Monday, October 17, 2011

Progress Report

Here I am in Lima, Peru. I sit most days writing, typing, and hoping that I will come out with a series of books that make some sense of the world we inhabit as denizens of Modernity, now a place so rich that kids can demand and demand and demand, and they just might get all that they demand simply because it'll be easier to give them all they demand that to hold out and tell them to work for things themselves.

Occupy cities and demand. This is what Modernity has become. I'm not so keen.

I went out for lunch yesterday, down to the cliff side where one can look down a thousand feet to the beach and the roadway. But I didn't go anywhere near the bottom, opting instead for lunch at a pretty much up-scale restaurant, Tony Roma's, where I passed on the ubiquitous sea food, and had a lovely day of it looking at a Third World country coming to the cusp of the Modern. It is lovely here, clean and pleasant and well-to-do. But this is Mira Flores, not the interior, the jungle of the old. This is real living, in spite of the Occupy Cities crowd would have us believe. This is what all people can have if they work for it. There is food and cleanliness and happiness here, and it is a product of Modernity alone. It doesn't come from dressing up like a primitive and howling at the gods and demanding manna from heaven. It comes from dressing up in a suit and tie and polished leather shoes to get a job as a parking lot attendant working 12 hours a day for minimum wage. I call it progress, the move up from dirt and squalor to a suit and tie and shiny shoes so that ones children might drive a Mercedes to the office in coming years. I see it here daily, this move to riches and satisfaction from the efforts of work and rationality. I do not see Inca human sacrifice in the form of "Eat the Rich." I see people who grasp for satisfaction and cleanliness. This is a very lovely place.

However, I am not so well-adapted to the world as I would wish. I stand on the outside and look in at what I love so much. I see it in a letter to a friend, as below. I quit that letter because I was depressed over my lack of ability to settle down and be part of the world I love. I sit here in Lima today and think about how the "poor" here are slowly becoming rich and satisfied, and how in America the rich are sickeningly rotten. The rich are those who demand that others pay their student loans and give them jobs and security. I love those "rich" like Sarah Palin, middle class people like those around me here in Lima, who work at jobs and make money and on Sunday afternoon after church go out for a meal with family at a nice place overlooking the ocean. This is the life for everyone who can live with Modernity and accept that it is progress rather than a falling back on the primitive. This city's population doubles every ten years, now at about 8 Million, most of whom have escaped from the jungle to come live and work here and thrive. Not all do well, but most do unimaginably better that starving in huts and dying of diseases from filthy water. This district is the beauty that awaits those who work for the Modern. A filthy park and hand-outs from the working class is the Occupy Cities crowd's product of the Modernist primitive. Real people escape from poverty by working in the Modern world.

I had a problem yesterday with my computer. I had no idea what to do about it, so I emailed a friend and begged for help. It came, taking up some hours of my friend's time. I got back on-line and did some work and went for a lovely afternoon in the rare sunlight here. The Freak Show in America banged drums and demanded. Peruenos worked all week and yesterday went to the ocean to sit and have a fine meal. I have no job at all, do no paying work, and had a fine day with people living a fine life. I have a computer, like them, and I travel the world. I could almost laugh. But I could almost choke when I see on the Internet that some many in the heart of the Modern world would destroy all this, not only for themselves but for people here and elsewhere, people who will leave the Death Hippies to languish in squalor if the latter refuse to adapt themselves to the world as it is, the world of compromise and temperance and dedication to the whole of Modernity that allows us all, even me, to live so good a life.

I had a computer problem that a friend in Canada was able to fix for me. I am amazed. My father worked all day during the week and at a private business in the evenings and on weekends, and my mother worked full-time as well till she died of cancer. One of the last things she did was scrape together money to buy a microwave oven. I have a computer in Lima. I think many people do not realise that today in Peru those with some sense can live better here than my parents did in America 40 years ago. I saw a peasant family at a hole-in-the-wall diner I was at recently, and the boy had a computer nicer than mine. I rejoice. I am proud of humankind. A peasant family Peru can live in the Modern world and buy for their boy what my parents could never have dreamed of for me. And we, we can do so much more for our own. I prefer it here. This is progress. America is stagnation and rot. My family wasn't poor, but we had nothing like what a peasant family in Peru has today. Except that we did: We had a driving need to do better.

