Thursday, September 04, 2008

Fantasy Camp and the Sarah Palin Effect

I'm a fidgeter. I always have been. If there's a stress ball around, I squeeze it. In my room, when I'm not pacing, I've been known to shuffle cards for minutes on end. I do this not because I'm overloaded on caffeine, I one day realized. Rather, these nervous ticks subordinate; they exist in the service of one of my defining characteristics: I'm a daydreamer.

Jonah Lehrer wrote a piece for this weekend's Boston Globe that I instantly identified with. The creative mind needs idle time in which to go places, sometimes to dead ends and sometimes to good ideas. But if you're going to let your mind drift away, you need something to occupy your physical self, like shuffling cards, going for a walk, or taking a long drive alone. When I was younger, far too you to drive, this would get me in great trouble. While daydreaming, probably about sporting conquest, I paid exactly no mind to the whereabouts of myself, and so I would inadvertently trample my father's garden. He would come out and yell, and I'd be sorry, but in 5 minutes my mind was gone and I'd back at it. Not much has changed in 15 years, really, except that I don't have a front yard anymore, and my back one is made of concrete.

My daydreams these days follow a few patterns. In some of them I am professionally successful, in some personally. And then, in times when I'm sick of the city and the Midwestern starts to creep up, I have these awesome blue-collar fantasies. Often I am driving around in a Jeep, or Dodge Charger look-alike. I'm usually listening to the Allman Brothers or the Marshall Tucker Band. I am happy. In some of these dreams it's actually 1974 and my facial hair is mind-blowing; in some it's today. But in all of them I am the righteous picture of America, a man alone and satisfied.

I have these dreams because I, your humble Eastie, not so long ago lived a genuine blue collar life. I worked 8 to 5, building affordable community housing. When the clock struck 5 the night was mine; I didn't have any money, but I had food stamps, a serviceable car, a serviceable bike, and my record collection. I listened mostly to country and country-rock during this period because it actually rang more true with my life than anything else -- when I'd put on anything sly or urbane it just seemed out of sorts.

My life now is nothing like that, and it most likely never will be again. So when I get disillusioned with trying to make something of myself, I put the Allman Brothers Band on my iPod and let my mind drift back to a time when my life was simpler, and while I didn't have everything, things weren't so bad (at least in memory). This is exactly what we as a country are in danger of doing.

Slate on Tuesday worked out what I had been close to articulating but never able to -- Sarah Palin is a dangerous figure for those of us opposed to her because she appeals right to the heart of this daydream. In the case of her and the family, it's small town life in Alaska, with dignified, important blue-collar work like her husband does. It appeals to a time when someone without a college education had a good chance to land a well-paying Union job, which doesn't exist much in the Lower 48 anymore.

As the Slate headline reads, their life is enviable. But it's fantasy. Theirs is not the America most of us occupy. As Tom has duly noted on his blog, we are a nation primarily of urban dwellers, not small-towners, no matter what our national mythology might say. Yet because of that mythology we are a nation primed to accept the Sarah Palin story as something close to our heart, and electing a ticket that mentally resides in yesteryear.

Tonight John McCain will accept the Republican nomination for President in an ice hockey arena that has been reconfigured since last night into a "town-hall" style room. I suppose it's intended to allude to his maverick credentials, or his supposed populism. But the image is truly fitting because it hearkens back to a small town era that today dominates only our daydreams.

1 comment:

Elissa said...

I think John Stewart is the only reason I wish I had cable. Meant to call you this weekend, but I may not get it done. No news, just wondering how things are going on your end. My friend Ashley just moved from Boston to Brooklyn: sometime the two of you should have a beer together.