Saturday, April 27, 2013

A marriage of sorts

"Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove"

Shakespeare, Sonnet 116

Lately, I have been thinking about taking the American nationality. This is not an easy decision and it is not born of pragmatism. I think of it as a marriage; not engaged in for practical reasons, but with many real, practical consequences.

I love living in the U.S. The fact that I married into it - that other momentous choice - only makes me delight more in it. I love the grandness of it, a grand design of a country full of grand spaces and grand thoughts. Coming from a little country as I do I appreciate it all the more. I love the aspirations this country has and its optimism. It has taught me to appreciate some things that looked unlikely - the military, long drives, even, at times, American football. So when I contemplate becoming a citizen, that's why; it is because I love it here. It is because this is where I am, not just geographically, but emotionally. This is home. I want it to be my home, well, maybe forever.

I am a commitment phobe, and that does not apply any less here. I am scared of throwing my lot in with America's. It does so many things I disagree with. It scares me, here in this country, to speak my mind. I am scared of what is being done with those drones, and when it will come home to roost; I am scared of what goes on Guantanamo, I am scared of what torture happened, of what rights of privacy are being quietly filched from American citizens, never mind dem furriners.

It is not that I believe that Belgium is better. It is only smaller, with a smaller capacity for both good and evil. Witness Congo and the long bloody struggle there; with more territory Belgium committed atrocities worthy of a larger country. In a short while, with a little power, Belgium did so much damage. The United States is so much bigger, so much more powerful, and I only one small foreign person. Like Piglet, I stand here trembling, a little worried that I will get blown away.

What to do? 

Hitchens says, in his Letters to a Young Contrarian, "The more fallible the mammal, the truer the example." What he means by that, is that, not only are all heroes flawed, the fact that they are flawed shows all of us (who are flawed) that people with their shortcomings can do their small, good thing in this hurricane. America is both heroic and flawed. It's strange that I should get my news from the BBC because I find so many of the American news outlets too partisan, yet buy into a partisan concept of the United States in my fear of committing. I will correct myself. Any country is a conversation (albeit a little one-sided in some countries), this one more so than most. The conversation changes as different people speak up; it is a dialogue, even at its most strident. This cannot be taken for granted. Country of John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Allen Ginsberg*, Hitchens**, Greenwald, and they are not alone, not silenced or forgotten. I will do my best to join that great America, that long dialogue.

The papers are in the mail. Wish me luck.


* "America I've given you all and now I'm nothing.
America two dollars and twenty-seven cents January 17, 1956. 

...
It occurs to me that I am America.
I am talking to myself again."

**After I wrote this, I played a game of What Would Hitchens Say, expecting to find some well-reasoned essay on why he became an American. I am touched by what I found instead; it is closer, in the end, to my own motivation than I had expected.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Shame, victory, and Margaret Thatcher

Today, I will be talking to you only in other people:

On shame, pretty and bewildering:



On victory, dubious and upbeat:



On Margaret Thatcher:
"Mark the sequel: Not long afterwards, I was at a reception in the Rosebery Room of the House of Lords. She came. (I'll try and keep this brief.) A mutual Tory friend offered to introduce us. I agreed with some alacrity. The subject of the moment was Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. I held one view on this. She held another. The introduction was effected. Did I imagine it, or did she recognize the name of the scribe who had hymned her feminine allure? At once we were embroiled in an argument on the subject of racism and decolonization. I was (I only mention it) correct on my facts as well as my principles. She was lousy on both. But what a bonny fighter! She wouldn't give an inch. I found myself conceding her a trivial point, and bowing as I did so. She smiled.
"Bow lower," she said.
Suddenly robbed of volition, I complied.
"No -- much lower."
By now near to drowning in complicity and subjection, I obeyed. She withdrew from behind her back a rolled-up copy of the Parliamentary orders of the day, and she gave me a sound smack before I could --how does one put this? -- straighten up. I regained the perpendicular in some blushful confusion and difficulty, to see her swing away and look over her shoulder, the words "naughty boy" floating over me in my near trance-like state, as the journo witnesses closed in to say, "What was that all about?" I told them they would never understand, and -- what do you know -- they never did."

The grandiloquent loses his tongue:


The quieter man waxes eloquent: