waving flag of united states of america

Home: Not An American Girl. The Politics of Freedom

I am not an American girl. Like Ruby Tuesday I can never say where I came from. She had her reasons, I have mine. I’ve been all around this world, man. I’ve seen Asia’s jungles, Europe’s ancient cities, and places of a hotter less stuck- up kind. None of it suited me very well. I am unanchored from my past as a matter of necessity; put out to sea and trying to stay with my head above water. I write about the past, but I cannot write about much which would identify me and put me in danger.

I did not grow up in America. The world of proms and TV dinners, all-American cheerleaders and high school high jinx is not my milieu. I was looking in from outside, a million miles away from the cultural pins and anchors of the USA. I watched it and read it from the outside. I devoured America’s novelists and poets, grew up cutting my teeth on Little House on the Prairie, and Happy Days. My teenage years were spent with my head stuck in the sounds and words that spilled out from Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Seattle. My feet were stuck somewhere I never really belonged, and but my heart was in the American heartlands, longing for that pure Americana buzz. There is nothing as beautiful as reading Kerouac in the cold and dark, head under the covers, setting sail for Mexico alongside him and Dean Moriarty. I longed for the new, the bold, the unknown. I was immediately attracted to the pioneer spirit, of the wide open road and an adventure that lay just beyond sight.

The undulating bodies of the cheerleaders in Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit did not strike a chord with me. To me it was all Twin Peaks and Laura Palmer: a hidden world that I could not quite put my finger on. It all lay in an uncanny valley made up of the sights and sounds of those who sent picture and audio postcards out from the great expanse of America, into the ether, where I picked them up in the bookstores, tv sets and movie theaters of my youth. I felt no affinity to anything other than the other I so clearly was a part of.

I did not fit in. I had my walking boots, I was headed out on an adventure, set off out to sea with no anchor, adrift to see what shook out in time, what shook loose, what the road had in store for me. I travelled this continent and that, with my ‘sailors suit and cap’ as Lou Reed sang in the Velvet Underground masterpiece, Heroin.

I should never have left New York once I had made my way there. I was a coward. If I stayed and poured drinks in bars I would have been illegal and that made me nervous. It was my fate anyway to be undocumented, and I should have stayed there and played my guitar in the coffee houses and bars, seeing if I could make my way like other pioneering artistic souls did before me. Instead I took a detour around Japan, and saw what Asia had to offer. I could never stay still for long.

My youth was a place of rivers and water. My youth was a place of pain and suffering. Born. Lose. Conform. Be bullied to within an inch of my life for not fitting in. Lose some more. Run. Survive. Continue. Try to find a place to belong. Belong. That was all I wanted, to belong. I could never belong there. Too many ghosts. Too many people intent on shaming me for existing. Too much pressure to be something I could never ever be. I tried to force my round peg self into society’s square hole. It didn’t work. So I left. I ran as far as I could away from myself, or rather, as I see now, away from those who sought to define and shame me, own and blame me for my own existence. I was a desperately unhappy young woman.

What a waste of time. If I had embraced being ‘me’ how much better would things have been!

To me, America is a place of haven. When Japan went so wrong, after so much physical and emotional suffering, America was there waiting, her roads wide open, and all that freedom there for the picking. I could run and run and never have to stop, at least not until the pandemic stopped my little run entirely and I had to pick a place to stop and be.

I find European culture too stolid. The Antipodeans far too set adrift and brutally literal. Asia is a closed door with a beautiful covering. America, like Goldilocks, is just right for me. I have a deep love for South American literature, particularly the magical realists and the iconoclasts. Perhaps I could have found somewhere to fit in there. As it was, here I am in a country that is a place of contradictions. It is both dangerous, and the safest place I could be. It is new and fresh, and stuck in its ways. It has a charm of its own, that changes with the state lines and the decades, as the people and their lives roll by. People in America live lives contained mostly by their small towns and their small town lives. Sometimes one escapes and makes it to a large conurbation to create and write or paint, and then the magic happens. I have done my time in the wilderness. I have looked out from the inside, and looked inside from far away.

