Born in the USA
There are a lot of websites out there and within that, there are a lot of travel blogs. It’s become a bit insular and a circle I know way too much about; so much that I rarely even read other travel blogs anymore (right now, when I have time, I like reading food stories or looking at home DIY projects and blogs as CP and I start do our own fun, hands-on projects in our New Jersey home).
But, in the travel blogging world, a post made waves a couple weeks ago as it took a critical look at living and working in the U.S. and how many of us are perceived.
I really would love for you to read it: An American Traveler Back in America
Now, this post struck me in all kinds of ways. In fact, after my first read, I just let it sit for about a week. I felt myself nodding in agreement. I also felt hurt and worry. Definitely a jumble of emotions. In many respects, I know exactly what she’s talking about and feel it deeply. I’ve written about it here — our over-consumption, how I chucked it all to travel, how I live on so much less money than I used to and am content and happy, how I learned how few ‘things’ we truly need, my own personal attempts to simplify my life, and strive to remember what is REALLY important to me in life: living, laughing, and loving (okay, and eating…but I like to share food with ones I love!).
Mostly I connected with the idea, that much of our society (and, I will add, other countries too) is on auto-pilot. But we are because, frankly, it’s all many of us are taught and know. It’s a myth we live by. You must work to make money to buy more stuff, marry, procreate, die. Many scoff at this, but from a broad generalization, that’s what many do. And why?
A line that struck me a lot:
Why? Why are we afraid of everything? Why do we put up with it? Why do we just accept having a massive mortgage and the newest smartphone and so many bills to pay that we have to go in to work over the weekend to earn overtime as the way? Why has money become our collective religion?
What about happiness? What about living an extraordinary life. What about love? What about adventure? What about joy? What about peace? What about laughter? What about soul?
I’m not saying you can’t have both shopping malls and soul. I’m not saying you can’t be over your head in bills and also be happy (though, show me who is) what I’m saying is why do shopping malls WIN? Why does the rat raceWIN? And, why money above all else?
It may seem like sensational statements, but I do feel that at the core, it is true. In my experience, far too many people here just “have to have” the latest shiny thing whether a phone or shoes or car. Thousands line up at the Apple store for the latest computer or iPhone. Not because they need it, because they want it and marketing and the masses tell them so. Sure, it’s okay to treat yourself if you can time to time, but mostly I just want people to really think and examine more what they are doing and what is important. Travel did help me understand how few material things I truly need on a daily basis and what is important to me. Does it mean I don’t have things? Of course not. But I am more thoughtful about what I need and consume and throw away. And I still prefer experiences and relationships to things.
I always like to point out how some see travel as frivolous and expensive, but, in general, if your friend, co-worker, or sister decides to drop $25,000 on a new car, no one bats an eye. But a crazy trip around the world? “How irresponsible!”
Some of what Kim was saying above reminded me of the concept of the book Ishmael and the ‘myths’ we are all taught from birth basically because it’s all our parents knew and all they were taught.
How do you break the cycle?
You can’t blame a lot of folks who have been fed this myth, this story for generations. In fact, it truly is a lot harder to step outside of it and look in and try to separate yourself from it and see what it is that you TRULY want out of life without letting the noise you ONLY know get in the way of your thoughts. Ya know?
Living in the USA
The post also made me feel bad. And I wanted to examine those feelings. Because I am back here in the U.S. (by choice) and not traveling as much as I used to, I’ve grown some roots again and I am happy. It’s all a balance, right? But being back, I find I have to work harder at continuing to be more conscious of life around me, more conscious of trying to conserve and not waste. There’s no doubt that we are a society of convenience and consumption. And I have to work harder to make the right choice, not the easy choice (a simplistic example: I will ride my bike or take a longer train ride rather than have a car or jump in a taxi). But this can be difficult when, say, I visit CP in New Jersey. There is no train to take and I can’t ride my bike as far with all the hills. So I have to drive (something I haven’t really done in 8 years since I sold my car and love not buying fuel and not polluting) and that bothers me. But it’s a compromise I have chosen to make to be with him. Some may not even understand that or think it’s a non-issue. But it’s a struggle for me because I don’t want to just close my eyes and be blind to my contributions to waste and consumption. I even joined Facebook groups in N.J. and asked about car sharing (very hard to find in the more rural parts). I found some small local transport, but it has very limited routes and hours. And of course, if you are American, you may understand this, it’s also just more ‘odd’ in the suburbs if I am taking some sad bus – people assume I must be down on my luck or lost my license from a DUI conviction. It’s so ingrained, that if I do the ‘different’ thing, there must be a ‘bad’ reason.
