As I write I fly over my favorite archipelago. Flying is one of the best things to do in Indonesia. Alhamdulallah, cuz I do it a lot! Out the window I can see dozens of caldera islands breaching the water’s surface like a team of giant sea turtles gingerly coming up for air. I am in transit to Java. We have been invited by the US Consulate in Surabaya to give a presentation on Martin Luther King Jr. to high school teachers then off to Lombok for project planning. As I acknowledge Dr. King’s selfless gifts to America’s health and growth, I feel weak and overwhelmed with complete respect and inspiration. The logical syllogism is sound, MLK and Jolie are both Americans, yet that has nothing to do with why I feel so emotional at the thought of such an incredible man, and is exactly the reason why I resent culture and the unwanted, undeserved acknowledgement I receive for simply being “American”.
When I think of MLK it does not make me feel some pull towards pride. As if to say, “I am so proud of my country. Look at what we have done!” There isn’t some silent psychological acknowledgement reminiscing my grandpa’s time fought in WWII, or the family tree that proves my relations to John Adams. It does not call upon my pilgrim DNA that runs through my WASP blood. Nor does it remind me that my mother is a daughter of the revolution and that her father lettered in 5 sports at USC. It is not because I miss America or am proud of America that MLK brings tears to my eyes. The emotion MLK triggered is a feeling of simple and pure adoration for a fellow human being, not a fellow American. Thinking of MLK and considering my emotions I see quite clearly that the more I am gone the less I think about countries and culture and the more I simply think of humans, humanity and the complete illusion that is culture, the more I have to check in and ask myself, “I am American, right?” and the more I start to answer “Yea Jolie, you are American, according to your passport.”
As I consider Dr. King and our logically syllogistic, yet entirely unimportant similarities I am struck by the fact that people in these schools that I will visit tomorrow will have this sense of respect for me simply because I am American and such “wonderful” things come from America. One of whom is MLK. Some undeserved notions will be established. The teachers will strive to be more like us and do things more like Americans. Really it is absurd! As a “cultural ambassador” from a developed country I will go to that Muslim school tomorrow to teach non-Americans about American pedagogy and American theories of civil rights. Normally, this kind of thing leaves me feeling estranged and uncomfortable. I do not think America is cooler/better because it has “better” education systems, cleaner roads, “civil rights”, or laws against littering. So therefore I do not know why the Indonesian high school teachers would care what we have to say. Also, I do not think America is cooler/better because MLK was American. There was/is probably an Indonesian version of MLK that we just don’t know about because instead of listening we are always talking. I think America was just lucky to have MLK. Most importantly, I do not feel as though I deserve to rack up some America-Fuck-Yea points because I happen to be American like MLK. In fact, after these five months here in Indo, I do not feel as though I am eligible or deserve points of any kind for being or doing anything but being from my own culture, the culture of jolie.
Seeing as I have been living in Indonesia for about five months now, I now begin the phase that calls an end to the cultural romance. I am still in love with Indonesia but, as people say, the honeymoon is over. I can see things with or without cultural lenses depending on my mood. It is as if I have been on a serious cultural detox diet and am finally clean and clear from most preceding cultural blindness, whether American, Chinese, Indian, German, British, Canadian, Irish, Indonesian, Italian, Spanish, Mexican, Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Sufi or whatever it is I picked up on my way. My culture is simply Jolie. Perhaps all of my journeys play an atomized role in my present state of cultural distance, but the condition is such that what I know and feel is not atomized but complete; there is just one me. I might speak German, root for German Football and when drunk slur like a German but I am in no way really German. I am still American according to my passport or my hard engrained physical idiosyncrasies such as accent and concept of space (though I can fake both of those pretty well). However, I can barely relate to Americans and their culture in general. Not to mention, I am far less Indonesian than the woman sitting next to me but I am probably more Indonesian than you. Also, I might despise China and never want to go there or to India or Nepal again but I have spent most of my life studying their philosophies. Mainly, I am alone. Free to see things in the guidelines of my own paradigm. My brain washing has reached a climax of broken down-ness and is nearly turned to nothing. Without left winged radio shows, or right winged news channels, without connotations, without assumptions, without being in graduate school or ANY SCHOOL for a year, without anyone’s full understanding I am now forced into full tolerance of everyone…maybe too much.