I some how fell off the tracks as a young man. I can't claim anything good about my life, just that I am lucky to be alive as I am. If not for the Modern world taking good care of others and leaving lots left for the likes of me, I would long ago have died off. Instead I can travel the world and fly up and down in my moods. The world is not perfect, but it is good. It gets better all the time, as I have witnessed in my own lifetime, and as I see daily. But I do little to make it anything different. I'm stuck on wander.

There's a song I like a lot, being a C&W fan. It's supposed to be about a man who has a casual relationship with a woman, but a moment's thought will reveal that there are no women in the world this song could be about. The song is a celebration of the "homosocial." A man can have a friend such as this song portrays, but that friend will be another man, not a woman. When I listened to it last I started writing the letter below. It wasn't long before I quit. I didn't realise till I got so far as I did that I had left the Modern world as a young man. Like the creepy kids of the Occupy Cities camps, I have lived in confusion most of my life. I learn a bit each day, and if I could I would live a thousand years to try to be a better man, something most people take for granted as they progress toward the Modern.

It's knowin' that your door is always open
And your path is free to walk
That makes me tend to leave my sleepin' bag
Rolled up and stashed behind your couch
And it's knowin' I'm not shackled
By forgotten words and bonds
And the ink stains that have dried upon some line
That keeps you in the back roads
By the rivers of my memory
That keeps you ever gentle on my mind

It's not clingin' to the rocks and ivy
Planted on their columns now that bind me
Or something that somebody said because
They thought we fit together walkin'
It's just knowing that the world
Will not be cursing or forgiving
When I walk along some railroad track and find
That you're movin' on the back roads
By the rivers of my memory
And for hours you're just gentle on my mind

Though the wheat fields and the clothes lines
And the junkyards and the highways come between us
And some other woman's cryin' to her mother
'cause she turned and I was gone
I still might run in silence
Tears of joy might stain my face
And the summer sun might burn me till I'm blind
But not to where I cannot see
You walkin' on the back roads
By the rivers flowin' gentle on my mind

I dip my cup of soup back from a gurglin' cracklin' cauldron
In some train yard
My beard a rustlin' coal pile
And a dirty hat pulled low across my face
Through cupped hands 'round a tin can
I pretend to hold you to my breast and find
That you're waitin' from the back roads
By the rivers of my memory
Ever smilin', ever gentle on my mind

Glen Campbell, "Gentle on my mind. (1967) Composed by John Cowan Hartford(December 30, 1937 – June 4, 2001).

Lots of them, we know, they hate us. I feel better that they don't know us at all, that they hate us for what they see without understanding.

When I was a kid I got fed up with working in a warehouse with old men, living in Baltimore, living a life of misery and depression in a crowded ghetto of low-rise tract housing and dinky toy cars and folks staring at their feet when they spoke to me. People crushed and beaten as they sought salvation after their shifts at the warehouse in watching sports games on television at the local tavern, one night of drunkenness turning into a lifetime of nothing better. I hit the road, went south, went to the open range.

I got work in the southwest at a ranch, hard work, poor pay, and damned hard work for it. In town one day I met a girl, and I asked her if she would like to go with me to the dance on the weekend. To my amazement she said yes. Work was excellent all the rest of the week. I got to her house on the Saturday evening, too early, I didn't know it. I drove up and stepped onto the porch and knocked on the screen door and said hello in there. The girl's mother let me in and called to her daughter, me bounding past and into the kitchen. There she was, and her face fell and I figured she would cry if only she could.

I can't say if she was the prettiest girl I've ever seen, but she was the girl I was keen to go out with. That makes her attractive, and the rest is not so much important. Oh, I hurt that girl. She was standing in the kitchen and her mom came up behind me and saw the daughter, saw the shame, the fear, the coming cascade of tears and blame. The girl's party dress matched the kitchen curtains and the table cloth and who knows what all else in that house. Maybe every gawdamn thing in the house was wrapped from the same bolt of cloth. I didn't care, just thought it was funny, is all. You don't have to wonder any more why I love Walmart.

God, I hate these fucking hippies who sneer at people. When people don't have much they make do with what there is. Sometimes they make their own clothes and their own curtains and table cloth and what else I don't know, and I hate that people would laugh at that. I never married that girl. I think I should have, and I base that on the last words she ever said to me: "You get off'a my land or I'll shoot you!"

