Thursday, December 17, 2015

What's it like...

Abraham Lincoln invented Twitter on November 19th 1863. That day in Gettysburg, President Lincoln followed up an epic speech given by a noted orator, with a 5 minute micro-blog so perfectly crafted that there was no need to say anymore. Similarly, the seductive challenge to create the perfect tweet has recently consumed me, so as I look back at my recent blogging history, I realize I have shot blanks for the majority of 2015. The essay has died.

It's not that I've been idle or haven't come across new experiences to share. I am coming up on my second year anniversary of my residency in the United States. I have resisted the temptation to share my idle thoughts about the experience mostly because it's been a lot to process. Before arriving to Baltimore in January 2014, the U.S. wasn't new to me. I had travelled extensively around the country but I've learned that it is unproductive to make judgments about a place when you only see it on vacation. I can say that I have travelled to Fiji and Malaysia but to be honest, I simply visited the Hilton and the Marriott on those occasions; conclusions would be difficult from a hotel window - impressions would be as close as I could come.

But my two year employment in Baltimore has taught me a lot. Most of what I have learned has taken place on the light rail, on the buses and in conversations with a diverse cross section of Americana. And I've travelled! My Southwest account is full and my bag tag collection boasts an impressive list of destinations (Boston, Portland, Knoxville, San Francisco, San Diego, Houston, Atlanta, Milwaukee, Chicago, Greenville, Denver, Sarasota.... and that's only the start!). My conclusion is that I can't wait to learn more, see more and meet more people. This is the third country that I have called home in the past 6 years - that alone cultivates an openness to experience and culture. It's difficult not to compare experiences but the real trick is not to; don't look away, see the whole field and drill down to values; as the systems and politics are a result of deeply held convictions (with a hint of theatre). I know that I will always bring my inner Canadian to the perspective and in that context I often get asked.... what's it like to live in the U.S.?

Here's what I've learned so far:

Americans can plan a party. Events are big and austerity be damned. Volunteers are everywhere. There is no structure too big to create. Understated isn't a thing. And you will never be welcomed in a more authentic way than at an American gathering, southern hospitality is alive and well. Wow.

So you think you work hard? Americans work very hard. Long hours aren't even considered. It's an early to rise, late to bed, just try to keep up day - everyday. Innovation thrives through hard work and Americans have the uncanny ability to re-invent themselves economically, almost on a dime. Sorrow happens (often self inflicted), grieving lasts a day and we move on. I've never been to a place where the people are so resilient. They don't whine. They get angry, push, shove and get back to work.

This is my first time being confronted with America's racial divide. In the past two years I've been exposed to an African American Culture from a perspective I never had before. This is not my first time outside - I've been around many people of color in many countries and I enjoy learning about new cultures and belief systems. African American culture, from my perspective, seems to be in an unrecognized period of resurgence, perhaps having begun as early as the mid 1980's corresponding to new archetypes in the Arts within the Black community. It has been a quiet revolution and one in which African American culture is growing and celebrating itself. I've had the pleasure of meeting many intelligent young black men; DJ's, scientists and poets, who have educated me on their experience. I witness every day on the bus the "inside jokes" Black people share and the heartfelt commitment to their families. It is a culture. However it seems to me that White America fails to recognize that "White" is also a culture; instead they seem to feel that their experiences from Country Music to the baby blue eyed images of Santa are simply "the norm" therefore African American culture is aberrant, something to be feared and managed. This lack of self awareness is the tragedy of the nation. I have seen first hand fantastic examples of cultures that recognize their differences and take an interest in each other's unique perspective, even within the same nation. People tell me that America is "too big" and that my observations from places like New Zealand where White and Maori cultures synergize are inappropriate to be used as a model. I disagree. I believe that there is a process towards reconciliation; but it is White America's inability to recognize their own culture that prevents the proper apologies and reparations. Maybe to do so would be to deny American Exceptionalism - and perhaps that is the real place to start.

The America I experience daily has a wonderful heart and a tremendous rhythm. It's a soulful place made up of super music and too much tempting food. The people I have met in this country I count very quickly among my best friends. The infrastructure can occasionally seem precarious but everyone rallies to overcome the deficits. There's ownership. It's theirs. The Libertarian in me sees a country with the same enormous capacity for good as all others. Many Americans feel that the road to social justice is Activism - which in this country is generally associated with a minority group creating a momentary imbalance of power or consciousness to affect change. Americans will point to evidence that this process has led to movements in thinking and new policies. But with each passing day the country continues to get more unequal, more segregated and unhappier. Social change ebbs and flows but the underlying fundamentals are never addressed, the hard questions are never answered and the revolution never holds up. I have no solutions to offer.

America seems to me to be the America you choose to look at - so many faces and regions that blend into a pattern that looks like liberty; attempts justice and aspires to freedom. Whatever it is, I am grateful for it, hope to continue to discover it's mysteries and I wish it well.