Home is so remote;
Home is just emotions
sticking in my throat--
let's go to your place,
let's go to your place".
Last night hail fell on our home. I see a metaphor in that hail, as I'll explain obliquely below. The hails falls now, and I want to shore up the sense of home.
Yesterday I went to the Dallas Chess Club, to see if I could play in an afternoon three round tournament. The fellow on the phone in the morning had told me the tournament was "on" (the calendar on the internet had suggested "TBD"), but the fellow was mistaken, and there was no tournament (this happens, no big deal--it's only a club about a game). I had never been to the Dallas Chess Club, so it was fun anyway to see what it looked like. They rented one of those office/warehouse spaces which from the front entry way looks as though it is a cramped little office, but then in back they have large, impressive tournament rooms. A sign said "We have no maid service here, so you should pick up your own things, including candy bar wrappers", but the sign's factual accuracy was apparently more impressive than its exhortative role. Still, it had all the pre-requisites of a chess house, including pictures of grandmasters who had visited Dallas all along the walls, tournament pairings sheets showing how the players did in recent events, and many press articles about the Dallas Chess Club member who set the 1995 USCF record by playing 2200+ rated chess games in a year. Appaently, they arranged him match days of 12 to 14 games a day to accomplish the feat.
I played with a 9 year old whose strength was much less than mine in a casual game, but my victory took longer than it should have because I managed to lose back material after I had a lead in material. I am not a dynamic, exciting attacking player, but instead a cautious, quirky "grab a pawn and hold on for dear life" player, who really can't afford to be careless with the lead. I must shake the rust off again.
All the while, I kept thinking in my mind whether the Dallas Chess Club could be a "home" for me. I tend to think of things as my "home" place. This goes beyond our charming tract home with the postage stamp yard down the street from the little pocket pond park. Instead, "home" for me in this context means a lot of places to which I will return over and over, because I feel comfortable there. In my current locale, my "home" includes not only my home and office, but also a sunfish pond and prairie hiking trail an hour and fifteen minutes away called the Park Hill Prairie. This place is home to me because when I drive there, I frequently see herons, sometimes see meadowlarks, and the fish bite my hook (I catch and release) as though I am the first fisherperson ever to visit the park. A low ridge allows me to look out across gently rolling hills of prairie and scraggly cedar and hackberry trees.
Another place which is "home" to me is our local Trinity Trail. This place allows me to hike and spot butterflies, birds and flowers in profusion only twenty minutes away from my house. When I go here, I'm seeing things I don't see every day, and yet I'm home, because the park "belongs" to me in my mind as if I had the deed.
Lately I'm focused on how to create community, or, really, how to create that sense of "home". After the tournament at the Dallas Chess Club did not pan out, I went to my office and got a work task done. Then I drove to two area gamer stores, one near my work and one near my home, to arrange for places to hold blitz chess touraments. In both places, the owners were cordial, and the economic terms so reasonable that any chess tournament would break even, and probably make a small profit, which I will donate to charity. More importantly, at both places, the owners got the vision of fun and community I am seeking for my club. I have been an officer of a chess club two or three times before, and I enjoy them when they run tournaments and get players together, without behaving like a "dues and internal politics" club. I want a chess club to feel like home, and home should be all about acceptance and an easygoing comfort, not stress or rules. So I'm trying to invent a "home" club, in which other folks and I can play.
I used to see things like setting up a club to play timed games as silly if fun, but now I begin to believe that the country is losing an essential fabric of community that only small scale action to counteract can help. Our country is politically fractured, and I must confess that the extremists on both sides disenchant me; the only difference is that one side has power, which makes them disenchant me even more. The economic disparity in this country is tremendous right now, but what troubles me is the social divide arising from this disparity. I live in an upper middle class area; the town one over is even a bit more prosperous. That town now is part of a fight in Texas to try to repeal our current educational funding, which requires richer school districts to transmit part of their taxes to smaller districts in a program referred to here as "Robin Hood". Robin Hood was ordered by the courts some years ago, because the courts found (correctly, in my view) that a state should not be providing rich students 9,000 a year in per pupil spending, while providing poor students with 4,000 a year. Yet conservative activists in our legislature have spent a good bit of time trying to repeal Robin Hood. I am a liberal in many ways, though I do favor fiscal responsibility and would not be mistaken for a conservative in any event. But I always admired the traditional conservative value that government should focus on what it must do--road, police, schools, and libraries, and ensure that it provides equal opportunity. The theory then goes that with equal opportunity, people can find social mobility in an economy unfettered by excessive controls. I don't buy the "utterly free market" theory, but I do buy that the first cornerstone in our society must be basic institutions which are fair and work. Yet here, our "conservatives" want to ensure that their kids get more expensive public educations than poor kids. Rather than just ensuring that all educational funding is increased, which will solve their concern about their kids, they want to return to the bad old days, when poor kids lived in counties with poor tax bases, and poor kid schools were without funds. In their home towns, they argue, their kids should get the top dollar education. That's their definition of "home"--a place only for them and theirs.
