At Odds

When I was around 18 years old I found myself increasingly at odds with my country—my countrymen and countrywomen actually. By the time I was 21, things got so bad that I dropped out. Fell out, really. This is a big part of what my new book is about. I stayed underground for nearly thirty years. I occasionally get flak for “being a bum” from a certain kind of person who is troubled by The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill. I don’t think I ever say it explicitly, but I was living the way I did, not because I didn’t like to work, but because I couldn’t accept the American way of life. The book and the film yanked me back into the game. For the last few years I’ve been getting back in touch with the way things work here. At first, the change was somewhat exhilarating. I’ve gone from living on roof tops and in storerooms to being a home owner. Now I find myself, once again, deeply at odds with the society I live in. I’ve had trouble posting lately because I don’t feel right about complaining all the time. But I see very little that has any value these days, and I see much that is destructive. Sometimes I think that I should write about the world that I’d like to see. Maybe I will. I want to be positive, but there’s just so little to be positive about in this particular era. I think of it as the Reagan Era. I know I’m going to write something about the economy soon, which is going to be hyper-negative. Just a warning! Meanwhile, I’m hard at work, six days a week, on Street Song.

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32 Responses to “At Odds”

  1. Living out of Eden Says:

    Hi Mark,

    Glad that I read your post.

    Something similar happens to me, exception made that I’ve never had a time of re-joining my country way of life.

    I’m also finding difficult these days to write about something positive, moreover with the dreadful forecasts that can be envisioned (I’m remembering the song from Suzanne Vega, “Widow walk”: “but all omen point to fail”).

    Months ago I was certain that could have faith in people rather than in “a” God, but I’m discovering that you must first have faith in you and your principles, above any other consideration.

    At last but not least, where I live (Spain) everyone I talk to, thinks that Spain is the problem of Spain. I bet my bottom euro, that in the UK think themselves are their problem, as you in the States might think you are your problem. Nothing farest from reality. It’s a global action (by accident or on purpose), that is attacking the basis of our known society, the structure of the world, AND Democracies, as well.

    Keep on going, cheer up.

    All the best!

    • markbittner Says:

      I was in Germany, Greece and Italy a few years ago and understood then what “globalization” really means. I think you’re right.

      Mark

  2. Rain Says:

    What I think we have to do today is separate out our personal lives from the culture in which we live and be able to be happy for the good things we have, appreciate the small blessings, the love, and the experiences that are enriching our lives, but also recognize that the culture is in trouble and we have to do what we can to help it transition into something sustainable and as good as it can be for the most people. If we let depression about the big picture swallow us, we lose our ability to help anybody. But we cannot put our heads in the sand either. It’s all about hozho right now.

  3. Brad Says:

    Mark, don’t give up on us….US being all of us, the American people, people all over the world….The answer is not with our corrupt and broken governments, it is within US…We have the power to change the world for the better…, but looking to the government is not the solution….We have to look to God, or whatever higher power you recognize as supreme….

    • markbittner Says:

      I haven’t given up. I’m merely acknowledging that it’s a bad time. I believe that we’re going to get one more chance, and it will be heavy and momentous—startlingly so. But if we blow this one, we’re really screwed.

  4. Brad Says:

    Mark, We may have ideological differences, but I couldn’t agree with you more, my friend…..

  5. Chandani Diaz Says:

    How I understand, but in a different way. I was born and raised in Sri Lanka and I liked it there, no LOVED it. We didn’t have TV – one went to the cinema. We talked and listened to others; we made time for friendships. We didn’t have supermarkets….there were markets where veggies were on one side and meat hung on hooks….and of course, flies, which the meat seller shooed away all day long. We had not ever seen a plastic bag. We had market baskets woven of palm or banana. PAPER was an extremely hard (and expensive) commodity to find….therefore books were the equivalent of a month’s pay. If one was lucky enough to receive a gift in “wrapping paper” – one carefully unwrapped it, ironed it to use again and again. When I came to America, I cried and cried to see all the WASTE, but staying in SL wasn’t an option; the civil war there had gotten so bad someone was blown up or shot every day. It was culture shock and I also felt that for all their technology, Americans were so insulated and isolated…that they didn’t know (or want to) about such places as Sri Lanka or Rwanda. I rebelled and didn’t “fit in” to American life, and I didn’t want to fit in. At work conversation only revolved around the favourite TV show they had seen the night before….no REAL conversations, just meaningless prattle. I couldn’t connect to anyone…..except the Mexican migrant workers. So I began to volunteer as a teacher at night (I had 2 day jobs) . Their hearts were pure and golden. They were my segway to American life, and I have now adjusted

    A few years ago my husband and I went back to visit SL (actually, it was “back” for me and “for the first time” for him) and they were all carrying their Smartphones, markets were gone, supermarkets all had plastic bags. They now have all designer clothes Aeropostale, the Gap. They’ve become just as wasteful as we are. And there isn’t time to talk or make friendships any longer….everyone sits around the TV or plays games on their Smartphones.

