Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Independence Day

Tomorrow is the fourth of July, our American independence day. We typically mark the occasion with barbecues, fireworks and celebration to observe patriotism toward our nation and that gives me pause. I have serious issues with our current administration and with the direction our nation has taken in recent years on a plethora of issues but I’m not going to address them – it will only make me angry, frustrated and it’s pointless. When I think of America, I’m not thinking of our politics. When I think of patriotism, I’m not thinking of nationalism or arrogance. I’m thinking of America.

There is no other country on earth like this one. I have lived in others and traveled through many and I’ve found something to love about them all, but I’m an American and I choose to live here. We’re mere toddlers compared with our cousins in Europe and infants compared to the ancient cultures in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. We don’t have much history in comparison, but the idea that we were founded on the concepts of individual rights and freedom from persecution was groundbreaking.

It still is.

Our country has at times acted the bully and at other times, the protector. As a people, we are among the most compassionate and generous on earth. I look at this Independence Day as an opportunity to re-evaluate what it means to me to be an American and what I want to declare personal independence from.

1. Isolation. I want to be free of the isolation I feel personally and culturally. On a personal level, I’m working on it. I make meaningful connections in cyberspace and soon I’ll connect with flesh and blood writers when I attend the writers’ retreat. I need to spend more time with friends and family.

I want to continue to learn about other cultures and nations. When someone mentions Lahore, Saskatoon, Darfur or Belarus, I want to be able to visualize where those places are and what kinds of places they are. I want to understand basic principles about religions practiced around the world and what languages are spoken in different regions. A Russian immigrant friend was recently visiting and was trying to explain to me where she was from. I was embarrassed to find that the only books I had with maps of other countries were books on wine growing regions around the world. I have an atlas now. I also have a book that I bought while on vacation a couple of years ago that I recommend as a primer. It’s called What Every American Should Know About the Rest of the World: Your Guide to Today’s Hot Spots, Hot Shots and Incendiary Issues. It was published in 2003 so it’s a little dated, but it’s an easy read and a pretty good reference. I want to read more books in translation and understand who the artists and writers in other countries are. The Reading the World website has been a great resource for finding international voices.

2. The Day Job. I’m not looking for total independence from my day job – at least not yet. What I’m looking for is the ability to step away and continue to remind myself that I am not my job. The world will not collapse if I don’t respond to each and every email immediately. I seek only independence from work obsession and the power to walk away at the end of the day. It will still be there tomorrow.

3. Consumerism. Less, better and sustainable is what we need. We are, most of us, shameless over-consumers. Too many purchases, too many clothes, jewelry, furniture, books, magazines, music, lawn chairs, cell phones, iPods, TV sets, DVD players, shoes, toys, appliances – too much. I don’t need all the things I buy. A few nice clothes, good books, great music, a wonderful piece of original artwork – less and better is more. I want to buy less and from real people, not worldwide corporations. I’ll buy less from Amazon and more from Tattered Cover. I’ll resist the urge to buy the shoes and clothes I won’t really wear. It’s better for the planet, it’s better for local merchants and it reduces my dependence on the day job.

4. People and Activities. I’ll strive toward independence from those activities that don’t enrich my life. Life is short, maybe shorter than we think and our time is precious. Better a day in the yard with Scott and Amedeo Modigliani (our dog), than an afternoon at a party we're attending out of obligation.

On this day, I’ll strive to be a better partner and friend, a better citizen in my country, and of the world and a better inhabitant of the planet.

What would you like to declare independence from?

I wish you a very happy Independence Day.


Anonymous said...

What a wonderful and inspiring post. First congratulations on Independence day.
IMHO , people do mistake American people with the American Government.
No, this is not going to be a political response.

A few recommendations from Urdu/Punjabi literature:
1 Mirza Ghalib's poetry. Who I think is the best poet of Urdu.

2 Poetry of some of the Sufis; including Bulhe Shah or Baba Farid. these are in Punjabi. Perhaps Rumi translated from Persian.

3 Urdu Novel "Raja Gidh" by Bano Qudsia; a famous female writer.

4 Short stories of Saadat Hassan Minto. You might enjoy his famous "Letter to Uncle Sam". written in the 50's.
He is famous for writing on controversial issues. and three times had to face charges in court due to his writings.

All the above have been translated into English and other languages.

Hope you fulfill all the wishes, you mention.

Anonymous said...


Today's blog strikes me as one of your most thought-provoking posts to date.
The question;- "What would you like to declare independence from" BEGS a period sometime during our day for introspection.

Rather than share a long-wided personal response here; I'd like to try and make a meaningful addition to the question by addressing the subject of independence and responsibility to the individual pursuit of happiness.

To paraphrase Viktor Frankl, a holocaust survivor; he wrote about his fellow prisoners and the change in attitude that he felt was needed from them in order to survive. He wrote: "it did not really matter what we expected from life, but what life expected from us".
Perhaps as writers and artists, life begs us to develop and share our gifts, thoughts, inspirations, and creations with others.
We may have a responsibility to write, paint, and create beautiful, and uplifting books, poems, and images as often and consistently as we are able in our lifetimes.

That said, once again, I am so very proud of you, in the most sincere sense ; simply because you take time out of your very busy day to share yourself;- your incredibly interesting mind and humor, and ask these important questions.

I love you, -S

Patti said...

i want independence from that hair that grows on the end of my chin...that i never see until it's too late.

(ok, and from other things too, but today i wanted to be your goofball comment)

Lisa said...

Reality, I'm so glad you commented and and confirmed what I suspect is widely true around the world, but I suppose many Americans are just as guilty of stereotyping people from other countries based on only what they read about politically. Maybe someday more people will realize that we're all people and each American, Canadian, Iranian, and Bulgarian is as different from his or her countrymen as each sibling in a family is different from the other. Thank you so much for the recommendations. These are exactly the kinds of things I want to intersperse more with books I read from American, Canadian and British writers.

Scott, thank you for your insightful comments and thank you for continuing the discussion with me while we tried to identify what kinds of fruits trees are growing in the yard! The apples won't get big enough to eat, the birds will finish off the cherries by the time they're ripe, but I'm really anxious to find out if those other fruits are really plums. xoxoxo

Patti, you are too funny! Ahem, but I'll have to add that to my list too -- only mine's a mole on my cheek. Why is it that those rogue hairs can stay in hiding for days or weeks and then they materialize, already inches long???

Yellow said...

I too, in the UK, have a skewed image in my head of Americans. And thank you for pointing out that I also assosciate the people with the Administration.
However, on a positive note, I and my two children (aged 3 and 6) watch a lot of American children's educational programmes. I love the care and tenderness and joy in Bear in the Big Blue House, Little Bear is similar in teaching values of responsibility, and we've recently become huge fans of The Wonder Pets. Knowing that these are the messages you grown ups wants to communiate with your treasured offspring, I now battle with the 'power crazed, arrogant......' prejudices againt you guys that I've built up in my mind. I will aim to be independant from my past crutches and suppositions and try to look with fresh eyes on the world.

Lisa said...

Yellow, I'm so glad the blogosphere is proving to be a place where we can get a sense for who other people are through a connection of shared passions. Headlines show us what our governments do, but individual connections like these show that we are all just mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, daughters, friends, writers, painters and human beings looking to find and create what is beautiful and hoping sometimes to connect with others who seek the same.

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Literary Quote

It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything.

Virginia Woolf