Your Creativity Should Be All But Dead By Independence Day.

It's not that The American Dream should render one stupid; Hell, blame Canada Day. However, any and all blame is merely for show: you don't WANT to write. You can't remember a time, really, when putting words onto paper made you free. The creativity itself is what makes you want to write. The crazy voices in your head are pointing a gun at you, threatening to leave you alone with your undeserved alienation unless you let them speak. The crazy voices are also in the concrete, but at least the ones in your head are more afraid of you then you are of them. You have the Great American Novel in your head; you type with your illiterate hands. Can the the Great American Novel be written in Braille? Only if the Socialists are helping you, Helen Keller. HELEN KELL-ER... YOU'VE BEEN OUT TOO LONG IN THE MIDNIGHT SEA...

DID YOU KNOW? It's been said that E.B. White hated to write; no wonder with all those rules Strunk gave him, like some old-timey STD.

You listen to the Sound and the Fury, on tape, signifying nothing. It's narrated by the same guy who did On The Road, on your second attempt at discovering America. You don't mind Kerouac; you just wish he stopped reading the National Review while driving.

Your old calculus teacher suggested you read Faulkner. Fortunately, he didn't compare you to Benjy. Last year, you went to another former prof, an English teacher. One of his naïve pupils said you reminded her of a character in "that story we read"... Lenny. Lenny. The mentally challenged giant who kills everything he touches, Lenny. You felt sorry for her, thinking Of Mice and Men was a short story and all.

You can think of dozens of former classmates who were more like Lenny than you'll ever be. And if you're lucky tonight, celebrating America's independence while rocking out to Foreigner, they can touch you, without the pain you once thought they brought every day, hurting anybody.

America, On Her 230th Birthday

When I was a boy we grew up playing Army. We were fighting the Nazis, and nobody wanted to play a German soldier. German soldiers had to die as we brave Yanks blazed forward to liberate the World from Axis terror.

We were the Good Guys. If there is a lesson that is taught to every American boy and girl it's that we are the knights of the world. We came over and put the coup de grace on the Kaiser. We stomped Hitler and Tojo. John Wayne bravely defended our settlers against those savage Indians. We were defending the world against tipping dominoes in Vietnam. Growing up in Ohio, local history trips pointed out the home where John Brown once stayed, and focused on the Union role in the overthrow of slavery. Again and again America was on the side of Good, and the side of history. We were rich, and we were generous. We stood for truth and democracy and everything that is good in the world.

The problem is that's not exactly true, and i think the acceptance that America can do Evil is an important difference between the Right and the Left. The Left feels like we were led to believe a lie, that America has too often turned its back upon its own stated principles. The Right believes America is exactly what it says it is, a force for light in the world and our flaws are mere pimples upon Miss Teen America's smiling face. When it acknowledges them at all. We in the left focus on a flawed system while the right sees a great system with flawed people.

The question to me is do you see the glass as half empty or half full?

Neither of these pictures is accurate. To my friends from the left I wish to say that America remains a cool country. We have for years stood between the Israelis and their Arab enemies, dragging them back to the peace table. We didn't respond in time to Rwanda, but it was American intervention more than anything that beat back Serbia's xenophobic wars. We were the people who stopped Britain, France and Israel from seizing the Sanai and its canal. We never really joined into colonialism and those who point at the Philippines you should remember that a German fleet was standing by to take them if America hadn't stepped into Spain's vacuum. We have left a place when our treaty obligations have called us to do so, {unless you're a native Amerian} and I think we'll leave Guantanamo Bay too, if only Fidel Castro will die in time. It was America who came to the aid of Muslims in Bosnia and Croatia, and in other lands. We mostly mean well in Iraq and who can say Afghanistan would be better off with the Taliban? Our peacekeepers have served far and wide, and we did not use our superpower status as a license for conquest. That remains true no matter what you think of Iraq.

Our soldiers are disciplined and do treat people well, despite the recent scandals. Our courts are basically honest, Americans are hard-working people, and our government is not corrupt by the international standards. We have good governement, no matter how much we seem to hate it.

But we're no angels.

First of all, America claims to support democracy. We do not. We support free market capitalism. America has supported the overthrow of three democratically elected governments (Iran, Guatemala, Chile) because we didn't like the policies of those governements, or in the case of Chile, the outcome of the election. The simple fact is that whenever the democratic process has run up against business interests democracy lost. We wield power nakedly to get what we want, and fairness rarely if ever enters into the equation.

We also like to think America is a generous country. It is not. If you look at giving as a percentage of GDP then America stands Dead Fucking Last among the world's prosperous nations. What aid we do give is almost entirely focused on security interests. Sure we were generous and the Marshall plan stands as a hallmark of U.S. foreign policy. But Americans can't keep living in the past.

We can be a kind and welcoming people, but we are also a lonely and angry people. If America were a tolerant country people like Pat Robertson and Ann Coulter would be nutcases whose books are sold online to other freaks rather than on the prominent shelves at Barnes and Noble. As a people we talk about education, but we have no respect for educated opinions or scholarship as good. We like knowing better than those guys who actually work on knowing someting. Which means we blind ourselves whenever reality contradicts the things we wish were true.

