There was another school shooting yesterday. Kids died. And it happened, on a big-picture scale, because America is one giant gun culture. Weapons fetishists. As a nation, we’re obsessed with the notion of masculinity, strength, and superiority. Guns are just one way that the obsession manifests itself.
I’m really starting to hate this country. My country. The great global eighteenth century experiment that went wrong in the end. Our Founding Fathers meant well, but they put too much faith in “the people”, that we could make rational, thoughtful decisions. We can’t. Or we won’t. They also failed to envision innovation of any sort. I suppose they entrusted that future stewards would attend to growth and change, but they didn’t.
They had at least a marginal amount of faith that we could choose leaders that would actually protect the general welfare. Even with an electoral college as a backstop, we still managed to fuck that up, from our President to our Congress to our state Governors. As a nation we’re sick, our children are hungry, our wages are low, and we have fat pigs dining at gilded tables piled with kickbacks and dividends.
Maybe worst of all though, we have turned our back on science and truth. Instead building a golden age of research, art, and general enlightenment, we now have a national credo that “learning isn’t for everyone” and that education is only political indoctrination. Science is a myth, history is subjective, and patriotism is all you need.
Oh yes, patriotism. The bread and butter of the military industrial complex that has ballooned despite Eisenhower’s Kreskin-esque warning. We have a fetish for our military personnel. “Thank you for your service” is nearly a compulsory phrase, like saying “bless you” when someone sneezes, or “U-S-A!” whenever a politician speaks. Call me crazy, but I’d rather just pay more taxes and make sure they are cared for with good pay, health care, and help wherever it is needed.
It’s all fixable of course. But the laundry piled is high, and as Americans, we don’t want to fix it. We like it just how it is. In fact, we want it more, faster, bigger!
That used to terrify me. So I would rant and rail. I wrote letters and made phone calls and voted in every damn election. I contributed to worthy political campaigns and volunteered in my community. That was my twenties. Those optimistic, kickass years where a body thinks that anything can be changed and moved with a little grit, spit, and the right attitude.
And then I had a “eureka” moment some years back. I was spinning my wheels to make change where none was wanted. Why? Women of my generation have preached to their daughters and sisters that you “can’t change a man”. Well, I can’t change a nation that loves its gun culture and its anti-intellectual “every man” attitude, is frightened of every shadow, and has a feverish love of everything red, white, blue, and bible.
I am the outsider who thinks more guns equal more shootings, that it’s okay for us not to be the greatest nation in the world as long as we’re honest about it, and that we really need more space exploration, art, and education. Our churches should be gardens and our schools should be palaces. And our core philosophy as the nation with the biggest megaphone and pile of phonebooks under our feet should be “help each other”.
I am a stranger in a strange land.
When you accept that premise, your whole world becomes a little darker and pretty damn sad. There is no true utopia on earth. I get that. There is no place to hide where everyone holds hands and skips, and passes out lollipops and gumdrops. There is no chocolate waterfall or talking woodland animal to be my sidekick.
But there has to be better. Or at least less damn scary and backward. My bar isn’t that high. I swear.
Poutine Versus Trains and Cheese
There is a very poetically sad element to my thinking and wishing for better for myself, for my husband, for our daughter, and for all of the generations after her. This plucky despondency combined with grandiose hope cannot be far from how my ancestors felt when they packed up and moved to the United States–many of them barely over one hundred years ago. The sacrifices and risks they took to settle in the United States must have been unimaginable. They defied tradition and familiarity, tearing at their own roots just to replant themselves in America.
I hope they had good lives and loved their new country. But a few generations later, I wish they had stayed where they were. I want to travel back to 1917 and grab on to my great grandfather’s overcoat and dig my heels into the earth to stop him from crossing the border from Ontario to Michigan. Or at least tear the pen from his hands while he was filling out his “Permit to Leave Canada”. No! It may be cold and strange up there, but they have healthcare and gun laws. And a competent (and adorable) Prime Minister. I could eat poutine the rest of my life (until my arteries clogged solidly), and salute the maple leaf every Canada Day.
But my grandfather was born in America. And that puts Canadian citizenship out of my reach.
That’s okay, Canada. I appreciate that Americans are a little scary, and you don’t want a mass invasion. And no offense, but your winters are just as awful as Michigan’s, and I just can’t spend 40% of the rest of my life in cold, snowy darkness. So dark. So bleak.
So where is a stranger to go? For a long time, the real prize, the dream escape, has been somewhere in western Europe. The culture, the pace, the food, the politics, the mass transit. It all suits me so well. It’s no utopia, but it feels like home calling to me, especially while I sit on my couch staring out at the gray sky sprinkling snow on the roadways and treetops. I dream of sipping coffee or wine in cafes, walking a few blocks to get fresh baguettes and vegetables from local stands, and popping into museums on the weekend. Or I could take an easy train ride to a new country I’ve never seen before. I can ride the underground to work or a shopping destination, without fighting traffic, bumping around on massive potholes, and going to a warehouse grocery store to get vegetables that have been in transit and storage for at least several weeks. No more flat tires, oil changes, ludicrously high insurance, or even the monthly lease payments. It’s all train tracks, a good book, and my glowing phone. And castles, cheese, and museums. And fresh flowers, warmth, and bicycling. It’s such a pretty picture in my head. So pretty, that early on, I became determined to make that the retirement plan. Sell off everything I own–which isn’t a fortune–and rent a flat in Paris.
But I’m still in my thirties, and that means I have a lot of slushy winters to survive before then. A lot of school shooting coverage to watch. A lot of misspelled “God Bles Trump” and “Vetrans For Trump” road signs to drive past, while I bump over potholes and squirt my windshield free of road salt spittle.
So I crafted a new, more aggressive plan: Get a job! Of course. We can make the move right now, if only there is a wage waiting for us. And a work visa. That’s the catch, though. An employer has to want you so badly that they’ll sponsor a very expensive visa in your name. I could keep rolling the dice all day long, every day, and the right job is probably never going to pop up to pluck us all out of Michigan. My husband and I are great at our professional jobs, but so are a lot of other people. And visas are expensive.
The futility of it seemed bleak. Watching-hillbilly-asscracks-at-Wal-Mart kind of bleak.
And then, one Sunday a few years back, chance changed this stranger’s life.