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Archive for August, 2010

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photo by David de Smit

Idyll the First: Bear in mind that all of this is pretty much foma (See Bokonon references in Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut; foma are “lies’; “harmless untruths”; a useful and harmless form of horseshit”.) While there will be more foma to follow, there will be some facts in here too, or at least what I see as “facts”. To quote Wikipedia, that messy, sprawling attic crammed with foma and facts: “The word fact derives from the Latin Factum and was first used in English with the same meaning: “a thing done or performed” a use that is now obsolete.” I will try not to conflate fact with truth. Most of the facts appearing in this blog will come in the form of photographs, though not all of them will be from this particular trek. The images will not be massaged with too much ‘oil du PhotoShop’, which can easily smudge fact into fiction. But ultimately all of this is fit mostly for a discussion to be had over cakes and ale, and this is not that venue.

I will notate the real places we visited, but I will describe them as I saw them and experienced them; Chloe experienced them differently and you’ll have to wait for her version to come out sometime in the future. The people we encountered will receive a more open-ended treatment and their names will be inventions, sometimes.

I had high hopes that the trip/trek would provide me with some answers to the recurring existential irritations that still nag me after all these decades. A dramatic revelation or a mind-jarring epiphany was what I had in mind. Having it emerge from a pleasant pink mist or be conveyed by a smiling Buddha would have been best. Alas it was not to be that way. Experiences like that don’t usually come out of happy talk or moments of levity. The receiving vessel has to be pounded and kneaded into shape before anything resembling wisdom can be poured into it. Fear and loathing are usually involved, as well as hunger and pain. I have always been something of a reluctant and recalcitrant vessel. This time was no exception.

As I contemplated the trek and where it might lead, the almost-last words of TSE’s Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock kept clanging around in my head:

“No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;

Am an attendant lord, one that will do

To swell a progress, start a scene or two

Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,

Deferential, glad to be of use,

Politic, cautious, and meticulous;

Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;

At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—

Almost, at times, the Fool.

I grow old . . . I grow old . . .

I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?

I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.

I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think they will sing to me.”

Nonetheless I sure hoped they would at least sing to me; hoping for more than that was a stretch, though I must admit I would have welcomed a squirmy and lubricious mermaid to share my sack. In fact, if I dwelt on it too long I realized that I wanted one almost, but only almost, as much as I wanted to be free of debt and ensconced in a nifty Arts and Crafts bungalow tipping an iced single malt down my throat. But the real emotional driver for this whole endeavor was my hope to stumble upon a soft place to land, to find a community of like-minded souls who were laboring and loving and nurturing and making their particular place a center of accomplishment and inspiration, a place that stood in sharp but glowing contrast to the tawdry, tacky, cacophonous disarray of almost everything that is the usual manifestation of today’s America. My tribe; I want to find my tribe. I didn’t stumble onto such a place, but I knew, I still know, I still believe, I still believe, O thank you Dorothy, I do, I do, that one is out there somewhere. But I haven’t found it yet, but then I’ve only just begin to look in earnest. I guess that qualifies as my particular version of the American Dream.

Even though the trek, well, the trek thus far, has come to a premature end, and I have glimpsed only a minute portion of the landscape, I don’t think anyone could travel the way I did and where I went without coming away with profoundly anxious visions of what the future holds for us here in the USA. Of course there was some good news and since I am a by-product of the relentless forces of optimism I will try to frame and spin that news so it glows. Firstly, there are still vast acres of arable, luscious and fertile land with which to merge and to which one can dedicate their spirits and their energies. Secondly, most of the people I actually met and talked with were decent, open, and apparently honest folks. None of them were willing to say their lives were a failure or that the ‘American Dream’ was a complete crock of crap, BUT they were certainly aware that for them that notion had turned out to be a hollow fantasy. None of them were happy or even truly contented with their lives as they had to lead them. All of them felt burdened and oppressed by a system that they felt obligated or coerced to participate in. While they expressed a desire for a better future, not one of them was even close to being convinced that a better future lay ahead. In fact, most of them believed that the future would be a grim business. Only some of the older folks, those roaming the highways in RVs, seemed unconcerned with the years ahead and held onto a kind of stolid cheerfulness in the face of impending disaster. And so it goes.

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