The Old Lie

This is another one of those days when I was too insomniac the night before and too lazy the morning after to catch the sun. So while I’ve missed out on toasting myself, my time on the deck has been agreeably shady today. If anyone’s wondering why I keep updating you on the state of the deck, its because I hope that wherever I end up writing in Mexico will be a little more visually interesting, and the pictures will give you a better sense of my day-to-day.

This deck

Today I’m on the deck

I’m going to talk about saying goodbye again, but this time it’s about saying goodbye to places. You know, trying to give yourself a big send-off, really trying to live up to the last few days, see everyone and everything that makes a place your home. I’m bad at that too. For one, anyone who’s been to one of my parties knows how well they go. Ditto for bar nights, excursions, and outings. What’s more, with half the people that mean home to me out of the picture, it’s hard to really hold a get-together to say goodbye. With Gebeily, Martinez, Guyton, Rice, Lujan, and God knows how many others off in parts unknown, a farewell in DC can’t be complete.

I don’t have the cash, the fortitude, or the partying acumen to make my way to enough cool bars and clubs and venues to have a last real go-round in the city either. It’s never been my bag, as much as I would have liked it to be. But the real reason that wouldn’t work is that DC isn’t really my home. Not the whole city, anyway. Love or hate the fact of it, but since my folks left Detroit and Akron and moved to China, Georgetown is the only home I’ve got. Not the neighborhood, the school. And the last time it still had any chance of being home to me was graduation weekend, when the mass of familiar faces was making its final appearance. I find myself taking long unnecessary walks, constantly panning and scanning, ogling campus like the open-mouthed summer program kids and trying to catch a whiff of what the last four years smelled like.

And taking really bad photos

And taking really bad photos

Georgetown now is full of naïve and unbearable high school students that make you hate them and wish for just a second that you could be that dumb and that excited just to be here again. But you can’t, and they aren’t us, and their Georgetown isn’t mine, and my shot at saying goodbye is long gone.

Now another word on unemployment. Over the summer, my roommates and friends and I have been circling up on this same porch for hookah and cigarettes and discussions that should be wide-ranging but inevitably are not. Wherever we start, it’s never long before we’re back onto why the world’s shit and how we might deal with it. Not fix it; none of us are quite that confident. But whether America is in decline, whether it can be arrested, whether Syria is beyond solution, whether any adventure our nation has ever attended abroad has been anything but massacres and profiteering, whether the global capitalist system has failed us or whether we can fix it like we did at the end of the Gilded Age.

We never reach consensus beyond the total shittiness of the world situation, and never come up with anything that isn’t moronic or unfeasible—rule by machines, violent overthrows, an American Spring. And it strikes me that in decades gone, bright young college students (I imagine) used to have some kind of solution in mind. If it was just total defeat of the reds or fascism or communism or even less fettered free-marketeering, at least they had the hope that something could be done to fix the way things are. Not us, so much.

Or the Communism

Like in this classic work. But without the ideas or the fun

The other night, we were having another one of these chats, and a newcomer, a roommate’s sister, was attending. She’d been sitting and more or less passively listening to us bullshit for a couple of hours, and she asked us what we were going to do, after all this, after all the conversation and pontificating, after parsing and pointing to the wrong, the total failure of global capitalism to give us the world that we were promised, the abject defeat of western hegemony in giving us a life free from poverty and ignorance and violence and sectarian division, an America that after sixty years of primacy has more interest in murdering brown people for their resources than it has in welcoming them into the life we lead. What were we going to do with the rest of our lives, after having satisfied ourselves that the system we’d have to work within was anathema?

I said, flippantly, that I want to get back, move to Beirut, and write about dangerous things until I die young and gloriously. She asked if I was serious, and I said that no, of course I didn’t want to die. She asked if it was worth the risk to go and do something like that. I said it was, and she brought the point back around. If you want to go somewhere dangerous and write, isn’t that participating in exactly the same misguided pursuit of glory that sends young men off to war? I thought about it, and I said yes. But also that it may be time that my narrative became the dominant one. That after thousands of years of dulce et decorum est pro patria mori that there may be something more noble to lose your life over than the realpolitik of your respective nation-state.

Not to mention the only reason most of us know the phrase is this guy, who hated it

Not to mention the only reason most of us know the phrase is this guy, who agrees with me

We hear stories about aid workers and soldiers dying in the same countries and firefights, and we think of the former: ‘Why were they there? Didn’t they know it was too dangerous for that sort of work in that sort of place?’ And of the latter: ‘What brave, beautiful boys they were to be over there, defending our freedoms.’ They aren’t wrong on the second point. Any kid who’s abandoned hope of himself in service of a greater cause has done something beyond the ken of normal folks, and he has made himself a hero in his own right. But can’t we begin to spare the same thought for the other guys? For the aid workers and the NGOers and the journalists, to realize that they did the same, but with so much less hope of success, and with so much less power at their backs?

I read Robert Fisk’s Pity the Nation, and a good portion of that book is given over to the murders and kidnaps of other journalists and their mass exit from Beirut, along with the hundreds of times he stared down rifle sights and listened to the CLACK-CLICK of Kalashnikovs, the explosions of bombs and airstrikes and artillery rounds, and I don’t think that that’s cool, or that it’s romantic, or that if I managed to make it to a place like he did that I would want any of it to happen to me even one time. But I think that it would be worth it. To suffer with the suffering and let their cries be heard farther than they would otherwise carry. I think that would be worth it. My life and the lives of many others would be worth it, because we are many and we have the perspective and the will to go and do it, and if we don’t go and serve in some way, we not only will have failed to be heroes, we’ll have failed to make any use of the lives that have so far been free from rape and fear and war, that have given us the education and the knowledge and the skills to go out and do something more than work, consume, and obey.

But in the end, if I do get back from my assignment in Mexico and try to jet off the Middle East to journalise, in all likelihood it will bring me right back around to the topic of this post: unemployment.

One thought on “The Old Lie

  1. somehow, I just got to this post now. missing those talks and struggling with what to do with life. I’m curious to hear if your views have changed at all, or if I can still plan to meet you in the Middle East in 2 years.

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