Having reached what is statistically speaking the midpoint of my life, I’ve learned a few things: good shoes are important, Indian food is better than Chinese, going to bed early is a delightful privilege, people notice your clothes, Tuesdays suck, and recently, that I don’t particularly care for public pools. Continue reading
The Simpsons are an indispensable part of my life. My sense of humor, so intricately entwined with Springfield lore, that when talking to me, people are often heard muttering through their frustration of being on the outside of the joke, “Is that a Simpsons quote?” Continue reading
To paraphrase the Greek philosopher Heraclitus and the vocal artist Otis Redding: “Change is the only constant (and yet) everything still remains the same.” Continue reading
George Costanza once sold his “show about NOTHING” to a bunch of cold NBC execs, including his doomed fiancée Susan, by answering why the couch potatoes of America would watch a show without a purpose; “Because it’s on TV.” It’s on TV used to be a plausible reason to watch TV. When the show aired in 1992, before the limitless possibilities of DVR, DVD’s, podcasts, Kindle, YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, iTunes, HBOnow, and the endless variety of entertainment available via streaming internet channels, what was “on TV” was a good enough reason to watch it as any. Continue reading
Teaching Korean kindergarteners about Rosa Parks involves a lot of backstory. The story doesn’t begin on that bus in Alabama. Its roots are profoundly sad and incomprehensible. I found myself saying things like, “White people didn’t like black people,” and really struggling to find a simple answer to their, “Why?” It is an oversimplification for sure, but slavery and its legacy in America is both undeniably understood as a construct of capitalism yet difficult to comprehend in a moral context. Continue reading
1) “Where are you from?”
1) “Really, me too!”
2) “What state?”
Now, I’m in an argument. This idea of “America” being more than the USA was something that I didn’t think was a dispute until I started traveling. And that is precisely the point of many of the people with whom I argued. They said that USAmericans usurp the name that could technically belong to almost 1 billion people. When I thought about it, we both are correct. One use is nominal; one use is conventional.
The United States of America resides in North America. Brazil resides in South America. Or so I was taught. Others are taught that North and South America are one continent–America. They see maps like this or this. It would be the largest continent if that were true. But even the Olympics do it (5 rings=5 continents)! Adding north and south together, ignoring the codifiers of hemisphere, basically creates this argument of American identity. When we have North and South America, we have useful delineations of place.
Besides the educational discrepancies, we can use plate tectonics, whereby we find a Caribbean plate, a North and South American plate and a Eurasian plate among others to really complicate the continent issue. We can say that United Mexican States are shortened to Mexico. We can mention that nobody refers to himself or herself by continent first. People want to know in which country, not continent you live. But, we should acknowledge one thing. Everyone, from Canada’s frozen north to Patagonia’s frozen south, are all from The Americas, making them “Americans” but in a larger, more ambiguous sense.
To answer this tricky semantic question, I find answers in letters. (If you don’t think one letter matters—look at ship and shit.) People from USA are American from North America, which is part of The Americas. People from Colombia are Colombian from South America, which is part of The Americas. It’s a question of who gets to use the “n” in American. I contest that people who live in the United States of America should be called American, in much the same way that denizens of Venezuela should be called Venezuelan.
Some have called me, and others who feel this way, arrogant or nationalistic. I don’t think it’s arrogant to identify your nationality by its name (which just coincidentally has the same name as the continent). I am proud to be American, but never boastful of my birth land. It’s a wonderful, if flawed land with questionable foreign policy and expanding poverty, but it also has great beauty and great people. The country is called the United States OF America. The acknowledgment of the continent on which it’s perched is in the name. The only other continent/country name sharing is Australia (or is it Oceania?). Although, if China was called the People’s Republic of Asia, and called themselves Asians, I bet we could have similar problem. But history didn’t write that chapter.
