Still here in the 'ol US of A. This is the longest I've been back since I moved abroad almost six years ago.
So what. So ... I'm noticing some things that I want to stream out here, maybe poetically, maybe rant-tastically maybe understandingly, probably not, and yet likely, frankly.
First of all, the longer I'm here, the more pressure I feel from every bit of media I encounter--billboards, TV moments, magazine covers, taxi-casts, etc.--to be perfect. I mean, to be absolutely model, white-wash perfect as well as "in the know" in terms of 'getting' what is popularly dictated around this country as 'cool.' For such a declaration of independence, you sure are discouraged here, by the wizards of money and media, from having a mind of your own.
I find myself a bit repulsed by this--understandably so. I mean, it's as if there is this homogenous ideal of perfection constantly blasting in your face in this country. I liken it to the propaganda trucks in Thailand that drive by with story-high speakers announcing some political line of reason at a volume that just hurts. Moreover it's annoying AND deeply boring.
Yes, this is what this perfection ideal resembles here in the US, only it plays ALL the time, and is more deeply offensive as an insult to human intelligence and potential. I think people are starting to tune it out as much as they can, but the vast majority do not, or simply can't afford to.
Same as when you can't afford to buy food here that isn't instant, addictive and toxic. A matter of fact for many here.
I'm not fat. I'm not ugly. Most of all, I'm not quick to assign these titles to anyone. But there is something going on here that wants me to lie down on my back and make passionate love with a socially-acceptable cookie cutter--and I f&^%$# HATE it.
Another thing I notice here is that everything is radically convenient and demassified.
Demassification: for example, you have about 17 thousand options for hand soap in a department store (okay, okay, maybe only 1000 in the local drug store, but still)! You have so many options for every single one of your imagined "needs" that have been marketed to you by advertising based on a socially-acceptable version of perfection.
You have countless magazines dedicated not only to needlepoint but also to "wool-based needlepoint among those age 40-50 who own french bulldogs, walk with their friends around the mall on Wednesdays and have a secret fascination with kale chips to the point it disturbs their life."
So what about convenience? Isn't it such a good thing--such a wonderful, wonderful thing? I guess so, as long as you are not in the land of excess--i.e., here.
Convenience allows everyone to believe that they are an island--that they can do everything themselves, that everything is custom-fit to them. And it creates a false idea independence and a deeper sense of loneliness ... conveniently assuaged by consuming things and buying products.
This radical degree of individualism--what would make Paul Simon feel trite as he strums the first chords of "I am a rock"--has set this country into a mode of coolness and impatience as well as exaggerated liberty to the point of disconnect, neurosis and an even more profound sense of trying to achieve perfection (or emotional stability provided by antipsychotic drugs that numb you to the way things are here because your nature actually doesn't like it) so that you are loved, by a society that can't possibly love you because it's full of people too busy looking at themselves, trying to find their identity through material things and achieve perfection for absolutely no reason at all. (<Yes that was the longest sentence ever, but I know and I approve of it because this was the peak point of what you now realize is my current rant.)
I'm not really stunned so much as pleasantly surprised at how clear this has all become to me, at a conscious level. In fact, I will be honest that this idea, which comes out now with ease and yet likely sounds "mean," or "extreme," or "negative" is the reason I left this country. It is exactly what I felt here since childhood--this sense of disconnect and misplaced priorities. I might have fit into molds here and there ... but I always felt anything but free to be, just to be. Now, I can't wait to get out again, to where I live now and almost anywhere else but here, where a person has at least a chance to feel this way.
I realize that for foreigners visiting the US, these concepts don't cut to the bone in the same conscious way that they would a native--but they still cut, and just as deep.
I know this because I began ten years ago to date men outside the US culture set. I started with Turks in the US, and when I became an expat, I migrated to an Egyptian, then an Indian, then a South African Brit, then a Jordanian, an Iranian, then a Spaniard, then an Argentinian, then a bit of time with a Greek, then a Qatari, then Italy, Lebanon, UK ... I'm sure I'm missing someone and am also sure they wouldn't mind.
The point of me divulging this is that I went this far out of my comfort zone, personally, and repeatedly, to get out of where I was, socially and emotionally, back here in the US.
I longed deeply to learn, from intimate experiences, how to be and think different because I hated the feeling this culture gave me. I learned, as a result, to be less self-conscious and more self accepting; to understand human nature and the subjectivity of preference, and to genuinely think deeply about others--even if they served no immediate utilitarian purpose--to the point of displaying this in my actions, as a second nature.
It has been anything but easy.
I remember one of my first Turkish boyfriends--a brilliant man who is highly professional and authentic--saying to me: "I don't like all of the privacy here--everyone is so private ... everything is so cold."
Now, I sit in a nice hotel in Chicago, where he and I used to hang out, and I hear his words and feel their impact ring through every cell in my body.
More than any of this stuff I am going on about, I see that everyone is stuck inside this machine. It's not choice. I shared a hotel with my sister for two days ... and I see, she can't help it. She can't help the way she is. Nobody can. It's the design of this society--to be really, really independent--and everyone falls in line with that to a certain extent.
I would too, if I lived here. And this visit has shown me exactly why I will do everything I can to continue to avoid this.