I don’t think you can escape being proud of where you are from or feeling nostalgic for ‘home’ wherever that home might be for you. At least I didn’t and I don’t want to. Although, when I travel, I say I am from Chicago, instead of the U.S. It makes it more specific since the U.S. is so huge and so varied.
And of course we have big things I may not agree with here in politics or rampant consumerism, but I think anyone in any country can’t agree with everything. But we also have it pretty good. People like to complain, but we have access to medicine if we need it (unfortunately expensive, but available), clean air, clean, drinkable water, a good infrastructure and far less ‘real’ corruption than many other places.
I am still proud and happy to be not only an American, but living here. Does it mean my head is in the sand? No. I keep learning. I keep examining. Could I be comfortable in Sweden or Germany or Hong Kong? Yes, I believe so. But, right now, I am comfortable here. And I want to be here. Life is what you make it. I can still build a community, compost my food, eat locally, and spend time with the ones I love…if I so choose.
My New Jersey
And not only did I feel bad for some of the positives, I felt bad for poor lambasted New Jersey, the state I’m from, and the state I’m returning to, to be with someone I love. She made a quick uncomplimentary remark because they were staying near a highway with lots of traffic, billboards; which NJ has, but so does every state if that’s all you see. New Jersey gets such a bad rap and it’s funny, because much of it is so beautiful — from the Appalachian Mountains in the west, to all the glacial lakes in the north, to the many charming colonial towns, to the forests, wetlands, and beautiful, natural beaches that are nothing like the “Jersey Shore” of reality-TV fame. I was happy to see many come to Jersey’s defense in the comments. Since I moved away 2o years ago, I’ve always come to NJ’s defense. Probably because my NJ, the part that I grew up in is quite idyllic, green, hilly, and lovely.
I guess the post made me feel bad, because then I questioned myself. Am I going back to a life I escaped? Am I caving in and conforming? Am I still able to examine my life and what I’m contributing to the world and those around me? Am I being too philosophical and analytical?? 🙂
Then I read through the 100+ of comments (clearly this post struck a cord).
This comment struck a cord with me too as I’ve thought the same thing about our comfort of being buried in an iPhone or sealed off in an air-conditioned vehicle:
When I came back from America after my RTW [Round the World], I remember being so frustrated at air conditioning of all things. I would think WHY ARE PEOPLE HERE SO AFRAID TO FEEL! Do they even realize how comfortable their lives are? WHY DO WE ROLL UP OUR WINDOWS TO EXPERIENCES!? Why do we shut any kind of discomfort out?
The author, Kim, later said this in a comment:
I like this quote from Pema Chondra:
“In life we think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem. The real truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together for a time, then they fall back apart. Then they come together and fall apart again. It’s just like that.”
It helps me to remember that life is fluid. There is no SOLUTION, per se. It helps me enjoy the times when things have come together and to remember, when things come apart, that this too shall pass.
I’d love for this to simply be a dialogue and a discussion and I want to hear what you think. But I’d really like you to think about it. To examine it and not just give a knee-jerk reaction as I think that is all too often what we do. But what do we say when we examine ourselves and our lives?
Is this just a navel-gazing, “first-world problems” rant? Or is it okay to dissect this here with you, knowing about my good fortune to be born where and when I was, but still want to live with my eyes wide open?
What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comments.