America in Decline? I Don’t See It.

I’ve been blessed with two months of blissful rest this summer. It’s been wonderful to reconnect with many family members I don’t have the opportunity to visit often. I’ve had the chance to eat some (too much, actually) some culinary delights which I didn’t get often in Asia. And I’ve had ample chances already, with still six weeks ahead of me, to enjoy the wonderful outdoors of an American northeastern summer. The weather has been cooler and wetter than usual, and that has led to week after week of wonderful brisk evening air, vivid green rolling hillsides, and enough fresh produce to make anyone smile. I grew up in America, yet I’m always amazed at what a unique and amazing place it really is. The talk of American decline doesn’t include the green countryside. I swear, there couldn’t be any more trees anywhere in the world than the country realms of Pennsylvania and New York. Endless, for hundreds of miles. Tremendous. No decline there.

The real people in America aren’t caught up in the nasty politics of the day. The banker I met today who helped my son open his first bank account didn’t care a lick about political persuasions or across the aisle name calling. The woman who duplicated two keys for me in her small locksmith shop didn’t bicker about Washington gridlock. We chatted, like human beings, acknowledging the strange indentations on my key. We thanked each other and parted. No decline there.

Streets are lined with businesses and opportunities that pop up over night. I passed a country farm house way in the New York farmlands where one person plopped a food trailer in front of his house, as isolated from humanity as it was, and plastered it with every fast food advertisement you could think of. You could get grilled sandwiches, burgers, dogs, drinks, ice cream, and many other kinds of typical American fare. He didn’t care about the outside world. He sought the passerbyers. It looks like he succeeded.

In my parents country neighborhood, gas company XTO has already drilled 5000 feet into the earth, creating horizontal drills at that depth for miles as they begin the many years process of fracturing the compressed shale and pump out the natural gas which is going to power America into the future. The company is buying up rights, paying out royalties, and is creating a buzz in the neighborhood that hasn’t been there since Western PA’s big oil push way back in the 1870-1890s. This tiny village hasn’t changed in 50 years, yet no signs of decline here.

Industries come and go. Stores close while others open. Kids grow up. Schools expand and then contract. Churches lose influence and shutter their doors, while new congregations rent mall space or other creative setting to nurture their fledgling congregation. Families enlarge. People move away. Some people find success while other soldier on through hard times. Students struggle between work and school. Some lose hope while others fight on to fulfill their dreams. Many will reach it. Others will settle into something rather unexpected and learn to like it.

Weekends will come and go. Elderly couples will kayak on the lake. Lines of cars will snap up the soft serve. Millions will go to ballgames, from Little League to wacky minor league fields to the majors. They’ll eat hotdogs, yell at the umpires, and chew the fat with their neighbors. Lawns will be mowed, home repairs started, and families will gather in reunions.

All of this happens without the media, without Congress, without the President, without any regard to any Supreme Court ruling, or without any concern about terrorism or foreign battle fields.  This all happens without racist overtones, identity politics, or rioting and looting outside the G20 meetings.

There may be real problems which need to be solved as this country moves into the future, but America is not in decline. It’s as vibrant, resilient, cocky yet tentative as always. It lives and dies with the cycle of life inhabited by its people during their daily routines. I’ve been watching these routines, and they are as hopeful as ever. The American dream is not dead because I’ve seen it alive again and again during these past two weeks. It’s as real as its always been, no thanks to any political parties in Washington.





The Most Loathsome Column of the Day

An editor at the Washingtonian stated that the phrase “start a family” was “the most loathsome phrase of the day” because it degrades those couples who many not be able to have children.

So I’ve nominated that fine piece of journalism as the most loathsome column of the day.

But in keeping with the spirit of Washingtonian Wisdom, I tried to come up with my own list of loathsome phrases which we should also purge from our vocabulary. Here they are:

Start a rally. A baseball phrase meaning trying to score runs and come back from a deficit. I think we should strike this phrase from our vocabulary since it degenerates those baseball teams who never have rallies and are perennial losers.

Start me up. The Rolling Stones phrase might offend people who can’t be started. Or don’t want to start.

Start a revolution. Could make fun of those living under authoritarian regimes who don’t know how to start their own revolution.

Start your engines. This could hurt both those who have faulty engines or the poor who can’t even afford any engine.

Start with me. A peculiar Christian phrase which tells God to make changes in the world by first making changes with me. This might offend those who have no me-ness. Or who are dead.

Start fresh. This might offend those who appreciate stale living. It also ignores past mistakes, so that’s not good.

Start in safe mode. This would be an affront to techies who want to by-pass safe mode and just let their computer crash. It’s their right, after all.

Start high school. This would be particularly offensive to those who fail 8th grade.

