I spend a lot of time alone. Most writers, if they are lucky, do. I've been fine-tuning a memoir, facing into truths about myself I would rather forget.
As I turn to national
newspapers and magazines in the deluded effort to unwind after too
much time in my own company, I find myself wondering who "we" are
-- the "we" our administration tells us stands ready to fight wars
on two fronts; the "we" my local chamber of commerce says needs
artificial snow on our desert mountains so that ski tourism will
increase, but most of all I wonder about the privileged "we"
employed by national columnists and feature writers.
read a column last summer in which a San Francisco writer
challenged the cynical notion that the violence of Sept. 11 had not
changed "our" behavior. She talked of cozying up in her home and
how the "new big thing" for New Yorkers and Bay Area folks is to
"stroll through real estate open houses, picking up decorating
tips." She said women were splurging on boutique kitchen products.
Which New Yorkers? Which Californians? Which women? Which people?
Here, in the rural West, most of the people I know
struggle to make ends meet. The young cashier in the supermarket
tells me she works two jobs, goes to school and cares for her
toddler. Most small ranchers are worried less about decorating
their doubly mortgaged home and more about making the payment for
the new pick-up they were forced to buy because the 20-year-old
clunker wouldn't go another foot. Young Hispanic couples wrestle
with medical bills; middle-aged Navajos deal with the impossibility
of good, inexpensive care for their aging parents.
we do have our infestation of second-mansion owners and blithe,
silver-haired boys intent on developing everything in sight, most
residents of Flagstaff are trying to figure out how to make do with
less. We are, if the slick media or our myopic government bothered
to ask us, still reeling from the shock and the lingering terror of
the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
We oppose war. We support it. We don't know whether to trust the
government. We don't know who to trust.
We are Hopi,
loggers, old-timers, newcomers, kids and elders. We are
trust-funders and impossibly wealthy retirees. We -- lots of "we"
-- just lost our jobs. We live paycheck to paycheck.
of us can afford boutique soap. Some split a bulk buy of generic
with our neighbors. We blast norteno music from our pick-up. We
glare at the dark-eyed woman who does the blasting.
we know who we are, as I learned as a guest speaker in an
anthropology class at Northern Arizona University. I gave the class
the exercise of writing who "we" in the West were, using their
particular identity as the ubiquitous "we."
lots of totally dude-babespeak. Wrong.
Here are a few of
the voices from Miguel Vasquez's class: "We are women who will
graduate next semester. We are still learning how to be a better
student, daughter, friend, money-saver, more forgiving person. We
keep meaning to start this today."
"We are a single
mother on welfare and living in a white trailer with two dogs...a
young woman in an aging body...a 53-year-old sophomore at Northern
Arizona University in electronic media."
strong-minded and powerful, except we don't know it yet."
"We are descendents of survivors. We are educated and can't get a
job because of our skin color. They don't say it to our faces, but
I can read what is in their eyes." This "we" business comes from
all sides and easily flips into "them." Native American writer
Sherman Alexie tells a local interviewer that he wants to be her --
a white woman -- because white women are lucky. But I remember the
white homeless woman I saw crawling out of a pile of cardboard in
Who are we? Who are they? The answers
are not simple. Nor are the questions. And it is these questions
that those of us privileged to have access to the media must ask
more often. We, they, are as diverse as the West. Any other answer
is insulting. To all of us.