My Early 4th of July (Patriotic) Wish

A Big Life: Encouragement for People in the Arts – 

Portrait of me in my mask by an artistic 1st grader.

There’s a part of me that thinks that if I believe something hard enough, I can make it happen.

Believing in fairies as a child–as well as in Santa and that my dolls could understand me and my cat could talk if I spoke to it as hard and firmly as I could–might have something to do with that. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I realized that this is the religion of America. Work hard, believe in your dream and you will make it happen if you deserve it. That’s my heritage. And it’s in all the self help books and in the creative dreaming I’ve experimented with and also in the new age culture and prosperity churches.  Maybe, in fact, it’s that childhood belief in magic that creates religion. Creates politics.  Creates hope.

It is easy to be negative about all that. To judge it, to say that the reason behind it is for the “them” in Big Business to get “us” Little ‘Uns to invest whatever money we do have in their products and services in the name of the economy and to be altruistic. When really it’s so that Big Business can throw all our money at the stock market.

Front yard of a Southern Cali friend.

Yup, America is a big gambling racket.

Then again, that is also my heritage. It is part of where I come from and if I know that, I can still love my country and not get sucked into its flaws. As an artist, I can be creative for the sake of being creative even if I’d rather get a lot more money for my work. Living in that space where being creative puts my brain is transcendent. As for money, I don’t have to spend a lot if I don’t want to, even if I have it. Or I can invest in the stock market: I’m allowed. Or I can live apart from all that to the best of my ability. Simple things bring great joy too.  Either way, life is filled with riches.

I recognize that saying that reveals the tremendous privilege that exists in living in America. Even the impoverished who have no home usually have food banks and extra resources, assuming they understand how to get to them. But as frustrating as that can be, not everyone in the world has that to navigate: In some countries it is illegal to beg or even sell on the streets. There is no unemployment and in fact it’s impossible to get employment. I think it’s important to understand that on a primal, personal level. After all, it wouldn’t take much to propel us into war or disaster. It happens and has happened over and over through the centuries to mighty regimes. It has happened in the recent past. What I wish for our country is that we made it a point to learn more about what is beyond our small world. Beyond the television, beyond the fan magazine. These are all pleasures from which we can learn a few things. They also are valid pursuits which give us relief. But in our freedom as Americans and in our exhaustion from pursuing the prosperity dream of our own that we have been sold (and really can’t recover from, I’m afraid), it’s hard to find a minute to dig deep. To really learn.

What’s wrong with this equation?

It’s hard for me not to want to argue how important education is, especially when it comes to history and understanding the culture of other nations. I have grown curious about the long term development of Asian and European culture and how they clash, meet and influence each other. Which makes sense. After all, in addition to being a performing artist, I am an educator. And most of the time, being in the arts is not separate from being in the education field. All my talents spill over from one thing to another and back again so easily. Each new thing I learn builds on the next. And each new discovery has the potential to knock my whole belief system down.  As it should. Even Marjorie Taylor Green this past week confessed to being a fool about history. And good for her for humbling herself so. The ridicule that followed was justified but the danger of her false and uninformed statements about the Holocaust were worse. We have to learn sometime, even if it’s very late in life. Better we do, than we don’t.

Half a sand dollar doesn’t add up.

It’s easy to make fun of people in the public eye who know so little and yet hold a lot of power. But that’s because any of us can become a leader in politics. That is one of our freedoms. Some are competent and some are not. And those of us who vote them in? Well. Everyone relies on everyone else. It’s easy to forget this unless you know someone in politics. Most of us do, even if we don’t realize it. It was a few years before I realized my high school classmate Richard Ellis was the State Treasurer of Utah. And even longer until I found that my former veterinarian Doug Whitsett was a Senator of Oregon. These people are all reachable. We can work with them.  In fact, I like to think I had a hand in giving Doug a good argument for keeping film incentives in Oregon on Lobby Day a few years ago when I visited his office with fellow filmmaker Barrie Chase. He told us the argument he would get on the voting floor would be, “Why should we spend money on the arts when we need it for education?” I said, “Because what jobs will be here for the arts students once they graduate if we don’t invest in those students?” He wrote it down. I don’t know if he used my argument when the time came to vote but I like to think so.