I remember once being in a discussion group at my church in California. We began talking about schools--we were liberals all--and one parent said he worried about the public schools. I set forth my own theory, not surprisingly in tune with my own biographical facts, that attendance at public schools are essential to understand the people among whom we live, and that I think that use of private schools as "enclaves" for bright rich kids is a societal mistake. The fellow, a bright PhD scientist, though, said to me something that is true to the effect of--"when it's your kids, you do what ever it takes, because it really doesn't matter about all that stuff, other than to make sure you get the best education for your kids". Of course, parents do and should act in family self-interest, and in some ways, they are the "substitutes" for their kids to ensure that kids get as much as the parents can offer them. But on some level,what I find that I miss today is that sense of community-the notion that we are all in this together. I think that the conservatives are right about one thing--this is not a sense that one can derive from government per se. This is a sense that is a matter of faith and hope, something that one must acquire independent of government budgets and huge institutions.
It's so easy to see these as end times, or times fitted only for anomie and despair. It's easy to isolate oneself, and resign from participation in the broader community. This is because in so many ways, the community seems to have rendered itself unfit for communion. In my area, people drive on Sunday in luxury automobiles to churches the size of civic auditoriums, where traffic cops have to direct parking lot traffic and ministers preach about souls lost to damnation and the need to proselytize believers in other faiths. Meanwhile, donations at the food bank are down. Consumerism renders every hobby an expense and a marketing pitch instead of simple fun. The arts seem to be divided into two camps--those who want local civic events as an excuse to see a musical after dinner, and those of the "hip" variety who would rather bewail the aesthetics of our area rather than create new ones. Everybody is a runaway from home.
I find myself working on my new chess club, and on my mail poetry call, and on a few other projects, with a sense of mission. I want to create that feeling of home. One of my LJ friends posted in a lovely friends-only post (otherwise I would credit her by name) that she was intrigued by the notion of life-as-saga. This idea appeals to me. If the challenges in one's life are imagined as the heroic challenges one must face, then it somehow does provide a sort of heroic comfort. If I adopt this myth, feeling free to discard it when it bores me or makes me fight some mean Grendel, then my current quest is in a sailing boat hunting for home. I do not mean the home which my wife and I and our two attack lhasa apsos inhabit. I mean the sense of community--the sense that we are all in this together.
Last night, our friends scottm and Donna had dinner with us. It was a lot of fun--we had grilled steaks and listened to Todd Rundgren and Keith Jarrett CDs while we all talked about all and sundry. Scott had even prepared the jewel case inserts for our two recordings, so now I really must get motivated to get the disks copied for the releases that will be termed "Gurdonark Records 001" and "Gurdonark Records 002". Over and over in the evening, though, we came back to the theme that we feel so disconnected from the people who make the political decisions in our life. We are at war, and I am not going to say anything negative about our military today while people who are children of people I know in my community are doing what my country has asked them to do. Parenthetically, while I respect people who, as I do, wish we had never gone down this road, I find so many people on "my side of the fence" politically to be so irritating. One example was the Harvard grad student on NPR who took a break from her study abroad program in Beirut to parade the streets with a sign saying "Regime Change begins at Home". She told listeners of how she actually met an Iraqi grad student who was against the war, and they were having coffee together (latte for peace, no doubt) later to talk about joint action. I could not help but feel a bit of resentment, because I know (and she may not) that the folks at Harvard don't fight wars. People who fight wars are from small towns in Arkansas and Texas and Iowa. Officers on the front lines didn't attend the service academy every time, but may have done ROTC at the University of Arkansas or the University of Utah. The bios of the enlisted folks killed thus far remind me that they are family members of ordinary, lower middle class families, trying to make it on inadequate military pay. I find it ironic that we pay our soldiers less than a living wage and then send them to war with multi-billion dollar of weaponry. Meanwhile, our Congress is cutting veterans' benefits to fund a tax cut for the wealthy. What happened to the US concept of home, when our nation cannot even pay a living wage to those who defend it?
I am opposed to the reasons we are fighting this war, but I also resent that although war is for the Harvard woman's social class a hypothetical, she's quickest to march in a foreign capital criticizing her country. Tuition for a year at Harvard is roughly two years' of a private first class soldier's pay. I certainly don't want to take away her right to protest, but I must admit that on some level she irritated me. She's also in the boat which is sailing away from home. But I digress.
Last night, as we talked about all the changes 1 1/2 years have brought--war, fiscal imprudence, division, we all just shook our heads. So much seems to be changing. On my drive to the chess club yesterday, an AM radio talk show host was actually defending Charles Lindbergh's views during his era of open sympathy with the 1930s European fascist governments. As my friend Scott said last night, we are seeing a sea change to the right of proportions we have not seen in years. I frankly don't mind the conservatives who want to make everything fair but keep government small. This is a defensible and time-honored American position. But I detect too many of the forces of nationalism, jingo and "lift the lifeboats before the rabble climbs aboard" today.
All of this is a feeble discussion which tries to explain why I am focused now on participating in things that build community. I think that the time has come to try to make more things feel more like home. I don't pretend that these efforts will come to anything, really, but I think the effort itself is essential. I want to build tiny little club institutions where people can participate without money and in an open, welcome place. It's a small thing, but I am a small person. I want to go home. I want to be home. I want to build a home. In this homeless time, it's all I know to do.