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The Johnston Letter, Volume 1, Number 6
January 2006: My Ur-Country

By Jill Johnston
Copyright 2006 Jill Johnston

A book review I saw started with the line, "The author comes out swinging right from the bell." For a second I saw the author actually swinging from a bell before realizing he was being pictured in a boxing ring. I didn't read the rest of the review. I read almost nothing in the paper unless it comes out swinging against the "war," or touches on more personal things, like my body. I put war in quotes of course because this country is not technically at war, but rather in a state of occupying a foreign power following a gratuitous invasion. An entire article on knee replacement surgery I read closely. There is nothing wrong with my knees, but I have a titanium femur and wrist, and an arthritic left foot over which orthopedists have muttered the words "bone fusion" in my presence. What they do is to surgically fuse the nine small bones clustered at the north end of the five long metatarsals. My choices seem to be to live with Mr. Arthur Itis as Ingrid has jokingly called my infirmity or get a new foot that I suppose would behave like a board or a cement block. I have issues, but I'm still good at creating diversions. I like Martha Stewart on TV. Her rehabilitation has been so successful. She wants to help people "lead a pleasant life." One day she was showing how she "spot-cleans" her linens after every dinner party. I made careful note. Little things can help. The other morning when I woke up I told Ingrid I can't live in a criminal country any more, and want to move to Denmark. She talks me out of it with no trouble, reminding me that I speak no Danish, and that I wouldn't be able to call Marianne so freely. Marianne and I are practically related since we pushed our babies together in Washington Heights Park in another century. She can make me laugh even when nothing is funny. She is cheerfully in denial over her worst complaints, saying so herself. Ingrid points out that I'm healthy except for my foot. That may be true, but I'm going to die anyway, and I can't run to the bus any more without pain, as the knee replacement writer declared of her new life under titanium. She now also has to garden sitting down -- her precise words. I have a garden all right, but it's situated on my window sills, and I have only to worry about walking there to water it. I wouldn't dream of even trying to run for a bus. A dreadful story about a Frenchwoman whose face was clawed off by a dog in the middle of the night can make you feel that any grievance you have is completely unsupportable. In the world's first face transplant, the woman got a new one from a woman who had just died! The dog was "destroyed." We never say a human was destroyed. We might say they've been taken under arrest and never heard from again. Or that they died in a coal mine from having to wait too long to be rescued. While I worry about walking, coal miners are dying, and genocide is going on in Africa. In discussing the past, which of course is all we have with any certainty, people wonder if they did the best they could or not, and judge each other accordingly. The families of the twelve miners who died in West Virginia had several parties to blame: the owners of the hazardous mine; the failed rescuers; the informers who led them to believe during three joyous hours that their loved ones had survived when in reality they were dead. For a while, the clamor over this "lie" seemed equal to the shock and grief over the deaths. The media, implicated in the false information as one of its messengers, gave us this impression anyway, getting very involved in it, eager to locate its original source. Lies in America at large, over the "war" and the reasons for it, have been similarly however more sweepingly under investigation. Now that the lies have been exposed, people, government and media seem to have rested our case. After all, we're over there now, so let's forget about the lies, and go on killing people, theirs and ours, while trying to claim a victory, or bring the army home without losing face. We do not want a face transplant! And the families of loved ones who have died understandably want to see them as having served America honorably, not for nothing. They still think America (as known) exists. I don't think so. Behind the war fictions can be found the false information that we still exist. The denial of our death is going to be big. Even my accepting friend Marianne, whose family once found refuge in America after escaping the Nazis, may have trouble with this one. Comic relief is available, for now anyway. One night David Letterman, quoting the 39% approval rating of our prez, then said, "The country wants to see him supplanted by Geena Davis." A mixture of applause and laughter was real titanium stuff, i.e. replacement therapy. Letterman could have added that the country would welcome Geena's script writers too. I hang on helpful lines, not just Martha's. The phone rings. I pick up the receiver. There's a pause. A Voice says, "Congratulations." I hang up and have Ingrid shake my hand as she leaves for her office. More than just lines heave up, though not always remedial. I try out Mallomars, a comeback cookie, and can give expert testimony that they bear no remembered taste whatever to what they were in the 1940s when I gluttonized them throughout six years at boarding school. Good thing too, because I couldn't eat them anyhow. I'm on a strict diet, which I break in ways that don't include unadulterated sugar, except when a piece of pure chocolate comes my way. I do the best I can; you never can do any better. Under review, it may seem so, but when things are done and gone, we're left with what happened, and with dealing with the consequences. I don't confuse my ignorance -- for instance of the reasons for lies -- with my sense of safety. My fantasy is that an awakened population will proceed to Denmark, leaving America to the oligarchy that has overthrown it. Under re-forestation, they won't last long, and Native Americans will justly reclaim the land. By Denmark I mean of course any good place. All the doctors are kind and attentive and know where to send you if they can't help you themselves. I met a wonderful one recently, a rheumatologist, and just about fell into his arms, he was so unexpected. It wasn't what he did or prescribed so much as his attitude. He had this old fashioned hippocratic spirit, making me feel I was worth taking care of, then sending me on to an orthopedic friend of his, a surgeon recently retired who looked up at me from under wise whitened brows, his head tilted a little, and murmured, "You know, people our age want to avoid surgery at all costs." My insurance didn't matter to them either. In my ur-country, nobody is uninsured because there is no insurance at all. Imagine that -- health without proof that you or somebody can pay for it. Moving along, Media tells the truth, having left entertainment to the entertainers. Media doesn't worry about pressure from the corporations, which have split up in a million pieces. Memoirs tell the truth too. Art is amazingly important and well made movies like 'Brokeback' feature not only men but women, all with happy endings! Teachers are paid more than baseball players and the environment comes absolutely before business and industry. I wear clothes outsourced in my own country. Our president is far from imperial, and she walks around without security, sort of like King Christian X in Denmark who rode his horse every morning throughout Copenhagen during the Nazi occupation in WWII, wearing the Star of David on his sleeve. Religion is utterly personal, in fact one religion per person is encouraged. Dogs are never "destroyed" -- there's some kind of court for them to see if they should be locked up and rehabilitated or what. Death penalties in general are remembered as relics of the brute ages. Sperm donors are fully identified in the original files so their children can find them later. Titanium people with healthier knees to chase after their grandchildren (as that knee replacement writer said proudly of herself) are exemplars of replacement therapy. Reruns of Oprah shows demonizing ageing look incomprehensible. No wars or invasions are allowed. Conflict resolution is as common as day and night, taught in school along with spelling and arithmetic. Parenting preparations begin at a young age. Children are learning about parenting and considering their options by first grade, also talking about how they see it working in their own homes. Finally, Marianne is just as happy as she was in America. And Swinging from Bells is widely practiced.

©Jill Johnston 2006; originally published on www.jilljohnston.com. To read more about Jill Johnston, please click here. To read more of Jill Johnston on the Dance Insider, click here.

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