...except for me and my monkey! "Everything we see hides another thing. We always want to see what is hidden by what we see." -Rene Magritte

Monday, July 04, 2005

Breakfast of Champions

In Breakfast of Champions, Kurt Vonnegut called the Star-Spangled Banner "gibberish sprinkled with question marks." I thought that was tremendously witty a couple months ago when I read the book, and now I repeat to myself or to my companions every time the national anthem is played.

The 4th of July is a conflicted holiday for me, as I think it is for a lot of people. I love America, but I don't always love what America does; I'm patriotic, but I get nervous around other patriotic people because I don't know in what way they're patriotic, you know? I'm proud of my family and of our past, our history, my ancestors coming to the US; I'm awed by the foundation of the country and by the bravery and idealism of a document like the Declaration of Independence, but at the same time, rah-rah-rah-my-country-right-or-wrong stuff leads to nothing but trouble. This article did make me laugh really hard, though. I think my favorite blessing is #9--I exercise it on a near-daily basis. Warning: the article mocks Canada fairly mercilessly.

I had a lot to say but then Mr. Migraine decided to drop by and now I think I need to just go lie down. Right now it feels as though a tiny little gnome is standing over my right eyebrow with a jackhammer.

A quotation from East of Eden, by John Steinbeck. Somehow, it seems appropriate on this day. If you haven't read the book, read it. It takes a while to get into but it's an incredible journey.

Lee sighed. He had worked so hard, so tenderly, and his work seemd to have succeeded. He said softly, "We're a violent people, Cal. Does it seem strange to you that I include myself? Maybe it's true that we are all descended from the restless, the nervous, the criminals, the arguers and brawlers, but also from the brave and independent and generous. If our ancestors had not been that, they would have stayed in their home plots in the other world and starved over the squeezed-out soil."

Cal turned his head toward Lee, and his face had lost its tightness. He smiled, and Lee knew he had not fooled the boy entirely. Cal knew now it was a job--a well-done job--and he was grateful.

Lee went on, "That's why I include myself. We all have that heritage, no matter what old land our fathers left. All colors and blends of Americans have somewhat the same tendencies. It's a breed--selected out by accident. And so we're overbrave and overfearful--we're kind and cruel as children. We're overfriendly and at the same time frightened of strangers. We boast and are impressed. We're oversentimental and realistic. We are mundane and materialistic--and do you know of any other nation that acts for ideals? We eat too much. We have no taste, no sense of proportion. We through our energy about like waste. In the old lands they say of us that we go from barbarism to decadence without an intervening culture. Can it be that our critics have not the key or the language of our culture? That's what we are, Cal--all of us. You aren't very different."

"Talk away," said Cal, and he smiled and repeated, "Talk away."