Featured Post


If you're a student looking for syllabi, click the "Academic Home Page" link on your right, and start there.

Friday, July 28, 2006

...And My Summer Vacation Also

So once more, I reappear after a long absence, announce that I'm ready to get blogging again, then nothing happens. It's happened before; it'll happen again. This time, what happened was our summer vacation--a pretty poorly timed vacation, as it turned out, since we left just as things started to get busy in regards to preparing for our move to Kansas, and since we've returned, there’s been no time for recovery (we move into our new home on August 1).

What did we do while we were gone? Well, as always, we drove a lot: from Illinois to Michigan to Ontario to Indiana and back to Illinois again. Plus, there was a flight to Washington state and back in the midst of that. Towards the end of the three weeks we were on the road or sleeping at relatives' or friends' homes, Alison, our 2-year-old, really began to get tired. "I want to go home," she'd moan. Too much vacation....but then, as Melissa and I realized once we thought about it, all of our vacations are arguably "too much." We've always been willing to throw the kids in the car, make one more long drive, stretch things out for another couple of days, try to fit in one more visit to a city we've never seen or to an in-law or old friend. (In fact, we actually cut back this time around; we'd originally planned on visiting Oregon too, where we have some relatives and friends both old and new.) Thankfully, we've learned at least one lesson: never again at Christmastime. But the rest of the year, especially the summers? Fair game.

Perhaps this attitude will serve us well in Kansas. My mantra (at least insofar as family vacations are concerned) ever since we made the decision to move to Wichita is that, as Kansas is pretty much equally distant from everything (the geographic center of the continental U.S. is only a little over an hour from our doorstep), that means there’s no reason not to go anywhere. Take four days to drive to San Francisco? Hey, why not? It's only 1782 miles away! Be pretty much the same if we went to Disney World in Orlando--that’s 1480 miles away, only four or five hours' difference. Whereas Mt. Rushmore is now a mere 900 miles away: that'll be an easy one! And Dallas is only 368 miles away; just a (long) afternoon drive! I'm sure we'll do it often. (Assuming gas doesn’t go to $6 a gallon, that is.)

More seriously....I spent a lot of time thinking on this trip about the regions of the country, about how they're divided and how they overlap. (I've thought about that before too.) Shelby Foote, the great Civil War historian, made a comment once about how returning Civil War veterans, both Union and Confederate, had a changed attitude towards the U.S. In contrast to the very circumscribed perspective they'd once shared with the huge majority of 19th-century Americans, they now knew they had a country: they'd seen it, they'd walked its roads, followed its rivers, fought in its forests and fields. There's a romanticism to that (it seems just as likely that Civil War veterans, especially Southern ones, brought back with them a defiant desire to never abandon their parochial vision again), but just because it's put romantically doesn’t mean it isn't true. I much prefer the idea of driving to fighting as a way of discovering the landscape, of course. Still, whether the means by which one is forced or chooses to broaden one's sense of identity and location is the U.S. Army or the interstate highway system, the results are similar.

Some people celebrate those results: Mark Twain, that wonderfully talented misanthrope whose boyhood home in Hannibal, MO, we finally just managed to visit, once said that "travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts." Lately, however, I’ve been reading a lot by people would condemn those same results. Bill Kauffman has written a sharp, challenging book titled Look Homeward, America, that's been discussed by some of my favorite bloggers of late; in it, he attacks (among many, many other things) the interstate highway system that made it so easy for people and goods and ideas to flow across this huge country....with the result that many of men and women, lacking roots or traditions or local economies, get sucked into the centralizing, homogenizing, cultural and political and economic machine of modernity--the big cities, the big political parties, the big suburbs, the big government. It's a classic anarchist and/or traditionalist conservative argument, and one that on some points (from both the left and right) appeals to me a lot. For someone like Kauffman, highways are like wars, whether civil or foreign: all bad, and all to be resisted.

I'm not persuaded by that argument, but I want to learn from it nonetheless. The past several months--actually it’s been going on much longer than that, but the publication of Rod Dreher’s Crunchy Cons (the discussion about which I commented on a few times) greatly increased the volume of talk--has seen real revival in populist, traditionalist, and localist perspectives amongst self-described "conservatives." Since the sort of conservative I am--someone who believes (as Norman Mailer did, as captured in the quote I’ve put up on the sidebar) that "conserving" and spreading civic and moral and religious goods requires one to think like a radical and a leftist, to think in a communitarian and democratic way about social and economic structures rather than leaving them to the market and those who usually dominate such--feels a lot more sympathy for Populists than Republicans, I’m all in favor of such a revival. I'd like to be able to say that I contribute to it too. As for where such a revival will go....who knows? Politically, despite good signs here and there, this society has a long ways to go. And as far as our family goes, such arguments about rootedness probably won’t stop us from driving hither and yon every summer (gas prices are a lot more likely to do that). But maybe the more such community-oriented concerns are pushed into the public sphere, the more it may help make more people aware of just what is involved in preserving and recovering healthy cities and neighborhoods that they can return to once their summer travels end. And especially once all these wanderers find someplace, as we thankfully may have at long last, where they can stay.

So anyway, we're off to Kansas. Fulfilling my promise to catch up on (by now ancient in blog-time) discussions of populism and progressivism and more will have to wait a little while longer. See you from Oz!