First, I’d like to acknowledge the fact that I’m using the word “America” and presuming that you know that I’m referring to the United States of America. That’s the cultural decadence that we’re dealing with here so it’s better that you know what to expect from this piece up front.
I’m very grateful and excited to be back in the place where I grew up, but wow…after living on a quiet island for the past 18 months, American life is overwhelming. I feel like my senses are being bombarded from every direction. There’s always something happening, or being planned to happen, or something just happened. Everyone seems to be coming from or going to some place or another. Even when people are sitting still, they’re being stimulated by some device or another.
Everyone is being advertised to for everything under the sun. Television is just an endless stream of products and services on display. There’s a new LG cell phone that’s sleeker and brighter and faster than the other million phones on the market. And a new deodorant with tiny blue spheres that release bursts of cool freshness when my movements rub them together. There’s also a new form of Citibank banking technology that will somehow turn me into a master banker by using it. I found it fascinating because I used a Citibank ATM at the airport the other day and, though the clean lines and bright lights inspired a sense of confidence that my money would be given to me, the balance on my receipt definitely didn’t reflect banking mastery by any definition. Next came a commercial about a new washing machine that looks like it has to have been made with technology shared with us by an advanced alien species. The woman sharing a home with this wonderful piece of technology seemed to be so relieved and carefree as she loaded her clothes, pressed a button, and walked away smiling to embrace her happy and playful children.
And then there’s a blender that (apparently) will release nutrients in fruits and vegetables that, until this blender was invented, were previously hidden and withheld from my body and sense of well being. These mystical nutrients will heal any disease I may have and, according to the enthusiastic people who own this incredible device, after 4 weeks I will look completely healthy, exude zen-liike peace, express intense conviction and gratitude for this life-altering blender, and look thoroughly dumbfounded by how much better my life has become since the blender came into it. I can expect to experience all of these emotions, all at once, all the time.
Nissan now has a truck that will “innovate and excite” me when I drive it. I imagine people all over the country calling their therapist and telling him or her that their services are no longer needed. “Hey I just wanted to let you know that I won’t be coming in anymore. There’s this new truck that innovates and excites me every time I drive it.” But if you want to chase every sunset, your endless summer will begin when you buy a 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee for just $199 a month. Did you know that Jack from Jack in the Box has been roaming the planet and exploring exotic places, while riding a yak, to find the perfect spice? And he found it! You can now taste this exotic spice in Jack in the Box’s new Black Peppercorn Cheeseburger. It looks like there’s at least half a cow sitting between those sourdough buns. Who needs to go on a vacation? Just have a taste of this spice and all of the exotic sensations from Jack’s adventures will come swirling into your taste buds.
Then there are the sports. Epic showdowns are happening in baseball, tennis, UFC, and professional poker. Did you know that the length of a baseball contract too often extends beyond the talent of a player? Neither did I. Apparently these team owners really need to manage their rosters more conservatively if they want to build a successful franchise. The next commercial had a very beautiful model in a bikini lying provocatively in sapphire blue beach waves while describing how sensible it was to change her insurance policy. Whatever policy she has, I think I want it. Then the camera pans to the right where there is a talking goat standing in the surf as well. And then the camera pans to a talking horse with an Australian accent. This insurance is presumably great for all of them. Then the camera expands backward into the sky with the bikini model, goat, and horse relaxing on a gorgeous exotic beach. I have absolutely no idea what models, farm animals, and an exotic beach have to do with insurance, but I’m thinking about it so the commercial clearly worked. I won’t even get into the “Cabins of Cash” that I could win if I go to a particular Resort & Casino. $10,000 could be mine if I just go down and be automatically entered to win just by showing up. I should also “reclaim my network with Barracuda”. How this fish would help me reclaim this mysterious network I apparently own is beyond my comprehension. But the man saying this sounds very confident. Perhaps I should find out what this Barracuda can actually do for me.
I was presented with all of this advice and these opportunities to purchase merchandise and services in just 15 minutes of watching television. My mind was so overwhelmed that my body was entirely rigid. I was bracing myself like I was being blasted by an unexpected burst of light and sound that my mind could not process all at once.
Today I had the opportunity to go sailing on a beautiful boat in the bay. I love sailing and being on the water, but as appealing as it was, all I wanted to do was rest in peace and solitude. No television, no phone, no computer, no traffic, no billboards, no advertisements, no plans, no destination…just quiet. I feel so overwhelmed by what can only be described as existing within American society. I still need to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles and get my driving license renewed, file my taxes for the past four years that I’ve been away, file my financial aid paperwork, choose my university classes, establish original California residency with the university, order a copy of my birth certificate and social security card, visit a Veteran Affairs officer to transfer my military files from Nevada to California and apply for the educational benefits I have from the military, register for classes, make a list for the food & appliances I need to prepare meals every day, prepare for the four job interviews I have coming up this Friday, study the latest IT engineering technology that small-medium businesses currently use and need, develop a budget for the long list of upcoming living expenses, and be consistently motivated to live this life if I am to have any hope of earning an income, finishing my education, and paying for food, a home, and anything else I need to have an enjoyable quality of life.
Even though I’m describing this experience as being incredibly intense and overwhelming, I feel so grateful for what U.S. citizenship makes available to me. I am privileged. I have the opportunity to make a great living and pursue higher education because of the education, skills, and experience I developed purely as a result of being a U.S. citizen throughout my life. I have an amazing network of supportive friends who have been there for me during my most difficult times. I’m back in the U.S. and in the position to excel and succeed because of their generosity and support. I have a gorgeous, intelligent, educated, genuine, and devoted girlfriend who wants nothing more than to share her life journey with me. I am not complaining about life in any way. I am absolutely blessed. I’m just keenly aware of how intense the American lifestyle is. After waking up to the sun rising over rice fields in a quiet village in Indonesia all year, and spending all of my waking hours meditating, studying qigong, practicing martial arts, reading, writing, and living in peace, it’s just overwhelming to now be living in a society where everything is so fast paced and driven by capitalism and image. I’m amazed at the thought of an entire nation of people being immersed in this extreme amount of sensory overload every day of their lives.
The U.S. is such an incredible place when it comes to products, services, experiences, and opportunities, but I’m already daydreaming of going back to a life filled with warm ocean waves, green rice fields, crowing roosters, and nature being the loudest voice telling me how to live.
– Michael Verdun