It is very early in the morning.
I’ve been posting and sharing photos from the past week, which is something I do now, for various reasons that don’t particularly relate to my own motivations.
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Mom will have the kids tomorrow, so today was our day to enjoy Independence Day festivities.
In recent years I’ve come to a new understanding and appreciation of the holiday, and of the idea of the nation in particular, so I now approach this celebration with a comparatively new eyes.
Not that I’ve become a nationalist—for many years I was decidedly anti-nationalist—but I have come to appreciate what many young people don’t want to admit to themselves: that you are who you are, and and that that identity has limits. You can claim all you want to be a “citizen of the world” or to be “part of humanity” but the fact is that there are things that make you unique and distinct from many other human beings, and you share them with most of your countrymen, for good and for bad.
© Aron Hsiao / 2017
To appreciate this is not to applaud human balkanization, as I once thought, but to embrace yourself, your past, and the unavoidable truth that others see you, for example, as an “American.”
I am an American. This I will always be. To come to terms with myself is thus, in some sense, to come to terms with and to embrace Americanness in general and my Americanness in particular, and to realize that in times of distress or conflict, whether I like it or not, this is my people.
That is to say that when push comes to shove in the many possible circumstances of human balkanization, it is my fellow Americans that are least likely to harm me and most likely to support me—and thus, if I’m smart and in fact if I have any sense of gratitude in life at all, I’ll respond in kind at the emotional level.
I am realizing that it is a distinct folly of the young to reject your own people as though some other people are only too happy to take you in entirely—as though you can easily be someone other than who you are. You might get a few gregarious head-nodders in some other group to promise that you’ve been initiated into their circle, but when the chips are down your membership card in some other group can’t take the place of the self-evident ties that you share with your own countrymen, which few want to acknowledge in times of peace yet everyone uses as evidence for judgment in times of war.
Yes, I am an American, for good and for bad. This is my people, and my holiday. Happy Independence Day.
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Fireworks are also something I’ve come to appreciate more with age.
© Aron Hsiao / 2017
As a young person beyond a certain age, I used to roll my eyes at them—I thought my parents were trying to impress me, year after year, not realizing that I was beyond being wowed by their adult command of fire. I thought it was a show.
Now I realize that it’s a kind of prayer, a kind of meditation.
This is particularly true of large fireworks, of the ones that run $10 or $20 or $30 for a single fuse and that shoot hundreds of feet into the air right above your driveway before exploding, filling the entire sky with fire.
When that happens, for a fleeting moment, you are caught outside of time, separated from the rest of humanity by an impenetrable curtain of mathematics, physics, kinetics, and perception, and at the very same time transformed into primal man—beast before and beneath immense, inescapable fire.
It is not so much celebratory as it is a consummation or a rebirth of some kind, a renewal of vows and a kind of phenomenological molting.
It is peyote in a different guise, a ceremonial way of reaching another plane, neck craned back, eyes wide and overwhelmed—as you subconsciously understand that at the same time all of the fellow countrymen around you are doing the same with the patch of sky just above them.
It is a kind of prayer. And when you hear the explosions all around you, from every home, endless, frenetic—you realize that you are all, as a community, praying and reaching that other plane together, in honor of your shared, unavoidable, easily ascribed and ascribable, identities.
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There are no cosmopolitans outside the global cities. To be and remain a cosmopolitan outside of a global city is not possible. There is not enough of a spectrum of identity; there is “in” and “out,” “this” and “not this,” and you will be one or the other, at the hands and attributions of others, whether you like it or not.
© Aron Hsiao / 2016
This phenomenological reality is impossible to convey to those who have spent many years or even their entire lives in the global cities. The experience is too large, all-encompassing, and deep to convey.
They don’t believe it, and you can’t explain it—even if you are educated and articulate. It is not a single, coherent phenomenon that exists in clarity in one facet of life or explicable set of objects, conceptual or physical. It is an attribute, a characteristic, a tiny one, embedded in an infinite number of little details of life. It is perfectly diffused throughout reality as a sea, not congealed in some specific, named reality as a conceptual unity.
In short, it can only be experienced, this depth of identity and identity-fabric as the a defining substratum of the entirety and geography of social life.
This is the right/left, red/blue fault line in America, and around much of the world right now—for folks outside of the global cities, reality has this substratum. For folks in them, it does not. The divide cannot and will not be crossed, the gap cannot and will not be bridged.
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Life has a strategic dimension, but it also has a tactical one.
There are times in life when, in service and pursuit of a larger general strategy, one has to tactically select places and times at which to make a stand—to adopt a patch of geography where engagement will take place, and a battle will be occasioned and fought.
© Aron Hsiao / 2003
This usually happens when circumstances begin to swing away from you—when you are not the pursuer, but rather the pursued, not the predator but the prey.
It is the prey that has to choose the moment to turn around and fight. The predator, in his position of advantage, is happy to accept engagement on whatever terms the prey prefers, and the sooner the better.
I have had a few moments like this in my life—”last stands” at which the game is ultimately lost or won, made when they were made because conditions would only get worse, rather than better—it was the last, best, most tactically sound moment to suddenly turn around and fight.
One of these happened two years ago.
The next one is brewing, this time not in my relationship life, but in my career and financial life.
In matters of tactics, particularly in the tactics of life and in the tactics of war, sound selection can be the key determinant that separates the winners from the losers. It’s not just that you pick your battles; it’s that you must pick (and pick well) when and where to suddenly decide to have them.
I am quietly steeling myself for what is to come, and wishing myself luck.