  6. Thoma Lile Says:

    I keep hoping that at some time in the near future this discontent will reach a critical mass and the people will do something about it. I really thought it would happen when George W. Bush was “elected.” It seems that the only groups of people who are organizing and influencing elections are the Tea Party types. Here in Texas, I feel like I’m from a different planet.

    • markbittner Says:

      I know what you mean, Thoma, about critical mass and people finally doing something about it. There will be a change and I believe I know why. But it sounds funny when I try to put it down n just a few words. The book I’m working on deals with this.

  7. Liz Marshall (@lizardmarsh) Says:

    Mark:
    I am just beginning to click around the net trying to locate news of the parrots of Long Island, NY during the evacuation. I haven’t located news of them yet, but while doing so, I noticed your angst which I can understand. I am seeing your pages coincidentally on the same day as Jack Layton’s funeral which I watched on GlobalTV in its entirety. There were many moving tributes; you may be interested in Stephen Lewis eulogy, for one: http://www2.macleans.ca/2011/08/27/stephen-lewis-eulogy/
    My regards to Judy.
    Take care,
    Liz in WA

  8. margaret Says:

    I think many of us feel “at odds” with what is going on. Feel free to vent/blog/write. You have an audience.
    This is certainly not a nice time for this country and its people, and sadly, I do not see any respite soon. Keep writing.

  9. Laloofah Says:

    My husband and I (who, as liberal progressive vegans in WY, are also at odds!) will quasi-joke when we’re on a rant about the sorry state of affairs in this world and are accused of being critical that “we’re not critical, just observant.” I feel the same about your blog, and appreciate your observations! I’d also really love to read about your visions for the way you’d like the world to be. Hope you’ll offer both, your writings are eloquent and thoughtful and we’re always glad to see them.

    (I’ve followed your blog for some time but this is my first comment, so I feel compelled to tell you what big fans we are of The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill and are looking forward to your new book!)

    • markbittner Says:

      Vegans in Wyoming. You have my admiration. “We’re not critical, just observant” is good. When Hitler was coming to power in Germany, it would have been silly to feel bad about “complaining all the time.” It happens in steps. We’re going in a negative direction and we do have to recognize that.

  10. Deborah Says:

    I hear you Mark. I have entered into a very bewildering phase myself. A native San Franciscan, living in Florida for the past seven years “PIE” “Princess in Exile”. Guess its not just Florida, but the world we now live in. I suspect, I’m having trouble w/the aging process as well. I’ll be 59 in October and I have no clue as to how I got here!?? Hopefully, this is just a phase and we will move out of it and into a more optimistic place again, very soon! Maybe its just growing pains as they used to say. 🙂

  11. Living out of Eden Says:

    I don’t find the “like” button for the comments, as many of them would deserve a hit.

    Ricardo

    • markbittner Says:

      I don’t know how any of that works. I just type them, upload them, and hope for the best.

  12. Sarah Says:

    “I was living the way I did, not because I didn’t like to work, but because I couldn’t accept the American way of life.”

    Does this mean that you’d avoided work in order to avoid paying taxes that feed the (military) beast—the enforcer that helps to perpetuate the status quo?

    • markbittner Says:

      I can’t say it was a conscious, deliberate decision. There were at least two elements. One was a conscious resistance to and weariness with regard to what the culture expected (I just couldn’t do it), but my resistance was sloppy and emotional. The other was an inner deliberation that I never felt “I” was in control of. I had to go where it pushed me or “I” risked a big accident, which I had anyway. It’s complicated. It takes a book to even begin to hint at what really happened. I’m working on it.

  13. Living out of Eden Says:

    Mark,

    That’s fine….. I was just wishing there was one.
    I think I feel better when read comments from people with a similar point of view than mine. It just makes me feel less alone (not lonely, which I’m not).

  14. linda Says:

    Having trouble with the aging thing myself. Where did all those years go? I still feel 16, til I look in the mirror, I wanted a place with a few goats and chickens, Now the Hubby and I are struggling to mow the lawn. I can see we are going to have to sell out, there will be no goats and chickens and small garden. We will probably have to go into a small apartment that hopefully will allow a cat or. We don’t watch television, though we do have an extensive collection of Japanese monster movies. We talk or read, he plays guitar and I work on things, sewing, crocheting. We are both learning calligraphy, he Chinese, me-illuminated writing. Sounds dull and boring, but we will be content.

