Maybe I’m A Dirtbag?

I realized – last night – that I was going to see my mom (who’s here, visiting from Arizona), and that I smelled terrible and couldn’t remember the last time that I’d showered. Friday maybe? Or maybe it was Thursday? I know I paddled the river on Saturday, which is pretty much the same as showering…

Since that river bath, over the next five days, I’d climbed twice, biked six times, gone for a run, played soccer twice, and lifted weights four times. Plus there’s that whole Summer Sun Angle (Heat) = Sweat thing.

I’d also mowed the lawn, worked in the yard, gardened, and picked up dog poop in the sun three times.

For my mom, I took a shower.

Advertisements

A 4th Of July Rant: Is Patriotism Dead?

Brf5WG8CEAA-UGo

This past week, the United States’ World Cup soccer team played Germany in the final round-robin group-play match for each team. It was an important game, with an opportunity for both teams to advance to the World Cup’s final 16.

Before the game, my wife went to the grocery store and bought mini American flags. My daughters got out the face-painting kit and we decked ourselves out in red, white, and blue, head to toe. Then we drove across town to watch the game, and as we drove, all windows on our car rolled down, we sang and waved the flags, chanting “USA, USA, USA,” to everyone we passed on the street.

From an outsider’s perspective, we were waving the Stars and Stripes so fervently that we could’ve passed as Floridians at an NRA convention.

But this is not Florida. I do not live in Alabama or Tennessee or Georgia or Arkansas. My medium-sized town in Oregon is a liberal college town. Elderly men sport ponytails here. Vinyasa Yoga and organic grocers are the norm. Thousands of cars still carry anti-Bush/Cheney bumper stickers as if the past six years have erased none of the citizens’ bitter memories.

So as my family waved its American flags and chanted “USA,” most people we passed either glared at us or looked confused. I thought that was funny – considering the implications of the coming World Cup game AND the fact that the 4th of July was just around the corner – but people here are interested in neither the World Cup nor the 4th of July.

Five quick facts about me so you don’t get the wrong idea:

  1. I wouldn’t generally consider myself a patriotic person.
  2. The 4th of July is probably my least favorite holiday.
  3. My house is not littered with guns.
  4. I teach my daughters that “The Tea Party” refers to a historical event in Boston not a current political party.
  5. I didn’t vote for Obama the first time around because I voted for Hillary Clinton, and I think it’s ridiculous that in 2014, in the great country of THE United States Of America, we have never had a female president.

All of those statements are true for me, yet still, here I was chanting “USA” and pumping the flag at everyone we passed.

The way I see it, patriotism is complicated. While I realize that our country is flawed, and I do know about our atrocities in El Salvador, Guatemala, Panama, Iraq, and Afghanistan, I’m still proud to be an American. There are 212 nations on this planet, and every country is evil in some way. But every country is also good.

So while I recognize that the United States has conducted quite a few shady foreign deals, I also know how much good this country does. The United States contributes more in International Aid each year than any other nation on earth, and its total giving is more than twice what the second-best country commits. Or, for a specific example, I know that our government and US citizens stepped up to rebuild Haiti even though there were zero political points to be gained in that situation. Haiti had nothing to offer the United States, no oil, no minerals, no cushy vacation spots, yet the United States committed to post-earthquake relief like no other country on earth was willing to do. So while the US government makes calculated international chess moves, some of which are questionable at best and despicable at worst, this is also the country that performs incredible acts of altruistic philanthropy. We feed the hungry in Africa, we make attempts at peace-keeping in war-torn nations, we support the U.N.

So we must take the good with the bad. And the good in this country is incredible. Take a minute and consider our freedoms. Imagine what might happen if a common citizen of Iran went online and criticized that country’s government. Imagine what might happen if some blogger in North Korea burned a national flag in front of a government building. What would happen to those citizens of those nations?

Consider the freedom of speech in the Untied States and what that includes.

Consider the right to keep and bear arms.

