Thursday, March 26, 2009
Bumper Crop Yield
This Jeep was parked on 89th near 1st Avenue while I visited Manhattan last month. With such decor, I thought at first that it should, by rights, have been a Volvo. But the Jeep brand--the name of which originated with the US military abbreviation GP, for "General Purpose"--fits and plays with each of the other symbols in a visual essay on the sublimity of process. Each tag serves to teach the same lesson to a different audience - the nation emerging from the shadows of its past, the community organizing for the future, the eternal species (or all species), and the ever-present, ever-traveling individual.
The license plate. Connecticut, the Constitution State. John Atlee Kouwenhoven's 1954 lecture "What's American About America?" connected a set of distinctly American artifacts, the common thread binding each to each the celebration of process - and the strength of structures that allow for self-creation. Examples included the city grid and skyscraper, the assembly line, the mutating repetitions of the jazz riff, and the elastic taste of chewing gum. Even the US Interstate Highway System celebrates the innumerable possibilities open to the American car and driver. The quintessential American trait is the desire and ability to reinvent one's very identity. The very law on which the nation rests boasts the genius of unfinishedness, and places tremendous faith in future wisdom.
The campaign sticker. Personal ideology aside, the election turned on the desire for change, as difficult to define or promulgate as it may prove. Obama's political philosophy played out thus far hinges on charting a difficult course with honesty and integrity to bear the ship into calmer waters - on placing faith in the process to achieve the desired outcome, rather than its Machiavellian opposite. Perhaps naively, I hope we can stanch the torrent of impatient vitriol, clot the vindictive cries of "Yet?" and embrace the regenerative power of the communitarian "Now." What and how we do now will get us what we say we want from "them."
The walking fish. The propagation of a political posture such as "Intelligent Design," by focusing on the wondrous outcome of Creation, misses Darwin's point entirely - that God's incredible achievement was not the result of biological diversity, but the process by which it arose - from a single, infinitely mutable strand of DNA. We observe conflict in the natural kingdom and erroneously presume all life to be in a constant state war for survival and triumph of the innate strengths of each organism. In doing so, we miss the irony that death created all that is presently living.
The Tolkien poem. From Lord of the Rings, the poem begins,
All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost.
While Tolkien referred specifically to Strider/Aragorn, the "true king" masquerading as a tracker, the sentiment reverberates with those who traverse a meandering, circular, or spiral path: we remind ourselves not that "life is a journey, not a destination," but rather that every point along the journey is the destination. As Buckaroo Bonzai affirmed, "Wherever you go, there you are." The point, again, is the process of wandering.
The wrap-up. The weekend I spent in New York was short - about 36 hours - and I had intended not to get caught in the general sloth of my best friends and hosts. I wanted tangible experiences to boast about when I returned home, so I spouted plenty rhetoric about going to the Met, or "Gugging" it, as I hadn't yet visited either. Ultimately, the cost in dollars and time proved too steep to sacrifice the time with friends. As I crossed the northern end of Central Park and walked down Museum Row on 5th Avenue, I mused into my dictaphone:
In the end, the art was in the moment,
Not the MOMA, nor the Met,
But with friends and laughter
And my funny line or two
That now I forget;
We weren't lost in abstraction
Or found in complexity
Or in any plans
For next time's visit
To New York City.