The Worst Kind of American

I’m the worst kind of American; I’m a third-generation immigrant, I’m a gay, I’m progressive, I’ve lived outside our borders, I freely criticize our policies, I hate that my taxes finance war, I hate celebrity culture obsession, I don’t frequent businesses that undervalue their laborers, I don’t eat corn-fed bullshit, I don’t eat GMOs, I won’t wear a tie, I won’t pledge my allegiance, I refuse to be governed by any other God than the one within me, I vote Democrat on principle, I think our best food is Mexican, I really don’t give a shit about football because it insulates us from the rest of the world which plays soccer, I’m glad we almost have reasonably affordable socialized healthcare which is a basic human right, I think any pro-gun argument sounds like ducks quacking, I want free education so I can continue becoming even more intelligent, I don’t believe in an American culture that isn’t a culture made of all cultures, I want to marry a handsome Muslim, I wish we had better trains, I think the scariest places in the country are the whitest, I think public everything should be secular, I think marijuana should be legal even though I don’t smoke it, I don’t care if you have an abortion because your body is not my body, I think the police should be told to care less about the little things, I think children should be taught to grow gardens in public school, I don’t understand the electoral college, I don’t understand why Cheney and Bush haven’t been tried for war crimes, I don’t want my tax dollars sent to Israel but I’m happy to feed a refugee, I think the blood of many people is on our hands, I want a socialist Jew for President. 
Yes, definitely the worst kind of American.


The Undesirable Perspective

I forget, having lived in Italy now for a year, how narrow the American perspective can be. That’s not to say that other perspectives aren’t equally as narrow. Italy, for example, is dominated by Catholicism and it will be another decade before LGBTQI people here gain the recognitions afforded to every other Western European country. France, as well, is a very divided system of economic classes despite all the applause it receives for its cultural integration. And well, cultural integration indeed, considering it ruled northern Africa with Italy during the days when empires were fashionable.

I have been asked here on more than one occasion what it is I think, being an American and all, about this or that regarding US foreign policy, imperialism, what really happened on 9/11, WTF was with that whole Iraq invasion thing, and so on. These are questions I’ve been asking myself for a long time but on American soil these questions are considered conspiratorial and un-patriotic. And taking political action to change these things? Forget about it. Americans don’t rebel. We hardly even strike. We sacrifice the quality of our lives and moo uselessly at a faulty system we resent and yet refuse to change.

A friend suggested I renounce my American citizenship. I’m sure plenty of others would think the same of me. Listen, I know that the USA provides a life that beats what’s available in most other places. Nowhere is perfect. However, the best citizen, whether domestic or ex-patriated, criticizes his own government. I will repeat that for effect: The best citizens criticize their own government. They also experience the world from outside perspectives which foster a greater understanding of their own origins but expounding upon this point I will save for another day.

Here’s the truth that anyone from outside the USA would “like” on Facebook and that most of my compatriots would take offense to: Americans pay their taxes and those taxes are funneled into our bloated military budget. That budget killed half a million Iraqi civilians. Those are the same taxes that torture suspects on Guantanamo. They are the same taxes that quite possibly paid for the weapons used in this week’s latest string of terror attacks.

Wait, you said what?

Yes, I know that the tax system is complicated and that plenty of other nations are funneling a fuck ton of money into their military forces and committing genocide and blah blah blah. But I’m not talking about Myanmar. I’m talking about my home, the USA. I’m talking about my people. I’m talking about our innate capacity to rise above the suffering that we inflict upon each other and other nations. I’m not even criticizing anyone in particular. I’m talking about numbers. It all comes down to the math. Here’s a pretty pie chart to help you figure it out:

According to National, who did a sweet job of condensing actual IRS statistics, total federal revenues in fiscal year 2015 are expected to be $3.18 TRILLION. These revenues come from three major sources:

  1. Income taxes paid by individuals: $1.48 trillion, or 47% of all tax revenues.
  2. Payroll taxes paid jointly by workers and employers: $1.07 trillion, 34% of all tax revenues.
  3. Corporate income taxes paid by businesses: $341.7 billion, or 11% of all tax revenues.

And $560 BILLION are being spent on toys for bullies.

The point is that we are all complicit in what goes on in the rest of the world.

Anecdote: Today the city of Rovereto was shut down for four hours as a special task force lifted, moved and safely detonated a WWII bomb that was recently uncovered adjacent to one of the city’s largest neighborhoods. The bomb was American. Which points again, symbolically, toward my point here:

We are all complicit in what goes on in the rest of the world.

We are not all guilty of racism or caring more about Paris than Beirut but we are all guilty of paying into a system that we must begin to change. Now. For our own good and for the good of the rest of the world that we cannot help but affect. It is time to wake up. Not all Americans are fat and stupid. Not all Muslims are terrorists. Not all French are snobs. Not all Italians are hot.

The less we pay for war, the less we will pay for the casualties of these unwanted military operations that we allow to continue and that we continue to fund.

And I really suggest you take a look at this nifty counter of how much money American taxpayers spend per hour on on-going overseas operations and then go out and take a serious look at our crumbling infrastructure and ask yourself what some of that war money could be spent on:

Advice from a 30-year-old “Millenial”

I’ve read a few articles recently on about how half of American Millenials would live abroad and about advice from 30-year-olds to their 20-year-old selves. Well, I’m a “Millenial” and I’ve just turned 30 and I’ve lived abroad three times and I have something to say about all that.