Start recording. Please, what about those who don’t want a record of a particular event. Or those who have no recording devices?

Start of something new. This is simply a way to discriminate against those who love the old. Stop pushing, people!

Start to finish. From start to finish, this was a waste of time. Thanks, Washingtonian. Here’s the original loathsome column if you dare to read.

Loathsome Phrase of the Day: “Start a Family”

No Guns Theatre. Shoot! I had a script.

I’ve entered a number of play-writing contests and festivals this year as I begin to expand my writing in new ways. I ran across one such un-named short play theatre festival which I had planned to enter until I saw one of the stipulations: plays with guns as props will not be accepted.

I had a script that I wanted to use in this festival which actually did have a gun in it. So I knew immediately not to send it.

But then I got to thinking why? Why no guns?

I could only think of two possible reasons for a theatre festival to not allow plays with guns. Perhaps there are more than two, but I couldn’t think of them. Here are the ones I thought of:

  1. They are afraid that a gun on stage might be mistaken as a real gun by the audience, thus causing a possible panic.
  2. They are making a statement about gun violence in America by not allowing guns on stage.

Let me look at each of these.

#1 – This scenario seems unlikely to me. I’ve used guns on stage (high school setting) for years. Some guns look more realistic than others, and I’ve never one even had the slightest infinitesimal reason to suspect that anyone in the audience was disturbed or fooled by the fake fire arm. So I’m thinking that this isn’t the reason for not allowing prop fire arms in their festival.

#2 – I’m guessing they are making a statement by having such restrictions. This is fine if that’s what they want to do. It’s their festival, and if they want to run it a certain way, no problem. But I tend to disagree with their assessment. The first reason is that there are many fine, good, and important plays which necessitate a fire arm. How awkward would it be to have a cop tell the bank robber to put up his hands by warning him sternly without any physical threat to back it up.

But it’s actually something else which makes this issue more important in my eyes. Our culture is a culture of guns. Like them or hate them, they are there, and they are there to stay. One of the main tasks of a playwright, or at least how I see it, is to be a reflection of society – its issues and struggles. Playwrights are to wrestle with questions from all angles and provide insight that may not come from anywhere else. To take the weapon (haha) out of the hands of the playwright’s arsenal, does not only diminish what’s happening in society, it mocks the influence a playwright can have.

People have guns. People use guns. People are in society. Playwrights write about people; therefore, playwrights also write about guns.

I hate to see the whitewashing of society, and I hope theatres will continue to be at the forefront of society in regards to dealing with important cultural issues.

Hey festival, I was going to send you my script “Alone in a Bar,” but I guess I’ll find another avenue for it.

America the Paradox

I truly believe that America is a great place. I’ve lived overseas for much of the last twenty years, but when I go back home to visit, I’m always reminded of just how amazing America is. From its development to its beauty to its generous and kind people. Americans of every color, age, and belief have blessed me in one way or another.

But, of course, America has displayed many warts through the centuries. It’s never been a perfect place, but it is a grand experiment which has succeeded on many levels. It has wrestled with a tortured and tainted past and has made amazing strides. It continues to offer the greatest amount of liberty possible even as it currently struggles with itself and the behemoth of a government that it created which produces an ever present tension with the liberty that it tries to preserve.

And that is perhaps what makes the United States of America so unique. The constant struggle. The pulling left and right. The tightrope of freedom. The uncomfortable self-righteous walk abroad, carrying a big stick. A pluralistic society struggling with deep-seated individualism which brings about endless debate, name-calling, and bureaucratic stagnation. A country with boundless energy, which struggles not to use it. A country with a moral ideal, which tries to downplay it with secularism. A people who talk grand, believe in moral righteousness and exceptionalism, yet idly sit watching sports on the weekend. A generous people who become lazy in their giving. A good people, who want to help the world but who wonder if they haven’t already done enough.

It’s in these great paradoxes where America’s greatness truly lies because at its core, America is still a free nation, tolerant of different points of view. It, as a nation, is a microcosm of the stagnant congress. We are both sides of a coin, and, yes, sometimes that can be frustrating. We are the ‘heads’ that says ‘go’ and the ‘tails’ that says ‘no’. We can’t make up our mind, and when we do, we change it back.

But the alternative to this back and forth, uneven maneuvering is, in my estimation, even scarier – being at the whim of only one side of a coin – a pawn with a tyrant’s heel at our throat.

Perhaps we should celebrate the slow-moving nature of American life a little more. It’s what makes us unique, a standard bearer of differing views, a weigher of ideas, a struggler of philosophy.

But even with all of its negatives, America still stands as a beacon which cannot be ignored. Its still something to be proud of.