Every morning I wake up and watch life and death outside my bedroom window. We have two beehives perched on the roof of a first floor sunroom. As I watch the hive come alive with the morning sun, most of the bees begin their very full workday, zipping in and out, hovering as they await return entry. But a few of the bees have a different task: Their job is to pull the dead and dying out of the hive and deposit them on the roof, where some lay lifeless and others tremble with their last breaths.
A little over a year ago, I made my first visit to Järna, Sweden, home of the Youth Initiative Program (YIP), a one-year social entrepreneur learning program for 18-25 year olds. As I was preparing to depart, one of the YIPpies stopped by my room to ask me how I felt about my visit. It was then that I spoke the lyrics to what would become the first song I ever wrote when I said, “I feel like I’m packing to leave utopia.”
That was foreshadowing. It wasn’t until my third visit, two weeks ago, that I would really encounter utopia, a glimpse of how the world could be.
It is my tenth day in Mozambique, and the wind is howling through our thatched home. Rain poured in sideways through the night, dampening our beds and pooling on the concrete floor. Fifty feet away, three teenage boys are bailing out their fishing dhow, hoping to spare it from the sunken fate of its neighbor—though both boats will be dry enough in a few hours when the tide goes out.
It’s been one year and two weeks since Walk Out Walk On was launched into the world. I just returned home from Denver and Boulder, Colorado, the final two stops on the book tour, and now is a good time to reflect on what I’ve learned over these last twelve months. And here it is:
The United States has lost its sense of subtlety.
Or maybe it was never there to begin with. After all, we’ve always known that when it comes to humor, the Brits have far greater mastery of nuance and irony than we Americans with our screwball and slapstick appetites. But this inclination toward the obvious and unambiguous extends beyond humor. It is part of our daily experience, shaped and amplified by politics and the media. As small differences and distinctions pass through the public lens, they transform into grand polarities, blocking each other out of the light. We find ourselves perpetually choosing sides, picking winners, condemning losers and generally orienting around good-bad, right-wrong, on-off, in-out and anything else we can reduce into simple and opposing parts.
Just after midnight last night, I found myself in Boston’s financial district, following in the footsteps of a New Orleans-style brass band that marched along Atlantic Avenue. More than a thousand Occupiers and supporters were dancing in the streets as the city prepared to evict the Dewey Square encampment. The Mayor’s midnight deadline had passed, and the square and surrounding streets were overflowing with people singing and chanting and dancing.
A few hours earlier at the evening’s General Assembly, a proposal was made to meet the City of Boston’s eviction demand with a dance party. The proposal’s champion called for protesters to “clean up our mess entirely” and “be the first Occupy to just ‘poof!’ and be gone like a gypsy squad.”