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11:47 a.m. - 2012-02-10
I'm walkin', yes indeed, I'm walkin'.

Been thinking a lot about something Stephen Fry brought up several times during his travel show about the US- his fascination with, awe of, and sometimes his smirky amusement at American enthusiasm. He contrasted it with his home country of England and the rest of Europe's weary cynicism. The general lack of entrepreneurial spirit. The reluctance to think big. The cultural dampening of any kind of splashy behavior. Stephen Fry thought Americans and our "Can-Do! Rah Rah! If we're gonna do it we're gonna do it right!" way of going on was unique and wonderful.

Unique? Not really. It's just that all the Europeans (and folk from the rest of the world too) who had that kind of get up and go, well, they got up and went. Here. America is the catch-all basin for the world's oddballs. The ones with grand ideas and the need for things to be shiny, new, different! If you go back far enough all of us came from somewhere else. Even the Native Americans. They wandered over across the Bering Straight umpty-thousand years ago and set up shop in a place where there were no people yet. So. We are a nation founded by people on the move. Americans didn't invent our enthusiasm, we brought it with us from the old country. Wherever and whenever that was. Trust me, if this country manages to stagger along for another 600-800 years we'll be just as boring and hidebound as anybody and all the weirdos who want change and such will be moving to the moon.

I did see for myself what Stephen Fry meant during the exchange student years though. I was stunned at how obdient and passive the foreign kids were. They never tried anything new. Ever. They always, always waited for someone to give them permission to do something and to be shown how. I remember having a rare lie-in and how the German kid and the Bulgarian kid both sat there quietly starving until I finally got up and made breakfast. It didn't occur to either of them to fix themselves some toast and a bowl of cereal. In fact neither of them knew HOW to make toast and cereal. No one had ever shown them how and figuring it out for themselves never entered their little brains. No American kid would ever sit there starving to death, even if he'd never fixed breakfast for himself before. An American kid would root through the cabinets and dig out something to eat, the idea that just because he'd hadn't done something before didn't mean he couldn't.

It wasn't just a case of extreme manners. Those foreign kids absolutely could NOT think for themselves. Everything had a rule. Everything had a tradition. They were completely without gumption. Far more than better English and our pop cultural imperialism of junk food, MTV, and Archie comics, the kids who lived at my house were taught to fricken wake up their brains and USE them. "Figure it out for yourself!" was the rallying cry and just hearing some meechy thing like, "Mum, how do I make hot water come out of the tap?" made me snort with amused impatience. After teaching four different teenagers how to make a bowl of corn flakes I made it my exchange student mom job to send anarchists back to Europe. When I was through with them not a one of them would ever sit back and quietly starve, freeze, or be lost and wait for rescue again.

Yet having said all that I find myself a bit at odds with this boot strapping Up! Up! Up! thing myself. I fricken loathe these walks of mine. I keep waiting for that endorphin high, the mental "Ahhhh...", the itchy urge to get my walkies in or be 'off' all the rest of the day. So far all I've got are sore legs, smelly sneakers, and a violent desire to become a hobo. Riding the rails sounds far more appealing than walking them.

But there it is, that surety, the bone deep belief that of course I can stop my ass from sliding down the backs of my legs! Of course my cholesterol number will improve! Of course I will come back with the perfect way to summarize chapter 4! I can do it! Rawr!


On my own little hero's journey to the corner and back, ~LA


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