    I hope you are right Mark, that there will be good changes in the future. I guess we can only wait and see. I’ve felt something in the air, a waiting, but I don’t know what the waiting is for.

    • markbittner Says:

      The waiting is for the upwelling of spirit. I think that, in a full lifetime, it happens twice. (And it just now occurs to me, that that’s what is probably meant by “the second coming.”)

  15. Shelley Says:

    I hope you are able to move past blaming this on a single political party. It’s way too naive for someone such as youself.

    We’re WAY down the road past that simple accusation.

    The elite puppeteers are too heavily invested in social engineering for anything to change for the better. If you think you’re depressed about it, I’ve come to my own conclusion that the only way to clear the shit is for the planet to start over.

    • markbittner Says:

      I don’t blame it on a single political party. I have a mental habit (known as conditioning) where I will do that, but intellectually, I know it’s not really that way. This, incidentally, is the subject of my next post.

  16. Karen Says:

    I sometimes wonder how the Roman people felt as their empire slowly disintegrated around them. Having to live under the rule of all those truly insane and/or incompetent emperors must have been truly demoralizing. Without being an historian, I wonder if they gave up on the Roman gods and religion and went with Christianity because they could no longer “buy into” their society’s myths and were struggling to find something, anything, to believe in.

    • markbittner Says:

      By that point, Christianity, that is, Jesus’ original teachings, had been long worked on, made to fit an empire by Paul, Augustine and others. Christianity has been distorted ever since.

  17. Deborah Says:

    I hope you’re right about it happening twice in a lifetime. I keep wondering what would it take to bring my spirit back into the game. At this point, I feel disconnected and disinterested. I most definitely do not recognize the woman in my mirror.

  18. Margaret Benbow Says:

    I think what Rain said makes sense: keep your life healthy by separating it from toxic aspects of our country’s culture, but also stay alert for ways to improve that culture. Also in the back of my mind I remember the painful, but somehow hopeful, ending of the movie (and book) Fahrenheit 451: a small community of the gentle and the civilized have survived in a savage, book-burning society.We sense their strength, and know that against all odds, they might win in the end.

  19. dc Says:

    Your “dropping out” the way you did took strength and courage. I feel much the way you feel regarding contemporary American culture. (I call it the Reagan Legacy.) Right now I’m slowly trying to disentangling myself from it and am looking for a place on the edge of a small village so I can live out the rest of my life in quiet simplicity.

  20. Lynn Says:

    Dear Mark,

    Please don’t stop writing just because you don’t think your thoughts aren’t positive. I so enjoy your blog!

    A friend of mine and I have had the same types of discussions you write about. Indeed, society appears to be declining. But my friend believes we are all going to be okay in the end. I believe the government of this country, as we know it, will fall, and we will have to rebuild. We can then create something new and better. I still believe that there are plenty of free-thinking, innovative and highly intelligent people out there who can lead the way on this.

    My friend and I see hope among the chaos and confusion that seems to be our current society. Here in Denver, I am seeing people working together to fix problems and help each other. I am seeing people who’ve never even grown a cactus before…go out and plant corn and tomatoes and squash on city rooftop gardens and community gardens right in the middle of the city. I know of one farmer near the city that provides several families with the highest quality, freshest eggs that money can buy–his contribution to offset our mostly-contaminated food supply.

    I recently lost my house to foreclosure in February, and moved to an apartment. I soon learned that the tradeoff for the really cheap rent is, you can hardly get anything fixed ever (slum lord). But my new neighbors and I have come to help and support each other, partly as a result of this. My next-door neighbor was a homebuilder, and he can fix anything. He recently made a bunch of repairs in my apartment in exchange for me helping him with his resume, and a pizza. I thought he did way more for him than he did for me, and vice versa. It was a great thing that benefited both of us, and no money was exchanged.

    I think we are moving toward a phase where people have given up on the government helping us, and we are now going to learn once again how to help and support each other, as we did many decades ago. Instead of using money to buy everything, I believe we will be exchanging and trading services with our neighbors much more than in the past. The economy is, and will continue to, force most people to simplify and find alternate solutions to many problems. I hope what is happening now will compel us to once again engage and interact with our neighbors in ways that will advance us as human beings.

    Please keep writing, Mark. Your thoughts and ideas are important.

    –Lynn–

    • markbittner Says:

      I agree with everything that you’ve said here. It reflects my thinking exactly. I’m not going to stop writing. My plate’s a little full right now, but I intend to keep this up.

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