store, or to school is not far off. Spending evenings as a kid driving through the country, hiking around fields and woods. For us, when we were growing up, it wasn't about doing things, it was about being together-- something I miss at times as I get older.

I got what we called "the boyfriend tour" of Boonville-- you know, when a place is important to you and you want to show someone where the stories happened. The old Victorian houses, the beautiful railroad tracks over the river, the old jail, the ugly casino, a functioning video store (a relic, I felt sure). I saw the childhood homes of friends, the parks where they sled, the streets where they rode their bikes, the places they had snippets of run-ins with the local law. And along the way, I remembered my growing up--different towns, different days. Flags flying high before the Fourth of July.

In the Boonville city park, overlooking the river, there were ballgrounds and swings, pavillions and "Lookout Point"... and the most beautiful image I have seen in a while. A young boy, nine or ten, sat in the bleachers above the ballfield. An older man, his grandfather perhaps, sat in a folding chair behind him. Neither looked at each other or spoke, but both just stared at the field. It was such a quiet moment, and I felt lost in it.

We moved on to Colombia and had some dinner, then drove home in the rain. The day had a purpose, and along the way, I felt like I found the other things I had been looking for-- some link to the past. A reminder that the city is great, but we started somewhere else, and a quiet longing for those days when I could just drive. When nothing worked, it always felt right to drive. And yesterday, I loved it all, but it was nice to roll back into the city, into the heat and thickness before the rainstorm. It was nice to roll back into what I have created, knowing better now that where we come from, though far away, is never lost.