There is no external fucking wilderness any longer, we can no longer move westward... maybe it is time for a little fucking introspection and internal fucking resolution...
Don't try this at home kids, leave it to the fucking professionals.
"Whoever we want to be"
By Alex Markels
In 1973, a year after my father committed suicide, my mother decided to reinvent our family's life. Determined to escape the pity friends and family heaped on her and to shake off the stigma of being a 36-year-old widow, she marched my two brothers and me down to Union Station in Chicago and herded us aboard a train for San Francisco. Our transformation began as soon as we saw Nebraska's cornfields give way to Colorado's Rocky Mountains. By the time we caught our first sight of the Golden Gate Bridge, our collective slate seemed all but wiped clean.
To us, California was terra incognita . Aside from an uncle who met us at the train station, we knew no one. And, more important, no one knew us. We could be whoever we wanted to be. My mom immediately decided that she would no longer be "Mike," the nickname my father had given her and, other than "Mom," the only name by which I'd ever known her. Instead, she became Marcia, her proper name, but one no one had called her since childhood. I didn't change my name, but I soon traded a hockey stick and an ice rink for a script and a stage, and joined the drama club at my middle school--something I wouldn't have been caught dead doing in my former incarnation as a Chicago street kid. When my new friends asked, as they inevitably did, what happened to my dad, I said he died of a heart attack (as my mother had told her new friends).
Our reinvention, I figured, was an outgrowth of our troubled past, but I soon discovered that re-created lives like ours were a dime a dozen in California. My new best friend's family had recently uprooted itself from Pennsylvania after a messy divorce--his mom had changed her name, too. And my mother's fresh set of friends, culled, in part, from her new job as a career counselor, was filled with tales of personal transformation: accountants turned musicians from Minneapolis, Jews turned Buddhists from Boston, straights living openly as gays from New Jersey.
Unique only in our own fiercely independent minds, we were part of a wave that brought upwards of 3 million newcomers to California in the 1970s--more than a quarter of a million people in '73 alone. Ours, in fact, was but one small ripple in a 400-year-long human tide that has washed over the nation since the Mayflower tied up at Plymouth Rock: Russian immigrants fleeing the czar; migrant farmers running from Oklahoma's dust bowl; fledgling Broadway actors bent on erasing their roots across the river in Queens. "The ability to escape the burden of the past, both collective and individual, is the central dream of the modern world," James M. Jasper writes in his book, Restless Nation: Starting Over in America. In the land where that dream is realized by someone almost every day, Jasper continues, "Americans' famous optimism comes from the confidence that you can always find a new place that is right (or at least better) for you, a place where you can start over on a better track."
Chicken feet. From the first pilgrims who came to practice their reinvented religion free from persecution to the undocumented immigrants who now trek like Moses across the Sonoran desert to an economic Promised Land, Americans new and old have always believed in the opportunity--indeed, the right--to reinvent their lives in whatever idiosyncratic ways they choose, a trait that, ironically, has come to define our commonality as Americans.
For people like Michelle Ling, it means "I get to eat chicken feet [a Chinese delicacy] when I want, where I want," the young writer recently told television journalist Bill Moyers in his documentary Becoming American: The Chinese Experience. "I get to compose my life one piece at a time--however I feel like it." Moyers says he believes Ling's proud predilection for chicken feet illustrates "the essence of the American experience. All of us feel we have the ability to compose our lives, to invent the person we want to be, and, if we want, to do it several times over."
It's an ethic the Founding Fathers embedded in the Constitution, which before they declared our right to pray and say what we like, ensured that we could declare bankruptcy and start anew without fear of going to debtors' prison. To be sure, while we like to boast that ours is the land of opportunity, it's probably more accurate to call it the land of the second chance. Walt Disney's Laugh-O-gram Films went bankrupt in 1923, long before Mickey Mouse became an American icon, and Abraham Lincoln went broke 27 years before he became president. (Honest Abe eventually paid back every dime.) "The Founding Fathers," says Harvard University law Prof. Elizabeth Warren,"believed in a culture of economic rebirth."
Indeed, in the nation's early days, perched at the edge of a vast frontier, our government-sanctioned manifest destiny encouraged us not only to put down roots most anywhere we pleased but to pick up and move somewhere else whenever we felt the urge. "An American will build a house in which to pass his old age and sell it before the roof is on," wrote Alexis de Tocqueville. "He will take up a profession and leave it, settle in one place and soon go off elsewhere with his changing desires."
For all that has changed in the 169 years since Tocqueville made that observation, he might as well have been writing about Americans today. And although our once boundless frontier has long since been subdivided into quarter-acre lots, a collection of incentives--write-offs for moving expenses, loopholes that let you sell your home tax free after just two years, corporate relocation plans, even subsidized highway construction--encourage us to keep heading for greener pastures.
Thus we continue our collective worship of the blank sheet of paper. Our literature celebrates the fresh start at every turn, from F. Scott Fitzgerald's Jimmy Gatz, who transformed himself into the great Jay Gatsby, to Jack Kerouac's Sal Paradise, who reinvented himself On the Road in a way that has become a rite of passage for young Americans. So, of course, do bulging shelves of self-help books, each title promising to help us re-create our businesses, our careers, and our bodies. (Not that the cult of self-improvement is anything new. First published in 1733, Ben Franklin's Poor Richard ' s Almanac, which spouts such proverbial advice as "Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise," was, perhaps, America's first self-help book.) And with a mass media in perpetual pursuit of the "new and improved," our celebrity heroes' commercial and artistic survival depends on their ability to remake themselves over and over again. Consider the pop star Madonna (news - web sites), whose new Re-Invention world tour mixes references to the Hebrew cabala (her religion du jour) with dance scenes of skimpily clad soldiers and women dressed in mini-burkas--all in an effort to supplant her last incarnation as a children's-book author.
Nowhere is our yearning for renewal more evident than in the ways we practice religion. While the seeds of the nation sprouted, in part, from the freedom to follow our faiths, it quickly morphed into the freedom to change religions and even create new ones. Rooted in a Protestantism that afforded each of us the democratic chance for personal communion with God, "we, more than anyone, have had the freedom to . . . find the brand of religion that fits who we want to be," says Jasper. Christian evangelicals are drawn by the promise of the ultimate comeback: to be born again. With everyone from rock stars to presidents swelling the ranks of the reborn, even those who aren't converts believe in a sort of instant karma, a chance not only to become the "new you" overnight but also to erase the "old you" with as little as a prayer or a plastic surgeon's knife. "There's this cultural notion in America now of rapid, almost traceless change that leaves no stretch marks, because whatever came before has been completely obliterated," says the satirist Harry Shearer. "Personal history becomes irrelevant." The upside, he says, "is a thriving plastic surgery industry," as well as the chance for everyone from Tammy Faye Bakker to Ahmad Chalabi to stage a comeback. But the downside is a tendency to forgive too easily and to forget too quickly. In the rush to reinvent ourselves, we may lose perspective on where we've come from--sometimes rewriting history itself.
Democrats... snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, daily!
slap my salmon, baby