We were So Civilized

Digital collage: We were So CivilizedNo matter where I am on the Fourth of July I am likely to think about the country in which I was born and have lived all of my life thus far: the United States of America. The Fourth is the official birthday of the nation, though many of the current states joined the union long, long after that July in 1776 when it was established by its founders. Like so many nations around the world, this country and its history are a tremendously complicated and varied patchwork of fact and fiction, hope and fear, two steps forward and one step back. Over and over and over again.

Imagine this: a pack of refugees from religious persecution left their homeland and sailed into the unknown across an ocean of which they also knew very little except that their passage across it was dangerous and miserable and killed plenty of them before they hit the new shore. When they landed, to their surprise there were already plenty of other people living on that new turf, and did that stop the interlopers from moving in, too? Of course not. I don’t expect it ever occurred to them, to be honest, that there wasn’t room for everybody or that if they took a ton of the resources around them that might just mean there were fewer for the previous residents of the land, folk who had, indeed, already long established a very different relationship with the continent.

That the illnesses and diseases the newcomers brought with them from Home would endanger and kill many of their new unwitting and unwilling neighbors could never have entered these interlopers’ minds, when they were so preoccupied with not only their current survival but their escape from the hardships and sorrows back in their own homeland. That they themselves would suffer privation, fear, danger, loneliness, and the loss of their lifetime homes, belongings, families and friends across the vast ocean they had crossed was a stark enough reality that perhaps they willed themselves not to think too hard about all that they faced next also affecting the long-tenured native peoples across whose lands they moved like human bulldozers.

The establishment of this new home was far from smooth and easy too, as anyone could probably guess, though I wonder if any of them really considered that the goal as much as simple escape from what they’d known before. Still, none of those inhabitants of North America—invaders or original denizens—could possibly imagine at the time, I suspect, quite how vast the whole continent was and what that meant in terms of creating new colonies within it, let alone new nations. In the years that followed, the westward migration confirmed the existence of innumerable tribes and clans of people not before known to the new arrivals, but also of wild creatures unimagined, of terrain unlike any they had dreamed possible, of climates that had been the stuff of legend until then.

In those many decades of carving out new paths and territories, it was inevitable that, just as it had been with the foregoing generations of various indigenous peoples, there would be struggles over who had access to what, who could live where, and who belonged together with or as far as possible away from whom. No surprise that this led not only to separated towns and enclaves and ethnic, religious, political or philosophical communities but also, in turn, to a wild array of accents and ideas that might as well have been different languages and different species altogether.

Amazing that all of this could remotely possibly coalesce into what is known as the United States of America. Today’s states are still so diverse, even sometimes from county to county or one side of the railroad tracks to another, that it’s nearly laughable to call them United. We fight like pesky siblings with each other all the time; it’s a miracle, in my book, that the so-called Civil War, one of the most uncivilized events in the country’s history, hasn’t simply continued from its beginning to the present day. It does, perhaps, at subtler levels. Just because the invasion of the continent by a bunch of frightened Pilgrims who only thought themselves seeking freedom from tyranny didn’t destroy the whole land and kill every one of them off outright, and because the various internal skirmishes that led to, but were far from limited to, the Civil War didn’t complete that annihilation doesn’t mean we’re not still perfectly capable of incredible incivility at every turn. We try, we fail.

On the Fourth of July, I think of how astounding and—generally—good it is that this messy nation has managed to survive this long without self-destructing. But I can’t help also thinking this of most of the rest of the world. Humans just plain are messy. We form and break alliances; we argue over being Right instead of being compassionate or practical, let alone pursuing justice. We blunder around, hog resources, ascribe privileges and powers to ourselves and our chosen comrades that we willfully deny others, or just pretend the others don’t exist, and thanks to our weirdly, wonderfully diverse array of accents, when we do get around to discussing the least of these things, even those who ostensibly share a language can’t understand each other half of the time anyhow.

Just possibly, our life form may have been civilized at a few choice moments. There is plenty of potential in this odd species of ours, I like to think. Even we Americans aren’t entirely irredeemable; we keep bothering and beating up on each other like so many brothers and sisters, and yet most of us still manage eventually to just agree to disagree and, in moments of precious lucidity, even to see each other’s point of view and operate in an environment of respect and hope. As rotten as we can be to each other, we care enough to wrestle it out and try to find ways to go forward. Together, even. If that isn’t a family worth saving, I guess I don’t know what one is. Happy birthday, USA. Go forth and get a little more civilized, if you can.