Obama can sneer at us and his lackey fops can rage and call our girls cunts and men Nazis and all of us cavemen. That girl had something none of the sneering hippies will ever get: she had her own mind and her own place in the world. She and her mom had a ranch where they raised dust and tumble weed and had little more than grit to show for it. Maybe I loved her. I loved lots of girls, and I've left all of them for some other place and some other girl and some other tears. I'm leaving again.

That girl was little different from the working class Peruena. In fact, she had far less than they today. I missed that girl and the honest day-by-day struggle to progress toward Modernity. I thought, like the idiot kids protesting today in the Modern world, that I could have it all by wanting and demanding and expecting. Now I see what that girl has left the world, seeing it here in Lima, a world of getting ahead by working and struggling for the day and the day after, and then, in time, one has this beauty and one can say one helped it happen. I'm a vagabond, if not a bum, and I too am blessed in that I can see the world of beauty that poor people have made rich and lovely. I can bum around the world because others work hard. I think, yes, I am a bum not better than the idiot kids in the park. I, at least, am thankful. I am deeply grateful for this Modern world you have helped make for all of us. I thank you.

Others, not so much:

We believe that it is possible to inject justice into the global economy. We have come up with the following list of things [truncated] that can be done right now to rejuvenate democracy and economic justice in our country:

Halt foreclosures for the unemployed, sick and elderly

Increase funding to public services by taxing the richest 1 percent

Forgive all student loan debt


Michael Crosby said...

Great stuff Dag. I like seeing the world through your eyes.

Modernity for the left is something only to be held in contempt and torn down.

Bless you and your writings. Great content. And I like the picture too.

Dag said...

Hi, Michael, thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

I'm feeling pretty good here. I hope that once I make a bit more progress on my book writing that I can move from Lima and on to other parts of the country to see and maybe write about and photograph.

So far I am impressed by this place. It is, as I sort of noted, a place where Sarah Palin would fit in well. Folks here are polite an often friendly and outgoing. They work hard and they are, as I see them, like those back home when I was a boy. I like that. I like America as it was before it was taken over by the Freak Show we see in so many cities today. Whatever the flaws of this place, and no doubt they are many, it's better here for me than back home--at least for now.

On a side note, I have a book coming out that dwells on my past, a book of memoir and gazing at the possible. It's of that literary genre, "occasional" writing, which is to say, written "on the occasion of" this or that. The title is An Occasional Walker.

Hope to have it out in a week or two now.

truepeers said...

There was a time, like for a short moment in the wake of the 1939 World's Fair, or in the new post-war UN internationalism that was already America's Utopian justification for going to war (the Atlantic Charter), in the age of polished chrome and the Jetsons, that people thought that the initiation of the whole world into some shiny new modernity was the surest thing, not too hard to achieve. Maybe it's the legacy of those easy dreams that are playing themselves out in the pathetically-unthinking and incoherent rituals of today's, to use your apt expression, Conformity Hippies. For them, the government giving them stuff is what the clean lines of the modern esthetic have seemingly always been about. Anything else is the modernist dark side, Auschwitz and Hiroshima, the heretical evil against which all their orthodox fancies are all the more justified.

What your life story and many many others can teach us is that the initiation of the mass of humanity into modernity is a lot damn harder than was once popularly believed. Another way of looking at this is that the advent of modernity was a miracle of the kind that a writer like Ernest Gellner could not stop beholding as the greatest mystery of history - how could this radically new kind of society have ever been allowed to emerge from the ritualized agrarian hierarchies of the old world? - a question they are still asking in many places today where the old ritualized hierarchy stands.

Modernity is not a simple thing that can simply be explained by hard work, sobriety, decency, etc. The reason there is still a place for you in this world, as with many writers and others before who came to live for so long on the outside looking in is that is has only been through this process of extended adolescence that we can gain a little creativity and deeper insight into the mystery of what makes our world work. The parking lot attendants don't have time to do that. There may be lots to learn in a place like Lima where they seem to be finally cracking the modern economic nut. There may be still time to come back and settle down with a girl.

As for those cliffs, no way is that a thousand feet. No excuse not to go down and up and get exercised!

truepeers said...

"cracking the modern economic nut" - i.e. cracking in the first place the political and spiritual-religious problems without which modernity cannot become established and continue. Hard work and decency is not enough. That's something to watch.