Consider how anyone in the United States can, at any time, drive state to state, all across this country, move anywhere he or she wants, start a business, practice a religion, espouse a variety of political opinions, change his or her mind, blog about the president, come out of the closet, or tweet to promote communism, socialism, or imperialism.

Sometimes liberals forget our freedoms, and I’m saying this as a liberal. I’m a public school teacher, a social justice advocate, and I don’t believe in censorship. I’ve never voted for a Republican presidential candidate, and I write for VICE Magazine. So I’m not a conservative in any way.

But sometimes I get fed up and have to act like a regular ol’ redneck hick. One of my friends told me that she was rooting for Germany in that World Cup soccer match “because,” she said, “you know, I’m just so embarrassed to be an American.”

And that’s when the patriot came out in me. I said, “Okay, you can root for Germany in that match if you also admit that you love Hitler, Auschwitz, European colonialism, and pulling for the overwhelming favorite in all sporting events.”

My friend said, “But doesn’t it make you a little sick to your stomach to chant USA? Do you know how many foreign assassinations we’ve engineered?”

“Yes,” I said, “and foreign assassinations are wrong. But is genocide better? Are you saying that killing a few enemy combatants to gain foreign oil rights is worse than murdering 33 million Jews? Is that what you’re saying?”

Like I said, I get fed-up sometimes. Then I become an absolute jerk.

My wife, who is a better person than me, pointed out that German soccer players are probably pretty sick of Hitler comments. Maybe so. But I wouldn’t know since I rarely play soccer for the German national team.

I just get so tired of people saying they might leave this country. A young person in dreadlocks said to me on the street, “You know, man, if we bomb one more village in the Middle East, I’m fuckin’ leaving this country for good, you know? I’m going to Thailand, bro. It’s so sick there.”

That’s annoying, and that kid doesn’t even know what he’s talking about, but the worst is celebrities who threaten ex-patriotism, the very celebrities who’ve made millions of dollars via the freedoms that this country affords.

During the reign of the Bush administration, Alec Baldwin kept promising to become an expatriate if certain things happened in this country. He listed what those certain things were, and all of his fears and prognostications came to fruition. Yet still, Baldwin never left the good ole U.S. of A. Thankfully for him, freedom of speech covers hollow threats of disloyalty or…could we call it instead “middle-aged-multi-millionaire-loudmouth angst”?

I can say from experience that it is terribly, terribly difficult to be middle class. It is also terribly, terribly difficult to live in this country where I have to pay minimal taxes and only get to do whatever the hell I want.

Maybe The Pace Of This American Life Is Wrong?

Sometimes when I drive to a youth soccer game three hours away, I think, “Wait, why are we doing this? Why do we spend so much time and money on a game for kids? Also, in most of the world the local children play barefoot, with a half-deflated ball, on the beach or in the local vacant lot, and they still end up being better players than U.S. teenagers.” Our whole youth soccer club system is a broken mess, yet we…I mean…I, I have spent so much time and money on the system.

This is just one example. A microcosm. Maybe we Americans have it wrong. In soccer. In other things. It seems like we always find a way to spend a lot of money and drive long distances, for everything.

Or what about the pace of daily life? Driving, stressing, too much homework, complicated play-date schedules, expensive kids’ birthday parties. What are we doing? Why are we living this way?

My family is doing better than it was. We got rid of our second car a few years ago and try to bike or carpool most places. Recently we pulled our older daughter out of club soccer and put her in a cheap local kids’ league. We let our other daughter trade organized sports for “pretend time,” skateboarding, and jumping on the trampoline with friends. We’re encouraging our kids to explore in the local fields or small plot of woods near our house rather than play inside.

But we’ve also tried to drop out as a family a few times. We started small and built from there. Three times we’ve pulled our girls out of school in the middle of the year to go somewhere else, to experience something different. The first was a nine-day camping trip in the fall in Yosemite when the tourists were gone from the valley, the bears were out, and the nights were colder. And even though that trip was short, during the time that we were gone, the girls missed two soccer practices, two soccer games, two friends’ birthday parties, and at least twelve hours of overwhelming homework.