I Know My ABCs, but I’m Not So Clear on My Ps & Qs

What I don’t know: what happened to yesterday’s post (this is it, again). I could swear I’d posted this and even gotten a comment or two on it already. Where it went baffles me. Apparently it’s now keeping company with the magically disappearing previous post about coulrophobia, which I also had to re-post. Go figure. So here’s Round 2 of Yesterday’s Post.

That slyly generous character ‘Nessa, over at her Stronghold, has tagged me once again, this time to participate in a bit of speculative introspection via the medium of the ABC award. I am happy to state that she did not give me the ABC award in the sense that I knew it as a young squirt, when we generously offered our playmates ABC gum (Already Been Chewed). So while I know from reading her post that ‘Nessa did indeed ruminate on the award before sharing it, I am glad to announce that there was no saliva whatsoever on the award when she passed it along. In fact, it was much like getting a good and playful cyber-hug, something I would call quite the opposite in a very nice way. So I send many thanks to dear ‘Nessa and will give many thinks to the alphabet I am to present to you as a response.

Awesome Blog Content Award

Rules of this award:

1. Pass this on to unlimited fellow bloggers.

2. Share some things about you, using the alphabet.

You know that I am going to put my own spin on the whole thing, because that’s just how my strange little brain prefers to work. While the award’s tradition appears to be that one offers a personally resonant word for each letter of the alphabet with a couple of words of explanation for each choice, I feel compelled to do some of my rhyming play with the puzzle, for no good reason of course, so I’m off to scrawl an alphabet of quatrains.
And as for sharing the award, I must tell you that the reason I subscribe to your blogs and read them as faithfully as time will allow (whether I have a moment to comment or not every time) because your blogs are simply brimming with awesome content. So I would be horribly remiss if I didn’t share this award with each and every one of you with whom I am so happily carrying on commentary-conversations and from whom I am delightedly learning new and funny and moving and useful and otherwise wonderful stuff every single day via my subscriptions. That means that if you’re reading this and we have conversed about our blogs, I am offering you the opportunity to play this amusing game yourself and consider me a grateful sharer of the fun. If you’re too busy, private, tired of blog tagging, or committed to more meaningful activities, believe me, I will not be insulted by your opting not to join in the play. I bless you for choosing to do or not do what suits you best.
Here, then, is today’s Alphabet of Me. I cannot promise to mind my Ps and Qs despite the alphabetical mandate, because behaving properly tends to chafe me. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
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A is for Art

Art I seek, and fain would honor Art
with skill and courage, for the larger part
of life and love and light that may be found
awaken to Art’s call, no other sound.
Balance neatly conjured from unlike, unequal parts
is best achieved by using that most delicate of arts
which we might call diplomacy or mediating care
or just the coaxing of agreement from the thinnest air.
Community is my desire: I would the flame become a fire,
the bloom become a garden whole, the note float into barcarolle,
the morsel be a meal complete enough for everyone to eat,
the joy be broadcast far and wide until there is no Other Side.
Doggerel dances its jigs in my brain
until, irresistibly, I can’t refrain
from making up poems as silly as dogs
would be to write doggerel verses for blogs.
Ethereal loveliness, sweetness and grace
all whisper their zephyrs of breath as they chase
my sorrows and fears and my troubles away
and replace them with lyrical words night and day.
Flora, garden goddess thou,
wreathed with flowers upon thy brow,
what scented bowers have you grown
that leave my senses overthrown!
Gothic grotesqueries fill the abyss
of night in my cranium; stranger than this
is that, while they are creeping their hideous way
into my grey matter, it still feels like play . . .
Hungry every minute,
always looking for a spoon,
my midst has something in it,
but I wanna eat more, soon!
Idiosyncratic me,
how idiotic would it be
if I should be less odd? Absurd–
also unlikely, ‘pon my word.

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J is for Jester

Jester to the king and queen and to the populace,
I’d like to have the wisdom and the humor to express
what should be said for betterment and conscience-pricking itch
without offending quite so far as be condemned a witch.