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August Notes

Natalia J. Garland

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Whether you live in the city, suburb, or desert, August is a hot month and a challenge to the human comfort level. As a writer, however, I seem to thrive under contrasting conditions. I need the congested city or the austere desert, the blinding snow or the scorching sun, a stylish blazer or a mishapen sweatshirt in order to really feel inspired and motivated. So, in synchrony with the August heatwave, I have jotted down a few random notes for those of you who (like me) are not away on vacation.

Writing for quality and authenticity
The tool shed in my backyard serves several purposes. In addition to my garden tools, paint supplies, and craft materials, I also keep many books and some boxes of employment records in the shed (it's a big shed--as big as the county building codes allow). Last week, I re-organized some stuff and came across a notebook of poetry I had written a long, long time ago. The poems had been written--hold on to your hat--from 1976 to 1984.

Now that I have my own website (an impossibility in 1984), my immediate reaction was to review the old poems and determine if any of them were suitable for publication. The poems were quite personal, having an ameliorative effect, and were almost like a diary. Anyway, I chose a few of them to re-write. I used adjectives which were more descriptive, replaced some adjectives with verbs, and condensed wordy stanzas into one or two lines. The result was that, although technically superior, the revised poems had lost their freshness. It became apparent that I would have to let go of the revised poems, return the originals to the tool shed or toss them into the garbage can on my way to the backyard, and recognize that my personal growth would not permit me to travel back in time. I could no longer walk in my old shoes.

Writing involves more than trying to save everything. Those old poems represented my inner conflicts during a certain phase of my life. The poems had already fulfilled their importance simply by having engaged me in a process of introspection and expression during those years, and by connecting me with friends who also wrote. Nobody else needs to be privy to that part of my life. But nothing has been lost. Rather, the poems are now given a requiem in this essay which I write for new friends.

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
--The Serenity Prayer--

A rural perspective on suburbia
If you have a minimum of one million dollars in disposable savings, you might be able to afford a rural lifestyle. There was a time when country folk were poor, dirt poor, and sometimes they had to migrate to the cities to find jobs. Now the reverse seems to be true. People leave the urban areas to retire in the country. Then eventually, supermarkets, gas stations, medical centers, and video rental shops begin to pop up. Next, a new working class migrates to find jobs in those markets: that means a need for more houses and schools.

Before anyone wrongly labels me as unsociable, let me explain why I think the rural life is important. People should have choices. If the rural life disappears from the American landscape, then our lifestyle choices are limited to the city or the suburbs. Even if the suburb is somewhat contained and reaches only to the edge of a forest or desert, the solitary country lifestyle is altered by the number of people and cars, the necessity for new streets and traffic lights, increased crime, and so on.

Some people want to live in the open spaces. Some senior citizens look forward to the country life as a retirement option. Some parents prefer to raise their children in a simple down-to-earth manner. They want to hear the rooster crow in the morning, teach their kids how to ride a horse, breed animals to show at the county fair, grow their own tomatoes, see the stars at night, and drive 300 miles to the nearest mall. Living the rural life nowadays, however, seems to mean having a few acres within a generally suburbanized area, or having enough money to purchase land in a remote area and build your own house.

No one can blame people for going where the jobs are, or for enjoying the conveniences of restaurants and discount stores. I have, in fact, been on both sides of this demographic equation. I have migrated to other places in order to obtain education and jobs, thereby fueling the housing and transportation (but not crime) conditions; and I have reversed that direction by seeking the quiet country lifestyle. I have felt thankful for my survival, and I have complained as newcomers are attracted to my location for the same reasons.

American citizens have a right to move around and live wherever they choose. But, is there a right to a lifestyle preference? Should people have a right to live the rural life? Should there be zoning restrictions, limits to business and housing development, and protection of the natural environment? America is no longer an agricultural society with a deep attachment to the earth. It seems that only the rich will be able to afford to live comfortably with a few pigs and a cabbage patch.

Favorite things
It's bagels versus tortillas. If you live in the New York City vicinity, you have access to the best bagels, real bagels. You can stop at a bakery or corner coffee shop and buy a variety of bagels made with a dense interior and thin crust. But, you cannot find a good tortilla. The tortillas are banished to the refrigeration section in the supermarket. They are stiff as cardboard and taste the same.

Now, if you live in the Southwest, you can buy fresh tortillas in every supermarket. The tortillas come in a variety of sizes, both corn and flour, and are soft and supple. But, you cannot find a good bagel. The bagels are bready and heavy, and with no distinguishable crust. The only exception to the depressing Southwest bagel situation is this: you must try a cheddar-jalapeño bagel!

On my bookshelf
Finally. I have found a literary review of excellent quality (with the exception of a couple of stories which I did not like). I am referring to the South Loop Review, (Volume 9), published by Columbia College Chicago. It is devoted to creative non-fiction, and contains the works of both experienced and beginning writers. I dislike most literary reviews--the writers often seem pessimistic, stagnate, and stereotypical of how writers or publishers think they should be. The contributors to the South Loop Review, however, seem life-affirming, diverse, and talented. Since I yearn to find contemporary writers from whom I can learn, I cherish this volume. I hope the next volume will continue the same core of creativity.

No return to normalcy
There was a T.V. news analyst who made the comment that it was a mistake for President Bush, after 9/11, to advise people to return to their normal routine. He argued that the reason the Iraq War is not now popularly supported is that Americans did not adapt themselves to a wartime mode of thinking. He makes a point which I would like to explore. Although I believe Bush wanted to prevent paralysis of the nation's activity and spirit, it is possible that the return-to-normal mode aided the current denial of the threat of terrorism.

What would be a wartime mode of thinking? We would have to acknowledge that terrorists intend to conquer nations (under their version of Islam) and persecute dissenters. We would have to take whatever steps necessary to protect America. Politically, this might mean supporting surveillance at home and prisoner-of-war interrogation techniques (the Consitutionality and effectiveness of such steps is a topic beyond the scope of today's essay). On a personal level, it would mean constant vigilance and the right of citizens to report suspicious behavior, with immunity from lawsuit retaliation.

These three areas: the Patriot Act, the Guantánamo Bay prison, and the John Doe amendment (initiated by Congressman Peter King), are very difficult for Iraq War protestors to understand and support: whether because of legal objections, or because their anger with President Bush has possibly undermined their ability to confront the reality of terrorism generally. For some Americans, their return to normalcy somehow detoured onto the highway to denial.

Thankful for everyday things
Although my living conditions and finances are modest, I am thankful for small but important comforts. The car starts every morning. The air-conditioner runs smoothly day and night. The cupboards are stocked with enough food items to sustain any emergency. Meanwhile, the world is filled with people suffering from disease, hunger, violence, and persecution. And, there are people in America who must rebuild after nature's fires and floods. I have had my share of hardship and misfortune, but I have never directly experienced disaster.

Minneapolis bridge catastrophe
America is burdened with another catastrophic situation. Following 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, we are now trying to cope with the Minneapolis bridge collapse. In my essay, Societal Versus Political Divisions, I wrote that our presidential candidates needed to pay attention to America's deteriorating infrastructure. Unless it becomes evident that terrorists caused the Minneapolis bridge collapse, then our infrastructure must indeed become a campaign platform priority.

Again, Americans have proven themselves to be non-partisan humanitarians when disaster strikes. Everybody tries to help, regardless of race, gender, income, religion, or political affiliation. This is how we were after 9/11. If only we would stay united after the shock wears away. If only we would really repair all our bridges, literally and figuratively. If only we would really fight terrorism. If only..... (Written 08/06/07)

Until we meet again..............stay sane.

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Copyright 2007 Natalia J. Garland