Everyone is Watching – Name the States

I say I am from St. Louis. The first response is, “Oh the Blues! Great hockey team!” It is great that St. Louis has some connection to Finland and my hometown evokes some immediate response and not just a question mark. St. Louis also has The Arch, designed by Finnish architect Eero Saarinen. St. Louisians really do not know that fact any more than Finns.

In day-to-day exchanges I want to practice Finnish, and cashiers want to check my I.D. to discover where I come from. Then they take pride in telling me my change amounts in English and “Have a nice day” with a smile which they would never make otherwise. But you can not be mad at someone for being happy to see you.

I enjoy my serious conversations in English, but in those conversations I do not have the luxury of just representing me (whoever that is). I also am an American, a mythical creature hanging around small town Finland. Drinking together in a group, serious questions get raised. And learning that I am from St. Louis suddenly a few people ask, “What do you think about Ferguson? How far is it from where you live?” Suddenly, I represent. Everyday I represent St. Louis, since this question now gets asked every day. Why are our police militarized? Why do we not have gun-free zones? Why do we make it look like a military operation?

My opinion has power to sway, to color, and to direct opinion, whether I like it or not. There is terror in being looked to for insight. Suddenly, on my voice hinges power, and power cannot always be rejected. Suddenly, my opinion on The Second Gulf War is of consequence, the death of countless civilians, the misery of refugees is in my voice. People want to know what I think of current day Iraq, Syria, G.W. Bush and Obama, Russia and NATO, Israel, ice hockey, alcohol laws, income tax-policies, the main-stream media, Jon Stewart, The Colbert Report, Christianity, religion, fundamentalism, secularism, the two-party system, and why is it that Americans like baseball.

I have some response to some of these questions, but I am mostly an idiot. I don’t know anything about Islam and fundamentalism, the principles of jihad, the four schools of jurisprudence, the critiques of different sects and their individual histories, the genesis of grudges held between them, and the history of American involvement and its effect on the Middle East. Hell, most of how I understand these problems is through Plato, Dune, Henry V, the histories of the Athenians and Romans, and my own limited experience. I take the few things I have found to be true and try to understand how they apply or don’t apply to each situation while I look for better information.

On the other hand, I know and others know I am just one person. My opinions and ideas do not represent more than one voice among a plethora of voices. So we continue to drink together and make merry. There was a rumor in Turku that the U.S. had 52 states. So I asked these guys with heavy accents in Kajaani how many states there are:

Fifty! They shout. Fifty states for sure!
Let’s count them!
Virginia, California, Missouri, New York, Puerto Rico, Indonesia! Iraq!
The Detroit Redwings, North Dakota, South Dakota, Mexico, New Mexico, Old Mexico.
How many Mexicos are there?
I think there are seven.
Seven! Yeah, there are seven Mexicos.
Yet people hate Mexicans.
It’s because they are from Middle Mexico!
That’s so stupid! Why hate Mexicans from a different Mexico?
Well then there’s Philadelphia, Oregon, the one under Oregon…
No, not California, San Diego!
That’s right, that right. Then Los Angelos.
Texas, Detroit, China, Massachusetts, Miami, Chicago
Toronto? Nah, ah-ah! Gotcha, Toronto is in Kaaanada!

A Pack of Lonely Detectives

I started out with the intent to write something dealing with my current sentiment and surroundings, but instead I have found myself writing something sentimental and abstract. I’m 35,000 feet above the earth so this piece perhaps fits my state in life. My feet are suspended above the earth, so I wander with a few loose ramblings. If I offend you with cheery moralizing, let it be known I offended myself first.

Robinson Jeffers, the misanthropic poet, outlines part of our worldly situation in “Be Angry At The Sun.” Now Jeffers might spit that “the cold passion for truth// Hunts in no pack.” But it certainly does, and he knows it. Now the pack may be small and spread out over ages, over time, and over space, but that does not make us not part of a pack. It is a pack of individuals, scattererd individuals who build things like Tor House to get away, individuals who enjoy dancing, or sipping wine with their mothers, or singing songs loudly and badly while quite sober, or individuals who quietly solve a jig-saw puzzle before sleeping (although I never understood jig-saw puzzles – why would you cut up a perfectly good picture and put it back together the exact same way?). You can’t bring these people together for a political movement; sure, politics matters, but not enough to divert them from reciting a poem. This pack is beyond politics. The members do their duty to the state, maybe take office to avert some catastrophe, but then they get back to studying Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, or learning how to change the tire on a car, or teaching their daughter how to make an excellent mud pie.

The biggest institutions we can believe in consistently are called “family” and “festivity.” Anything more big than that, like a fancy journal, the DMV, or the state government may do good things, provide some service or entertainment, but it is a happy accident – to be appreciated before it all goes awry and fades away. Maybe it is only when institutions serve family and festivity that they thrive, else they rot.

Who can say how many such individuals there are who know how to truly seize the day? Perhaps the guy you think is a sheeple is playing a long game of charades that he won’t stop until 10 minutes before he dies, then reclaiming his normal senses from a lifetime of health food and condescension, apologizes for all his insulting behaviour, snooty trespasses at his friends’ dinner parties and demands a slice of pizza.

Perhaps Jeffers is right despite himself. “[T]he cold passion for truth// Hunts in no pack” not because the truth is hard and the throngs of people in government, corporations, and social institutions are a gang of delusional egotists led by pandering demagogues, true perhaps but not important, because while it may be alone on occasion, the passion for truth is never cold. A burning star might be distant from other stars, but that does not make it burn less, or cause fewer stars to exist. Even if we cannot see the stars tonight, we might see them tomorrow when the sky is clearer.

The passion for truth is a relish for life. The world is a strange crime scene, and you only get to look for clues for so long. I found one clue in a contemporary novel, another there in the off-handed comment of a good friend, here in the story of Jack and the Beanstalk, there in the philosophy of McIntyre. Sometimes the clues point towards a vicious or indifferent world, but not always. The hope is that the pack of starry-eyed clue-hunters is too wild to ever be stomped out by cold, alien people who wield knowledge like a weapon, charisma for a ’cause,’ or pettiness, jealousy, and fear to suck joi de vivre from others. Each of these types achingly clutch their puny gods, while the keepers of spontaneity find friendship and worthwhile things in odd places. When we are frustrated at the course of fortune, don’t be angry at the sun. The sun energizes the hunt. If and when we must be angry, be angry at whatever in life keeps us from enjoying music, cold beer on the porch, and bike rides in the afternoon, for those are things worth hunting.