Finally, here I am, after coming up to eight years continually in this country I love, and I finally feel I belong. I feel as if I have my cultural parameters set and my touchstones in place. I feel as if I know America, and America knows me. This is the closest I have ever felt to belonging. San Francisco has not spat me out yet, and I hope it never does. I know what is out there, what lays beyond this little city of 7 square miles on the Bay. I have travelled it and got to know it. I have suffered in it, and starved in it. I have made my way across it and brought that knowledge back with me, and I have finally found a home.

Perhaps I can finally tell myself I am an American girl. Maybe this country will finally adopt me and let me stay here forever more. I want my bones to be buried in San Francisco, then perhaps I can truly rest. This is my place on the planet, and I love where I am.

I don’t love the politics and the divisions. I don’t love the cancel culture and the racism. I don’t love the fact that in this country, post Trump, we are so turned in against each other that everything has got rather hostile and dangerous, but I do love the way the 101 hugs the coastline, and Ramblin’ Jack Elliot plays his 912 Greens. I love the Mississippi and her mosquito-ridden banks that explode in life after mostly freezing over in the winter. I love the freshness of its spirit, even if the history of this almost brand new country is full of shame and deceit. The country is not its politics, and neither do I have much interest, except to say, leave me out of it. I am interested in culture, not picking a team. All that is good about this country can be found in those that create something. I guess I am un-American for admitting that i do not care for politics, but that doesn’t bother me much. I was never one to do what I ought to. Leave me out of the division, I know what brings us together. Our shared bonds of food, rituals, our culture and our art, and it is there that the future lies.

My leaders are Jack Kerouac, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and Jim Morrison. I adhere to the creed of the road and the holy act of driving down it, doing a solid 55, watching the towns blow by, one after another, with always one more gas station and one more small town grocery store to go just down the road..and the next road…and the highway after that. It is these stories I love. It is these stories I long to tell. If we were all less distracted by politics and our gangs and preset ‘starter packs’ of acceptable (according to the grand arbiter of social media) ideas and ideals, we would be in much better shape.

Ill see you on the road by and by. I bet we can find a bar to stop and drink a good ole Pabst Blue Ribbon in and shoot the shit. We might even see a moose, or a badger or a deer and stop in wide eyed wonder at the beauty of this country and the vast majority of souls who call this place ‘home’. Perhaps it is not where I am from that matters, but where I ended up, though I suspect I do not write like someone who was born here. I have too much reverence for this country to pull off that neat trick, and too much love too. Rather, I hope I write like someone who has got to know a new lover, fallen head over heels and in doing so learnt a little about themselves.

Detroit Richards, Dec 2022

6 Comments

  1. John Jr

    Congratulations, I am glad that you have found your place, that you acknowledge the good & bad & the in between; happy trails. ๐Ÿ™‚

    It is a shame that we seem to be in increasingly dangerous and difficult and expensive times, though.

    I am not as optimistic of this place, I have not traveled much though, so I am only used to being in one of the worst states. ๐Ÿ˜€

    I am happy for you, though. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. The Paltry Sum: Detroit Richards

      Hello there! Long time no see! I do have the luxury of being in San Francisco, which makes everything seem brighter, I think. Though life is expensive, yes, and the world dangerous. I do love this country, for all our transient and ingrained faults and divisions, I can’t help but feel that which brings us together, is stronger than that which separates us and divides us. I am not ‘from here’ originally, my mindset is not of your typical American born person. It makes it easier to see the good in this place, and the bright spots on the horizon, I think. I guess I am feeling fluffy today. Ask me another day and I will be telling you about how I wake up in a cold sweat wondering if we are all truly in trouble, if we are gonna get nuked, end up in a civil war, or some other such deadly, nonsense.
      I wish you much peace and happiness. The darkest hour is just before the storm and all that jazz….as ever, Detroit.

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