The name of America comes from the explorer Amerigo Vespucci, who wrote about his travels to the New World. A German mapmaker in the 16th century labeled the new world thusly, and then before the American Revolution (as we call it) or The American War of Independence (as the British call it) the Declaration of Independence was signed before any other countries from the New World were established and so USA took the name of the region for itself.
I don’t doubt it’s hard to be from anywhere south of the Rio Grande River and feel as though you aren’t considered American. Of course you’re “American”, but that just isn’t the way the word is used anymore. When someone asks you where you are from, do you respond: “Asia, Europe or Africa?” No, people use their country. Also, most Canadians I know would not refer to themselves as Americans despite the fact that their country is the biggest one in North America.
United States of America is the name of the country and history/convention has abbreviated it to refer to the people within as Americans. We can be more accurate and refer to North, Central and South America as ALL part of the larger mass known as The Americas. We can refer to the Spanish/Portuguese speaking countries as part of Latin America. And finally, we can refer to the 317 million diverse people, living in USA, without discrediting our various “American” neighbors and without discomfiture, as Americans.
I made poached eggs two weeks ago. They were good, so I tried again today. That previous culinary achievement led me to think of myself as an expert, but most egg-poaching experts know that fresh eggs are the key for success. These particular eggs were now four days away from expiration and therefore far from rancid yet also far from fresh. I went through six eggs before giving up and eating my cold sausages and lonely bread in a frustrated huff. The point is that thinking you know how to do something doesn’t make you an expert. It’s a flaw of my personality of which I’m often reminded.
I like to talk about politics and discuss the never-ending problems. I like to look at people’s hands and pretend to understand how the lines in their palms can determine their fate. I like to analyze dreams and imagine how the subconscious is interacting with our personal lives. I like to chat about movies and music and the symbolism and hidden meanings within them. BUT, simply because I like to do that, it doesn’t make me an expert.
“Often wrong, and never in doubt,” is how my ex-girlfriend’s mother used to describe me. I’ve understood it as part of my personality now. To me it means, “I think I’m an expert on everything.” Sometimes, when dealing with people who know less about a given topic than I do, it’s possible to demonstrate expertise. Yet, when I find myself speaking to an actual authority on a subject, I’m left snorkeling with a straw.
Just because I’ve traveled doesn’t mean I understand an entire country. Just because I’ve been in relationships doesn’t mean I understand yours. Just because I’ve had relatives who’ve died doesn’t mean I understand your sorrow. Just because I’ve done something doesn’t mean I know how it should be done.
These are hard lessons to learn for someone who likes to know it all. I want to know it all. I watch informational videos and documentaries. I read biographies and history books. There is simply too much to learn. A focus is necessary to know it all. But since I’m interested in so many things, I must work hard to avoid being the colloquial “jack-of-all-trades and master-of-none.”
ISIS spread across northern Iraq like a fire in a cornfield. We know they sacked the major towns of Tikrit, Mosul and others, commandeering the US supplied arsenal provided for that ragtag national army of deserters. They opened bank vaults, unlocked prisons, murdered civilians, and tipped any sense of balance in the tinderbox that is modern day Iraq. Continue reading
Back in college, at the Blue Hen University of Delaware, I used to enjoy reading on a little bench in the waning sun of autumn. There was a squirrel that would come visit me and I’d throw him a nut or whatever I had. I like to think it was the same squirrel every time, but who knows? The trees would whisper in the cool breezes, the students were wandering all around, oblivious to my bench, and it was a respite from the normal college life of binge drinking, Adderall cramming or trying to be cool. But I remember once, I had a strange day sitting there. Continue reading
The Internet helps us keep up with trending topics such as Toronto mayor Rob Ford’s amazingly embarrassing but slightly humanizing descent into crack-smoking, drunken hilarity, awesome viral videos like JCVD doing badass splits on the side mirrors of two massive big rigs, and moral outrage through informative posts about gay bashing, dolphin killing or suffering in general. Sometimes there is a post that comes through the newsfeed on Facebook that touches me, or hurts me, or makes me LOL (:>) Continue reading