The new default icon is from ladyelaine's description of me in her synaesthesia version of my Describe your flist meme from earlier today. I like the colors. Maybe I'll redo my site in them. Make it look a bit different. :)
Anyway, the main point of this post comes from a brief conversation with lazypadawan--the America-bashing, general anti-conservative stance that emerges on the web (to a point where it's almost unheard of to be an outspoken conservative), has kind of gotten under my skin as well. I have no desire to liberal-bash, though, so what I want to do is talk about my country and why I love it. Just one of those "Deal with it" things. Fair warnings to conservatives, though: I also plan to go on at length about why I love my state--the dreaded Massachusetts--mad as it drives me sometimes.
Things I love about America:
There's this wild, whacky, wonderful religious imagination here. It looks chaotic and crazy from the outside, but on the inside, it's energizing. People ask the big questions, over and over, and are never satisfied with any answer for long. Even the atheists are part of this--most serious atheists of my acquaintance are people who constantly seek and ask questions about the nature of the universe--profoundly religious questions, even if faith-based answers are rejected. They aren't just nihilists.
On a corollary, while there's friction at the edges where groups run up against each other--and even sincere disagreements about the place of religion in society--all but a very small fringe of people takes for granted that religious pluralism is part of the culture. Even in small towns, there are large numbers of churches, often sharing parking lots. (The Baptist church and the Presbyterian church shared one large parking lot across from the library in Perry. The Free Methodist was across from the Presbyterian, and the United Methodist was a little ways away. There were two Catholic churches, a Mormon church, and several Fundamentalist churches in the outlying areas... please recall, the town had less than four thousand people.) In the cities, it's even more pronounced. But the incidences of religious violence are, while not non-existent, rare enough to be shocking, front page news when they happen. People are outraged and sickened, and it's not an act.
Can I just stress that? It's not an act. People are both genuinely religious and genuinely pluralistic, and open to the idea of the ideological marketplace. We get a grin out of learning things about what other people believe. My mother and grandmother have celebrated Passover both with me at home (I'm a convert), and my mother has celebrated at her church. I gave money to a Carmelite nun on my way home today, and she gave me a non-religious brochure on keeping safe during disasters. American religious culture delights me on a lot of levels.
Yes, there are other things.
Despite the irritation factor, I love the American tendency to assume things are our fault and we can fix them if we just apply ourselves by taking whatever action the particular person recommends--whether it's pulling troops out of Iraq or re-building their electric grid. We're fixers and tinkerers by nature, and there's not a much more American image, to my mind, than McGuyver making a machine out of paper clips, pipe cleaners, and duct tape. We may express cyncism over these things outwardly, but I think if you scratch most Americans deeply enough, you'll find a nation of Mr. and Ms. Fix-Its. It's a hopelessly optimistic attitude, and I love being inside of it, even when I disagree with whatever the strategy is.
The mix of people and cultures is astonishing. I prefer the Northeast to the Southwest on this--the little neighborhoods that flourish and develop their own personalities. It's the pot luck world I described in my alter-ego's LJ (miss_w), and I just find it incredibly fun, shallow as it sounds. My Polish/Northern-Anglo friend married a Lebanese/Southern-Anglo man, and her wedding was just a great mish-mash of all the traditions. Other weddings--just in my family--have featured Portuguese and German customs. Fun. Is that so wrong?
When I was fourteen, my family took a trip around the country in my step-grandfather's old boat of a car. We took the southern route out and the northern route back. I can honestly say that, while there are parts of the country I wouldn't want to live in, there was no part where I didn't find something that just made me go, "Whoa!"
The Great Plains are so... vast. I remember going down the freeway, and being able to see three different thunderstorms, none of which we were actually in (it was sunny around the car). How big is that? The sky is almost overwhelming.
The desert is harsh and challenging, but the sun hits the rocks in the most gorgeous shades. I lived in Albuquerque for awhile, and the mountain ridge there is the Sandia ridge. Sandia means "watermelon," and--if I'm lying, I'm dying--the mountains turn the color of watermelon at sunset. The sky in the desert is so clear it hurts your eyes.
I lived in L.A. for a month, in a not-so-good part of town, but there are places where you can turn off a ratty street and find yourself in the middle of a gorgeous neighborhood--I turned off Wilshire at a nasty looking gas station to walk three miles up to Hollywood Boulevard, and descovered this wonderful area full of mansions. Just out of nowhere. I also liked Pasadena. It just has a wonderful look to it. And then there's the flakiness. You know what? I like that, too. I grinned from ear to ear when an L.A. news station had a serious cover story titled, "Is G-d punishing Los Angeles?" (See above. That religious imagination again.)
I saw the Dakotas, and I saw Mt. Rushmore (better than it looks in the ubiquitous movie shots; it was actually a nice visit). Coming into Las Vegas at night, this glittering jewel in the middle of the black, is amazing. Chicago just rises up out of the Plains like a mirage. Indiana (I spent a summer there) is friendly and... how to explain the terrain? I don't know. There's something gentle about the land (though the tornadoes, not so much).
New York? I think the world saw what New York is made of a couple of years ago. And that's common, too. We enjoy our surface bickering--we wouldn't do it if we didn't--but under it, neighbors are neighbors.
Western New York. Lord help me, but I'm going through my periodic obsession with my home area. If you've never been to Letchworth State Park, I can't recommend it as a vacation spot highly enough. It's simply beautiful. It was two miles from Perry, where I grew up; a major plus of a town that didn't have that many. And is there anything I can say about Niagara Falls that isn't, well, obvious? That was also close by.
I love American patriotic music. Gimme the "Star-Spangled Banner" or "America the Beautiful." I love the statue of liberty. I love stories of immigrants, from the Pilgrims up to the people arriving at the docks now. I love Emma Lazarus's poem, The Great Colossus. I love stuffy old Boston, and I love touring our library and seeing the "Palace for the People" that the Victorians saw fit to grace the city with--along with the legend "Free to all." Incredible concept.
Now, getting into Massachusetts:
I know I've compained about the incredible liberal bias here, but when I do that, please recall something: I moved here deliberately, knowing full well what I was getting into. I went to undergraduate school here as well as grad school, and my family came from here before the Revolution. Massachusetts seems to have its reputation whipsaw back and forth between stuffy conservative and insane liberal, but the more you learn, the more you realize that Massachusetts was, is, and ever will be a Puritan state in its outlook. Not its theology, mind you--we couldn't be much further--but in its belief that being morally in the right is imperative and that it should lead the way. We don't always agree what that is, but man alive, every political argument in Boston is at its root a moral argument. The city sees itself--even when it won't admit it--as the proverbial city on the hill. It's accidental neither that the Revolution started here nor that it was a major center of abolitionist activity.
I love being in Massachusetts, mad and frustrating as it is for a social conservative. To me, Massachusetts will always be the heart of America, with all the lovely swirling ideas stewing in a microcosm.
In other words, GOP--I'm a Republican, but please knock off the Massaphobic campaign tactics. I'm likely to dump some tea out of spite. :)