Category Archives: Views by Country

Dear World…

grandpa-simpsonLet me tell you about my embarrassing grandpa—not my actual grandfather because both real ones died before I remember, but the metaphoric grandpa you may recognize.

Grandpa expresses himself less nimbly than he once did. He isn’t the silver-tongued devil who swept my grandmother away, though in his imagination he remains vital and even sexy. In fact, as my grandpa’s store of words empties year by year, he has more to say. He has little governor—his brake pads malfunction regularly. A mind that once listened now bulls in, crowding every room with ambling and clichéd speeches about hard-tested wisdom, a right way of seeing and thinking born of ossified and unassailable memory and experience.

Listeners easily place his perspectives in more ignorant—he says “innocent”—times when consciousness-raising didn’t merit a name. The closest he comes to apologizing for diminishing others is excusing himself for coming up in another era. He loves to point out how much better we got along when we didn’t question the way things are. He pines for those days and wonders out loud why they can’t come back.

Don’t try to talk to my grandpa about how bad the good old days were. He may wait his turn to speak, but he will respond to the last thing you said as if it were the only thing you said. More likely, he will dismiss you as naïve. Grandpa’s learning years are over. He knows it’s easier to reinforce his ideas than to build new ones, and he can easily find all the information (or misinformation) he needs to support his beliefs. He only has to face the world in aggregate. The minute and intimate and human effect of any action is moot.

So please don’t bring up Grandpa’s neighbors. Too many of them have moved in, he carps, and ruined his nostalgic notion of unity and solidarity. Never mind that these new neighbors retrieve his grill cover when the wind carries it away or that they shovel snow from his walk along with their own. Never mind that they listen politely as he spews vitriol on the block party. He won’t acknowledge how grateful they are or how they’d rather leave him alone than impose. Their presence, he figures, will only attract more like them. Just to discourage new arrivals, he’d happily evict them.

My grandpa has revised his past to flatter his self-image. He remembers hard work and not luck, gumption and not circumstance, shrewdness and not his head start. He can’t fathom why everyone can’t be (and shouldn’t be) like him, and he never apologizes for his good fortune. Or shares. He won’t hand out what hasn’t been earned, and everything he and friends possess has been earned. The rest, apparently, are takers.

Apologies in general are not my grandpa’s thing. He is past considering other people’s feelings. He will tell you it’s natural he comes first and has reached an age and stature when regret is superfluous. He is exceptional, exempt from regret.

The appalling stuff Grandpa says—the foul words, the hate-filled language, the crude descriptions, the epithets—sometimes make people titter. Because basic social decency demands you respect him, his vile attitudes at times sound humorous, almost like a five-year-old stringing curse words together. He can’t really mean it, you tell yourself, and, as long as he doesn’t enact his pronouncements, he’s a harmless coot. He won’t be around too much more time, you repeat. That faith becomes consolation and excuse.

Occasionally my grandpa rouses the will to play nice, showing glimpses of his former civility. I’m told those moments should make me happy, make me accept him as my elder. But the worst aspect of my grandpa is that I must accept him. The first-person possessive pronoun “my” unites us. What I hate in him comes from our common stock. The same nation made us, and his blood is mine. Yet World, you need to know—by “embarrassing,” I mean “shameful.” I cannot unmake my grandpa or deny him. I can, however, do what he can’t. I’m sorry and determined not to become him.

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Filed under Aging, Allegory, America, Apologies, Criticism, Dissent, Empathy, Essays, Hate, Identity, Jeremiads, Laments, Meditations, Metaphor, Modern Life, Nostalgia, Opinion, Politics, Sturm und Drang, Thoughts, Views by Country, Words, Worry

Where Are the Albanians, Estonians, and Greenlanders?

MyMap2My fellow WordPressians know about the square on the Site Stats page called “Views by Country.” If you don’t, know this: when someone from Albania visits my WordPress Site, Albania turns a hue of yellowish, orange-ish red—pumpkin to tomato—deepening as the number grows. Click a link called “Summaries” and you see all the countries that have visited since February 12th 2012, which, in blog chronology, is essentially all time.

I admit I’m collecting countries the way a quilter collects scraps, hoping someday to patch the planet without holes, from Belarus to Uruguay, from Suriname to Greenland.

Okay, I chose those countries deliberately because no one from them has ever visited my blog, and I’m hoping my attention will snag some Google searches and garner love in return. I‘m finished trying to figure out why Belarusians or Uruguayans—or for that matter Paraguayans—might not care to hear what I have to say and what topics attract people from French Guiana and Kazakhstan. Now I’m begging.

Last week, I received my first visitor from Mongolia, and I pictured him in a loud internet café in Ulan Bator, hunched over a laptop, pulling in some attenuated connection from elsewhere just to read my scattered thoughts on metaphor or find my perspective on Jean Follain. It is indeed a small world after all when readers visit from countries where approximately 30% of the population is nomadic.

Of course, I don’t really know why anyone visits from anywhere, but perhaps they’re practicing their English, borrowing a borrowed image, or maybe adjusting my meditation on Huck Finn and Holden Caulfield into a fresh English paper. I don’t mind. I don’t mind at all. I like believing something I’ve said finds a place somewhere larger than my circle of friends, Chicago, or even the US. I wish someone from Guatemala—the only nation I lack in Central America—would find some value in my work.

My daughter introduced me to site called Free Rice to help me learn countries by their shapes on a map, but I have to rely on wiki-search and my imagination to know anything about Botswana where, though I’m a fan of Amantle Montsho, I say nothing relevant.

Travel is not one of my passions, as it is for other people. They’re braver. They love alien sights and sounds, the challenge of fulfilling their needs in novel ways, and meeting strangers whose culture and experience is radically different from their own. I like home. Or, more accurately, I only like the meeting part of travel and wish foreign visitors would occasionally stop by, especially people from Estonia, home of the singing revolution and somewhere apparently no one likes me.

You may think me a crass collector, someone interested in stamps, not the people who use them. My defense is the warmth I feel when a gray country turns orange or an orange country turns persimmon. They say all of us breathe a little of the oxygen Caesar breathed, but, in a time when any soul might meet and even mingle with another in cyberspace, we have so much promise to do more. I’m silly enough to believe in handshakes through electronic channels. The big blank of China—though I know it’s largely closed to traffic from the rest of the world—may someday shift, and we can exchange thoughts on Elizabeth Bishop or the devastation of envy.

I imagine what the world will be when it’s entirely orange, or even red. Perhaps we can all be friends at last.

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Filed under Ambition, Blogging, Chicago, Essays, Gemeinschaft, Gesellschaft, Gratitude, Home Life, Hope, Identity, life, Modern Life, Numbers, Solitude, Thoughts, Travel, Views by Country