That’s what it says on the main page of this website. Seems a simple enough thing to do. Fall in love with a beautiful place full of exciting things to see, a rich history to learn about, and lots of friendly people to meet along the way. And cheeseburgers. And nachos. I mean, sure, why not? Right?
Unfortunately, we Americans have become increasingly unlikable to the rest of the world of late. Our political climate is a disaster, and we are divided up in a way comparable in our history only to the days leading up the Civil War. At this pace, we may have to write “CWI” and “CWII” as we do currently for WWI and II. It’s a little scary out there right now. We’re all spending way too much time being angry and “right”. In short, we’ve made ourselves hard to love.
If there is a single word that might describe my art and the mood behind it, it’s this one: Longing. Not like the keening, agonized cry of a banshee or anything like that, one hopes. But instead the expression of a desire for a simpler time and the memories housed there. My images are mostly reveries and reminiscences. They are invitations to see things as they are, but also an encouragement to take a moment to reflect on how they were. We’ve all sacrificed our lives to make America this way. I’m not sure we’ve gotten our money's worth.
I am sure to an absolute undeniable certainty, however, that I had the tremendous good fortune to be born in the greatest nation of its time. America has achieved the most in its brief history. There’s not even the slightest room for debate. Whether you quantify by moon landings, wars won, good deeds done abroad, the generation of wealth, the standard of living—you name it. Until relatively recently, we owned it. That’s not bragging; it’s history.
It used to be that all Americans, whether from here or there, all agreed on one simple truth and goal: America is the best place on earth, and we want to make America even better than we inherited it. How could we improve schools, medical care, roads, and all the rest so that we left an even better place than the one we were born in or emigrated to. The only difference of opinion was on which way to get there. We were all going the same place.
It was like the discussion your mom and dad might’ve had if you lived in Potawatomi Point and went to see your Grandma in South Bend. You could go on US 31 through Plymouth (with a stop for pie at Christos--oh hell yes); you could take IN 25 by way of Nappanee (stopping at Hunter’s Hideaway for pork tenderloins—your mouth watering yet?). The end goal was Grandma; the only questions were scenery and what was for lunch. Everybody was going to get there and, if we behaved ourselves, we were all getting fed.
Every single one of us had some drive like that in our childhood. It was part of how you grew up as an American. And goodness knows those family drives taught us all patience and tolerance! The learning curve wasn’t always easy—your siblings sucked at least some of the time if you’re honest—but we did learn. We grew into patient and tolerant Americans as a result. And America grew with us.
Then the last 30 years or so happened. We began to drift apart slowly. What we had always thought were our common goals became different things. Somewhere in the process of getting from there to here, we forgot how to do it. We had become fooled into thinking the argument was about winning or losing. We forgot that the discussion was about America and, most importantly, Americans—new and old. All the patience and tolerance we learned in the back of that Buick wagon on the way to Grandma’s got tossed out the window like an old banana peel. We forgot a lot of things about pie as well—one of the most important being how to bake one for the newcomers down the way, so they felt welcome in their new home (you got to sample their coffee in the deal as a bonus). A lot of diplomacies can go on around a kitchen table. We forgot that, too.
As 2017 draws to close, I invite you to fall in love with America—again. Tell your Grandma story to someone and let them tell you theirs. Talk about how your family arrived here in the first place and your neighbors as well. Whether it was on the Mayflower or by foot from Guatemala, a steamer from Belfast or the last flight out of Hanoi or Tehran; we all have these stories in common. Say whatever words your family says to wish someone a wonderful season of giving and best wishes for the future—and sincerely mean it. Smile broadly when they tell you theirs and wish you the same—because they will mean it, too. And give each other a hug. You all made it, after all, and it wasn’t easy. And have some pie. That’s always a good idea.