Normal life in America (ca 1995)

Going through old files yesterday, i ditched most of ’em. My new modus operandi is that if i’m not engaged in something today, or have definite plans to be engaged in it within a month or so, there’s no point in hanging onto a paper record “in case” i get to it in future. The future has its own fast-evolving set of circumstances, and its own ceaseless feed of interesting stuff, and its own imperative, and it’s unlikely that something i came across today will still be relevent. And if it is, odds are it’ll be available on-line.

Here’s an exception : a short but powerful piece of writing that i clipped from the May-June 1995 issue of Utne Reader. It’s written by Texas writer Michael Ventura, at that time a writer and columnist for the Austin Chronicle and LA Village View. It hit a few nails on the head for me back then, nails that are even more relevent now. Hope he doesn’t mind that i reproduce it here; it deserves to be circulating in the e-aether.

What is considered “normal life” in America now is a waste of time— a waste of one’s life: working at a job you don’t like and in which you have no say; a job that leaves you little time for yourself and little pride in yourself; working for scant reward, and for the profit of people who usually don’t care for you; at a job with no security; a job that usually contributes to the waste of the very environment you depend upon; and all the while bombarded by media that trivialize everything they touch.

The average working couple spends 20 minutes a day together. The average father talks to his child for 10 minutes a week. To call this “the sharing of lives” is ludicrous. It is, instead, a collective state of being caught in a maze—a maze in which great and brave effort produces little result, where there’s little time to reflect and less to be free.

The discourse of America is done largely by a very few who, by luck or work or privilege, aren’t caught in this maze. Too much of our time and thought is spent on saving and/or reforming an economic and political system that has constructed, and cannot live without, the maze. Patchwork reform won’t help; violent revolution is madness; and most Americans feel so bound to the wastage that they have to defend it, and are increasingly hostile to its critics. But many are crying out against the waste of their lives.

As for me, directly or indirectly, whether the subject is culture, politics, or spirituality, I write for people who don’t want to waste their lives anymore—for people who, while they must live in this civilization, no longer feel bound to be loyal to it; for people who have left, or are eager to leave, the maze. There’s nowhere else to live, but there are other ways to be. This is my hope, my faith, and my commitment, and I write to investigate its possibilities, asking every day a question that Texas country singer Butch Hancock asks in one of his songs: “Where do you go when you’re already gone?”

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