In Yosemite, we swam in the Merced River, saw nine different bears (including a mother bear and her two cubs who wandered past our tent in the high country), rock climbed, bouldered, went to the LeConte Museum, hiked, and saw a cougar eating a ground squirrel. But mostly we did nothing. We played card games and read for hours in our tent. We sat and watched birds. We put on snorkel gear and followed fish up through river eddies. The trade for six days of school and nine days of daily life was well worth it.

Then, last year, we went to Tucson for three and a half weeks in the winter. We stayed in a house in the Santa Catalina mountains and hiked, canyoneered, swam in creeks and the local pool, got sun on our skin, climbed a little, explored ruins, and hung out by the fireplace at night. Ruth got stung by a scorpion on her hand but she still loved the trip, and it was wonderful being away from everything we missed at home, more social engagements and school requirements than I can possibly list.

And now, we’ve taken another break from This American Life. We scheduled a trip this winter to Central America, planned it for February and March. I took a leave of absence from my day job to work on my fifth book (my third novel), and we pulled the girls out of school again. We’ve been in Congrejal, Costa Rica, for the past month, 1 kilometer outside of a tiny two-block by three-block town on the Pacific Coast.

We rented a small native house en el campo. There are fires in the ditches at night – burning palm fronds – large spiders and centipedes and black scorpions and beetles in our house, dirt roads, incredible stars with zero light pollution, and yellow beaches two miles long. The food is different, scary sometimes (we chance food poisoning each time we eat out – but that’s not often as we mostly eat rice and beans and local fruit at home). There is no rock climbing but I climb coconut trees on the beach, cut down three or four coconuts, cut them open and drink the milk with my nine-year-old Ruthie or Jennie.

My thirteen-year-old, Rain, is surfing and reading and journaling. Both girls are home-schooling, and we get their work completed each day in three or four hours. We’re reading world history together as a family. Learning the geography of Central America. Studying native plants and animals of our local area.

The nouns are different here. Back at home we see squirrels in the trees. Here we see Howler Monkeys. Estuaries in Western Oregon have carp and frogs. Here they have 16-foot crocodiles.

We have wild horses and coatis in our yard.

We surf each day.

I write 1000 new words on my novel.

We bike around because we have no car.

We stay outside until after dark, live outside everyday, and even though it averages 98-degrees, we’ve adapted now and the days no longer feel too hot.

Jennie pumps her fist in the air and yells, “I love that there are no rules here!” as we bike along a pot-hole filled road, wearing no helmets. There are no stoplights or stop-signs even in the town nearby where people lay on their horns and yell at each other, drive on the wrong side of the road or swerve all over the place in their cars. Motorcycles pass us going 60.

What would we be doing back home right now? I’d be working 60 hours a week. There would be dance practices and soccer practices and games and performances. We would have play dates, drive regularly, be late all of the time. We would have to work to be local. But when the location is small, like it is here, localism is natural, unforced, nothing difficult. We eat the limes and cashew fruit from the trees next to our house. And there are more green plantains than we can fry.

I know that we can’t live in a perpetual state of vacation, but maybe that’s not what this is. I’m working here. The girls are doing schoolwork. Jennie and the girls are making art together. Our lives and the development of our minds has not stopped.

So maybe this is just a richer life? Maybe there is no one named Jones to keep up with. Maybe we – as a family – must stop every year, stop to think and read and write and hang out, as a family, because these years will end soon, and the girls will go to college, and we will have missed our opportunity to take them out of their culture, out of the daily speed of U.S. city life.

In ten years, both girls will be out of the house and this will no longer be possible. They will be leading other lives. They won’t want to be dragged to Central America by their parents. They will have their own chosen obligations. They will lead their own lives of personal interests.

And our chances will be over.

So for now, a slow life, something different, something other than the daily pace of life in the United States. Here, for a moment, we avoid (as Tim Kreider of the New York Times says) The Busy Trap.

And the soccer here? We play every day on the beach, barefoot, with the local boys. We play on the sand, goals scored through two sticks stuck one meter apart. We call the barefoot game “Pelada,” which translates as the crazy naked woman.