America is like all others in that it is a nation of human beings. That means that America shows all the strengths and weaknesses of human beings. We can be kind, brave and genrous at one moment, selfish and petulant the next. We are mostly good, but we're not better than anyone else. We need to remember that what we have been given a bounty, a favor of birth. It was ony by the grace of God that I was born in Ohio to two well-educated professionals rather than an untouchable who parents cleaned privvies on the streets of Bombay. I grew up never knowing want or hunger of any kind, but had God chosen differently I might be watching my children starve in the Darfur region of the Sudan. I grew up with both the Christian and secular traditions, and feeling like I could make my own destiny. I didn't have to worry about gangs coming to steal what I have, beating up my sister for showing her face or putting me in jail for publicly disagreeing with the President.

In short, we've grown up wealthy in a nurturing environment with honest government, the rule of law in place and just about everything a body could wish for. We take these things for granted. Be Thankful! The Left needs to appreciate the good more often. But to the Right I say, "Don't be smug. We are not God's Chosen People. We're people and if we want to talk the talk we need to walk the walk. We need to remember that we share this world, and hold no monopoly on wisdom. We need to remember that the price of freedom isn't necessarily war, but the less glamorous and satisfying vurtues forbearance and patience

And there lies the difference between the right and left on July 4th. The Right thinks we are a good country, and will always be a good country because we're Americans. The left knows that great countries do great things. The right thinks that in order to make a better world other people need to change. The left thinks that in order to make a better world we must lead by example and change ourselves.

I did something today that I haven't done in over six years -- I ran a 5K road race. Nothing fancy. There are no bragging rights with a 5K, especially when slogging along at a 9+-minute pace.

The funny thing is, though, that I feel oddly heroic.

I can't remember my last 5K. The fastest one I even ran was a 18:15 during the running portion of a triathlon many, many moons ago. My plan for this one -- if it can indeed be called a plan -- was to finish with my dignity intact.

I made sure I started near the back of the pack just in front of the chatty clusters of walkers. When the race started, we all were walkers for the first half mile until our stream of sweaty people creasted the banks of the road and spilled across lawns and sidewalks, steadily gaining speed.

Gaining speed is what I should not have done. The old glory day memories of picking off runners one by one overwrote my modest plan at a cost to my creaky quads that I had to pay too soon. Going out too fast has always been a fault of mine. Sheesh! I thought after six years I would have forgotten something. Thankfully, a water stop and a short steep hill gave me and many others an excuse to walk.

With humidity at 90%, no wind, cloudless sky and temperature at 80° and climbing, I settled in to the fastest shuffle I could manage which had me both being passed and passing others. After all, this was a race. To not run the best I could would be dishonest. Without these competitors, I would neither be running (relatively) fast as I was nor having as much fun.

Yes -- fun. Not ROTFLMAO fun, but a steady trickle of joy courtesy of extra oxygen and an increased heartrate -- the gentle violence of being a good animal.

At the last turn to the final straightaway I found a reserve of my long lost speed and decided to burn it. My legs loosened and my stride became fluid and strong. It was six years ago, and I was closing in on another PR. People cheered. I was unstoppable.

I crossed the finish line, glanced at my watch and saw I had run my slowest 5K ever.

Still, milling about with my fellow runners, eating bananas and watermelon, drinking water and Gatorade, I felt like Superman. Nowhere to go but up, up and away. I can always get faster.

On my way back to my car, I picked up an entry form for the next race.

You wouldn't believe my day if I told you. It was fantastic. Thankyou, America. Viva la independance.
Ah, fuckit. I'll tell you anyway.

So here's me, in Florence. I'm tired - hungry, y'know. For shade. To get out of the heat. So I go into a church - small affair, very catholic, gruesome art. So I walk in, and start reading (David Copperfield, incidently). Some American Youth Orchestra is playing and they're not bad, but that's not what catches my eye. The second chair cellist was actually - without the sublime exadgeration of the smitten - the most beautiful girl I'd ever seen.

So I wait after the concert, but she's always with people. There's just no good time. And pretty soon I have to go. Flight connections and so forth. So I leave. I tried to describe the effect she had on me like being a splinter in your head, but a good one. I got laughed at, obviously. So I came up with the analogy that it's like being woken up from a deep, comfy sleep by your favourite song. You want to be angry, but you can't cause you're too busy smiling.

Fast forward two weeks. I'm babysitting my littlest cousin, a karate-kid. We're watching Power Rangers and she asks me to find out one of the actors for her. I log onto everybody's favourite movie database, and, lo and behold, in the list of actors that came up when I entered the ranger's surname is previously mentioned cello girl. So with some judicious googling I find out her email address. I'm feeling a little weird at this point, but hey, it had to be done.

So two weeks go by and no reply. I download the American Online messenger thing and add her - she's on instantly. Uh oh.

She didn't get my email. She won't believe I'm who I say I am and she won't accept it in a word document. Eventually, to salvage a dying situation - that's really not going how I planned - I said, very quickly, "I saw you play in Florence. I went in to read my book and accidently stayed because of you. I tried to talk to you but I had to go. I found you because of my cousin's obsession with power ranger's and google."

So there was a pause, you know. I was thinking it may have been a "I'm ringing InterPol," pause. But no. After a pregnant few minutes, the message came.

You're amazing. I left a box with a note in it at the church asking who you are because I regretted not talking to you. I didn't think you'd find it, but you found me anyway. You're amazing.

So it appears I've become John Cusack in some form of bizarre romantic comedy. Viva la America.

Update: Turns out she's got all the personality of a wet shoe. Plus, whilst she's American, she's convinced she's better than the whole country. So whilst the girl might be a raving knob, it's still a cool story, right?

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