Posted tagged ‘west coast’

About the cheesy url—first world problems!

October 16, 2011

Growing up in California and wanting to go on an adventure, I was kind of stuck. While my East Coast peers dreamed of riding out West, across the now long-closed Frontier, I learned it wasn’t fair to call it a frontier, since Native Americans already had been there for a long time—though saying they’d always been there was racist and suggested their culture was timeless and static, while Western culture was constantly advancing—Westward ho! I wasn’t allowed to read Little House on the Prairie for the same reason.

Later, my East Coast university roommates were shocked to learn I’d never pretended to be a pioneer. Why would I? I was already West. My family and I had arrived, geographically, and—unlike the Joads—more or less economically.

Instead, I’d pretended to be a vaguely medieval vagabond, until I realized that even progressive Robin Hood perpetuated Anglo-centric and fundamentally conservative ideals. When the real world got too messy, I slipped into other worlds, which seemed safer until I learned the Narnia books were a huge Christian allegory.

So instead, I imagined leading a revolution, only to find myself wishing that California’s rather inefficient government were a little more totalitarian and worth overthrowing; that I had fewer choices, so that the choices I made would matter more. (Picking classes was never epic.) I thought I would have abandoned all my worldly and civic goods to go on a secular pilgrimage in quest of a narrative.


I knew I must be pretty spoiled to want fewer rather than more resources and freedoms. These were what they called “first world problems.” I had an upper middle class resource curse—a glut of freedom, and nothing to do with it besides daydream. I’d learned what values not to hold, which gods not to worship, but to replace them, I had only fiction to draw from. And despite my “wealth of opportunities”—or, I thought, maybe because of it—I felt I had few chances for a fiction-worthy adventure.

My East Coast university’s lecture halls and Jingle Balls weren’t quite the right kind of adventure. Still, they fit into the narrative of imperialism and the male gaze that I was learning to differentiate myself from in seminars. I gained friends who wanted to be pioneers—the kinds from both the 19th and the 21st centuries (both types aiming to go West). They helped me, at least comparatively, feel like an outsider, and thus a protagonist.

Guilt, not from the residue of any religion but from fear of cultural insensitivity, brought me to a class on Christianity, another element of so many American’s lives that was absent from mine. I wondered, trying not to judge, how early Christians had been so passive, eyes to the sky, awaiting the End of Days, minds empty of agency.

As I discussed founding non-profits in Asia with classmates, I wondered how many of us, in the nineteenth century, would have been officials in Her Majesty’s Empire. Going abroad for adventure could easily go imperialistic, so I stayed in the library, hoping things would happen. Instead, the books confirmed that I could learn what not to believe, but not what to believe.

Then, finally, I realized that I was being just as passive as the early Christians. With a background that taught me to question and qualify, I hadn’t dared to create my own narrative for fear it would offend. All my life, I’d been waiting, though I knew neither the day nor the hour, for an adventure to appear.

Moving forward, in a world that rejected ideas of backward and forward, would require a different kind of imagination.