In a state of practiced aloneness a deconstruction of the cultural brain is inevitable. Philosophy becomes clearer in isolation because the only thing one hears is one’s own heart or thoughts. Or maybe because one’s thoughts are only things one has already heard so all that blunder becomes little bits of everything at the same time and that sound is like a soft hum and that hum is incomprehensible, meta-linguistic, and therefore peaceful. I think in that quietly loud place is where my true sophia lives. It is nice and strange. I have been isolated and alone in more ways than not these past 5 months. I am incredibly alone linguistically; my Indonesian is only ok. I am quite physically alone too; I live with Muslims who unless they are your mother or child do not touch you and will tell you “please do not touch me Jolie, I am going to go pray”. Outside of mulling over the philosophy I have already read and talking every once and awhile to friends or family from home, my intellectual stimulations and interactions are non existent, outdated–stuff already taken in from my past. With very little newness my thoughts are independently cycling through the present’s presence without choice.
This process is very similar to a yoga practice in general. Tantra for example is very similar. You must be very present in order to let go of everything you thought you knew if you wish to notice the thing the ego is always trying to convince you is YOU, and this must happen if you are to seek your true nature. “Know thyself”, right? A person not fortunate enough to be raised in a fully free tantric society (which according to my calculations is everyone on the planet) will find their true nature at some point either way. Living abroad and traveling most of my adult life is what has given me access to some of the best most raw and vulnerable truths of me, and I sit here now in complete gratitude. Grateful to have the biggest back yard of most people I know, and to have been exploring it since I was 19. Grateful to simply be sitting next to a woman on a plane who is from a small village where everyone speaks a language only 1000 other’s speak. Even though she and I will never operate linguistically, or have the same president, or eat even slightly similar foods we are precisely that, similar. We are family because we are together in our moment on our plane in our life. We are both completely human. Yet, I am still alone.
I do not know nor care where my cultural identity went. It’s not that I want to or don’t want to find it, there is just nothing to be grasped anymore; my appreciation is no longer for culture but for humanity. Culture is like a math equation. It is logical and easy so long as you know how to do the calculations. I think I know how. You can break it down relatively simply with one poignant phrase, “it’s cultural, not personal”. You can break any cultural moment down to a handful of sand. You can look at the sand and speculate all the millions of pieces. Then in the end you will just toss the sand back on the beach. “It’s simple, it’s just sand!” you will say. If it’s not cultural but personal than culture is nothing because EVERYTHING is personal. Nowadays, I revel deeply in simply witnessing humanity. Not looking at the kids that play in my neighborhood as Indonesians, or Muslims, or children. All of which are different than me. Instead, they are just little moments of perfectly concise humanness, little pieces of sand, broken down versions of the same thing.
Maybe some Americans would shed a tear for MLK because they relate to his awesomeness as Americans. Their ego thrives knowing that their logical syllogism is sound. Maybe they would have cried at the thought of MLK out of pride, familiarity, fascination and gratitude for both their ancestors and their unborn American children that will one day reap the benefits of MLK’s work. Not me. Now, I am simply disconnected. There he is, that man who worked so hard and sacrificed his organism for America. I am in awe, from one completion to the next…in awe of this awesome web of ultimate oneness. So why am I getting paid to go teach others how to be more like me, more like MLK? Shouldn’t they know just as much as me? After all, we are all the same. We are all human individuals with our own culture. My passport–touched and stamped by dozens of humans from so many different cultures–should not serve as some credential proving my eligibility to teach others about “superiour” philosophies or righeous people such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. My passport just proves I am some human that happened to be born to a particular set of parents in a particular part of the world with a particular language, food and music. What it doesn’t explain is how it is actually useless, and how nowadays I couldn’t care less.