Because we won that vote.

Maybe a dog is the answer?

America is a vast country but we’re only part of the world. And the world is part of a whole universe.  How can we have compassion for anyone if we clutch, hold on to, don’t study, don’t share? That’s why studying history has become so important to me. I am passionate about knowing how religion has evolved throughout the ages and how psychology has formed us. We can’t know “the truth” by living in our own narrow world. And by that I mean our house and small community, not just America. We must share.  So I’ll share. At least, I’ll share a few items from my book list.  After all, we can’t know what we don’t know until we know it. If we refuse to know it, if we don’t expose ourselves to a variety of information, we’re still choosing to be locked up in a room where the cat can talk. It might be pleasant to sit with the cat in our arms and think the old thoughts, but if you know cats, you know they don’t tolerate that thing for long. They struggle to get out of the room.

Knocking over the towers…

It really isn’t fair to either the cat or ourselves to continue to choose not to know. For me it’s been a revelation to be steered toward history I hunger for and away from the dry white-washed books I grew up with where every other word was “he” or “mankind” and which only presented one point of view. To be charitable, those writers were only doing their best. And I do think we should read some of those. Understanding patriarchy is important. And any attempt to knock down that tower along with other structures can sometimes wreck the whole community and wreck havoc for a while. But we don’t want to live in a world where our choices are as limited as they were in the past, do we? Where we are forced to marry at 15 and where we can’t vote unless we are part of Big Business…and with no chance of ever being part of it? A world of slavery.

And yes, living with a lot of freedoms means people bouncing this way and that, and demanding their own way all the time. It may look orderly to have an autocracy where we are told what to do and see that things get done but what it really means is killing the people who disagree and silencing the rest with threats.

Our beautiful national flower.

We don’t want that. We want freedom. We want to live in America.

At least I do. For now.

My partial book list*:

Creative Dreaming: Plan And Control Your Dreams To Develop Creativity Overcome Fears Solve Problems and Create a Better Self by Patricia Garfield ·

Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love of This World for Crucifixion and Empire by Rebecca Ann Parker and Rita Nakashima Brock

The Silk Roads: A New History of the World by Peter Frankopan

The New Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan

Selfie: How We Became so Self Obsessed and What it’s Doing to Us by Will Storr

The Unpersuadables: Adventures with the Enemies of Science by Will Storr

Bali Daze: Freefall off the Tourist Trail by Cat Wheeler

When Slaves Became Masters: A true-life story of a little boy before, during and after the unfathomable evil of Pol Pot’s regime by Rattana Pok

Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam by Frances FitzGerald

Soul Repair: Recovering from Moral Injury after War by Rita Nakashima Brock  and Gabriella Lettini

The Bhagavad Gita by Eknath Easwaran (Narrated by Paul Bazely)

How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill

Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson and the Opening of the American West by Stephen E. Ambrose

*Please feel free to make your own suggestions. – K.B.

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2 Responses to My Early 4th of July (Patriotic) Wish

  1. Monica Downing says:

    An essay with a global perspective is always welcome.
    Great job Katie in acknowledging how privileged we are:
    Those that live in the US need to show more gratitude;
    And travel. Get a passport. See how life proceeds in other countries.

  2. Rosalind McCormick says:

    Interesting thoughts. I love history too. Occasionally, I read non fiction but usually I read historical fiction, particularly mysteries. I was interested to see, The Silk Road, on your list. That book really influenced my thinking. I find it interesting to think about who has privilege, freedom, and choice in a society during a given time in history. Who gets to decide what the narrative is and who gets to have a voice? It seems to me that currently people are struggling with this. I’m wondering what narratives are getting lost in the current polarization. Hmm

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