1. Go to College. Everybody’s up in arms about student loan debt and me too, what with my 60K-soon-to-be-80K’s worth of borrowing (thanks to my current M.A. in English and creative writing). Yet, if you play your cards right, the debt is manageable and can ultimately be worth it. How? Well, the most obvious point is that most employers require you to have a college degree. Also, you can get a job while you’re in college to pay your expenses and cut back on how much you borrow. Before you go to college and while you are there, apply to every scholarship program your personal demographic can fit into. Free money is, uh, free money, duh, and if you’re a gay black Jew you basically win free college for life. College usually isn’t free but it’s a great idea, because…

2. Study abroad. I spent my junior year studying in Normandy via my university’s exchange program. This means a few things, in particular: a) I learned French (see point 3 below); b) I met people from all over the world and fostered lasting friendships, which means a couch to sleep on when you decide to visit Italy, Spain, England, Australia, and on and on; c) Gaining a wider perspective on the world makes you a better person and betters your life in ways not available in Smalltown USA.

3. Learn a second language. In every American high school, you are encouraged and sometimes required to learn a second language. Let’s look past the fact that Americans are terribly ignorant about the world outside its own borders and towards the fact that a growing part of American society, LIKE IT OR NOT, speaks Spanish as their first language. So, learn Spanish. Learn French. Learn German. Who cares, just learn another language because a) it makes you super cool and b) it increases your job marketability by so much that I don’t even need to find some statistic to back up my claim.

4. Save some money. Don’t save all of it because that makes life boring. Spend whatever you want on whatever you want but make sure you put some money in the savings account and not the checking account. One day you will need that money and that’s a promise.

5. Learn a trade. Looking back I wish I had gone to the vo-tech high school because right now I’d be a handsome, bearded, tattooed barber in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, which seems to be the new American dream. Trade skills are more valuable than academic skills though some academic skills could be transfered into trade skills. For example, I used my silly Bachelor’s in literature to become a CELTA English teacher and now I live and teach in northern Italy. Even someone with a PhD in Philosophy should go to culinary school because we all know what pays more and, beyond money, it’s fun!

6. Fuck up big time. This one’s important. If you never make mistakes or take risks, you will not grow. Period. You will remain a sapling and never become a tree, or whatever other metaphor you need to visualize this point. Fall in love, break your heart along with his/hers, invest time in a place and tear yourself out of it to chase a failed dream and fuck that up, too. Just don’t do heroin and everything will, really, be just fine. Really. You will lose money, change places, lose friends and yet all of these losses are balanced by gains. You will make money in a different way, a different place, you will know different places, make new friends and ultimately better yourself as a human being and willing participant in the completely unavoidable, very real game of Life.

7. Travel. So cliché, this point: Spend all of your money on traveling. What, you really want to spend all of your time wherever it is you live and never see any of the incredibly beautiful places that exist on this our little planet? Even if it means traveling within the United States! Forget the fact that you’re a “millenial”, which is a stupid term, and drive your car across the country. Work for a year, quit, go backpacking across Europe, and then find a new job. This is the norm for all young Europeans. Defy the American command to work hard until you die and ENJOY LIFE BEFORE YOU DIE. Because you will die.

8. Wherever you go, there you are.  Despite what you may be thinking of me at this point, all of my experience has taught me this one great lesson. I have lived in Normandy, Seattle, Ireland, Boston, Cape Cod, NYC, and, presently, northern Italy. I don’t know why I’ve changed places so much but here I am at 30 and I can safely say that no matter where I am, all I want is to be near good friends and family and have access to both wild nature and wild metropolis. Which means one day I will return to the USA, despite everything I absolutely despise about its culture and its politic. Italy is beautiful and I bet you I could find other jobs in other places but I miss the people I already know and whose friendships I have spent the last 30 years fostering. I guess when you turn 30 you slow down and really start taking stock and this is important and I wish I had done it 5 years ago. That said, wherever you go, there you are, so carpe diem, be here now, and concentrate on what you’re doing where you’re doing it. It is in this moment that you are able to manifest peace and power, not in any other moment no matter how hard you wish. This is the moment.

9. One last point because why not… Be healthy. Go to the gym, do yoga, do Cross Fit, go for a jog twice a week, have more sex than a rabbit, it doesn’t matter. Don’t fuck up your body. Love it. Love yourself and believe in your own capacity for beauty. You are beautiful but only if you treat yourself beautifully. People who spend their lunches smoking and drinking look like people who spend their lunches smoking and drinking. This isn’t a judgement against smoking or drinking. I drink in moderation, usually, and I might enjoy a cigarette every other week when I’m at the bar with my Italian friends. Which perhaps brings me to the real point: Everything in moderation.

So who cares if you’re a millenial and you’re 30 or you’re 20. Leave America, return, leave again, change directions, change locations, change your hair. If you haven’t realized it yet, you are the master of your own destiny and it’s a tango between you and fate. Life hands you lemons, so bite the rind off one, suck all the juice out and bare your pulpy teeth at the lemon seller who thought he could get the better of you. Own that fucking lemon. As “millenials”- what a stupid word- we have been handed a world that is basically an orchard of lemon trees because our parents’ generation is careening into conservatism and they made all the money before we could get to it and now there’s only money left if you want to join the cult of Google, Amazon or Microsoft. Don’t do it. Stick to your guns, be who you are, and make sweet lemonade… and then sell that lemonade for a profit and make sure you do something GOOD with your profit. The world has enough greedy fucks, don’t be a greedy fuck. Or become a school teacher because then you have healthcare and summers off in which to travel and explore all of the points above which you should re-read for good measure and share via your social media apparatus of choice.

– Stefan