Monday, November 24, 2008

My ordinary renewed as I return to my infinite abyss

I'm incredibly behind in my school work so this seemed the most opportune time for me to post. I have been neglecting posting for fear that my thoughts aren't that sophisticated or clear or, well, interesting, and the effort it would take to fancy them up, unmuck them, and make them appear appealing in some fashion seems all too much work. However, I suppose the whole point of this (yet again) new adventure in blogging is not to have the pressure of a finished piece of writing looming over my head. A blog is supposed to be rough, right? So here goes.

I'm watching Lost in Translation while I finish some school work tonight, and I'm reminded how much I loved the set of indie-type films that came out a few years back. (This included Garden State, Love Actually, The Life Aquatic, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind--okay, so not really indie. Just movies I liked a lot.) As I watch the opening credits with Bill Murray's character making his way through the streets of Tokyo to the symphonic chorus in "Just Like Honey" from The Jesus & Mary Chain, I'm reminded that I continue to be drawn to Lost in Translation not only because of the beautiful soundtrack but because of the way it draws you back to the "ordinary."

Chris and I had the opportunity to see a bunch of amazing things this summer. We traveled all over Israel (Jerusalem, the Negev, Galilee, and even into Jordan); then we continued our adventure in Europe, driving on the autobahn to Wittenberg, Germany and crossing the border into Prague, Czech Republic; we dropped off the rental car and took a train to Paris, France and then on to Geneva, Switzerland; and finally we flew to London, England before returning to the States. I never thought I would have the opportunity to visit these amazing places and see so many things that are incredibly iconic. And though I allowed myself to be naive enough to be pleasantly shocked and tickled that these places do actually exist in 3-D, the thing that intrigued me the most was the reality of the everyday-ness of it all--that for millions of people the Dome of the Rock, Luther's castle, St. Charles' Bridge, the Eiffel Tower, UN Headquarters, and Buckingham Palace are part of their everyday. And though I loved seeing all these things for the very first time, my favorite part of traveling somewhere has always been the feeling of renewed respect I gain for my particular everyday-ness.

It is the same feeling I get when visiting a great bookstore. My emotions range from being completely overwhelmed by the invasive reality that there is an infinite number of books that I want to read and they choose to assault my senses all at once, from being mildly depressed that I will never ever have a chance to even begin to flip through them all, to experiencing a fresh resoluteness to tackle my own stack of books waiting for me at home; for this stack is much more friendly and smaller in comparison, and though I haven't yet found time to read even them, it seems much less daunting than the Blue Room. And so I often leave a bookstore with a renewed sense of ownership and determination: These books I already own, let me return to them, and perhaps this time I will make it through War and Peace.

When I travel to new places, I feel the same thing. Everything is exciting. My senses and ability to interpret experience is on overload, making the otherwise most mundane things seem indescribably exciting. And so I remember Chris and I enjoying many an urban-adventure; buying bagels at a supermarket in Prague, snacks for our road trip at a market in a small town in Germany, and cough syrup at a pharmacy in modern Jerusalem were absolutely grand outings. And I still remember the more temporary tourist attractions I was drawn to: the trash on the sidewalks, the way children (mis)behaved and were disciplined, the street signs, the billboards, the smells of the markets and street vendors. In fact, I found I have a surprising predilection for graffiti (which, I might argue, is a universal art form. I've posted just a few photos on my facebook account). Everything is an insight into the culture and, more often, into my own. And just when I begin to get the feeling of overwhelmedness--that there will never be enough time to see it all and I haven't even begun the project of not feeling like a tourist and all I want is to really get to know the city and the people--I realize that I have my own repository of sights and sounds to explore upon my inevitable return to my ordinary.

To this town, I shall have to return, whether after a long flight, an evening with Scarlett and Bill, or an late-night homework session. So thank you, Sofia Coppola, for reminding me what worlds there are to explore when I cash my check tomorrow before going to class.

--Good luck exploring the infinite abyss.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The arc of the moral universe

Rachel Maddow's giddyness is contagious. Today is Election Day! *Insert huge cheesy grin*

Today is the day when we get to exercise our constitution-given right to flex our voices and grant a vote of confidence on all matter of issues; today is our chance to prove ourselves a stalwart democracy, worthy of the role we've cast ourselves in; today long lines aren't for poor Lucas installments or red toys with large googley eyes; today is Election Day, so stay not your hand of judgment--speak speak speak!

When the dust settles, which I hope it does quickly, there will be plenty to talk about. And unfortunately, about half of the country will be pretty upset. But there is nothing to fear, no matter what the pundits on either side have been trying to tell us. In fact, no matter what happens, we might even have every reason to be hopeful. Because only 41 years ago, a prominent African-American spoke these now famous words:
When our days become dreary with low hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe, working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows. Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.
And very few would have predicted that within one generation, the Democratic ticket would lead with another young African-American (orator and all).

But that fact alone doesn't equate a fairy tale ending. When the last poll has closed, when the last electronically cast ballot has been disputed, what will we do "ever after"? America is among many long(er)-established democracies around the world wrestling with a quickly shrinking globe. The composition of everyone's respective "homeland" is changing, forcing citizens to examine the unintrinsic nature of nation-hood.

In this election, the party lines of the last decade have been criss-crossed and patty-caked. And I think that's a great thing. The Christian Right can not guarantee it's evangelical base to the GOP; the liberal-feminist-elist is not necessarily a shoe-in for the Democrat old boys' club. We will have to work harder--not at defining our selves with a compound epithet, but at defining ourselves by our actual values and our idea(l)s. What makes a die-hard Jesus follower vote for Obama-Biden or a LGBT activist vote for McCain-Palin? Whose agendas are they listening to? And why aren't they staying inside the lines?

These are the questions I'm interested in, mainly because I feel like I cross several boundaries myself. In the meantime, as I try to muster the courage to initiate debate and ask the harder questions, I'm praying for the practical things--that the kinks at the polling centers won't be as paralyzing as those found in the last two election cycles, and that someone will lead election reform with a rousing motto of "paper and pencil, please!"

Happy Election Day.