All night I thought, “Marika, get your ass up, turn on your computer, and write DoYoReHoBloMo: Day 18!” but I couldn’t because of fleece sheets and David Attenborough and reasons.
Of course I mean Sir David Attenborough, international sex symbol and notable human treasure, the narrative voice for the world around us and for those who cannot speak — like rivers, tomatoes, volcanoes, and cats, among other incredible things. I started watching Planet Earth Part 2 last night and could. not. stop.
I’ve been a superfan of every Attenborough globe-trotting project throughout the years. I remember watching The Private Life of Plants with my parents and realizing how little I knew about everything on the planet — and that one was just about plants. I watched episodes of Planet Earth back-to-back, immersed in the world we live in but one that’s brighter, more beautiful, and terribly savage. If we’d watched stuff like that in school, I think it would have been inspiring (at least inspirational enough for me to go). Instead, it was always some bullshit afterschool special where you always knew the answer: Don’t be a bully like Travis, a pushover like Nancy, a bad girl like Rhonda. Later on in life, Travis probably comes out of the closet, poor Nancy joins a cult, and Rhonda becomes your favorite stoner friend who gets you discounts at the yoga studio.
I’ve been reading so many articles, post-election, to gain as much perspective as I can. One of my favorites speaks to the rural bubble in America, which is fascinating to me as a “coastal elite.” Okay, I don’t actually call myself that (much like I don’t call myself a deep genius – that’s for other people to say, as loudly as they want through whatever channels they want, though I actually prefer sky-writing) but I guess that’s how I’m viewed from certain parts of this country. Having lived in or around Seattle my entire life – the extremely well-tended liberal community garden of America – I knew nothing of the Midwest or the South. I’ve traveled extensively, but never to those places, not for any extended period of time.
And, of course, people on the coasts could stand to meet more rural and exurban people, to understand why they are anxious about a changing world and less economic opportunity. But rural and exurban people need to see more of America. People do not understand the depths of how little rural America travels and sees other people and cultures.
I’m from the Midwest, and I love the Midwest, but it’s not representative of modern America. We cannot fetishize it as “real” America. It’s part of America — a great, big, beautiful, messy republic — but just a part.
What we are seeing is a reaction to a rapidly changing world. A world that is becoming more connected. A world that is more diverse. A world where education and skills are necessary for good jobs.
Change has not been kind to the Midwest and rural America.
And rather than embrace it, rural and white working-class Americans are twisting and turning, fighting it every step of the way. We will never return to the days where a white man could barely graduate high school and walk onto a factory floor at 18 and get a well-paying job for life. That hasn’t set in for much of the Midwest.
Travel and exposure to other people, places, and things is so important. From the rural American who lives in a bubble where there are no minorities or universities or Muslims, to the coastal American who lives in a bubble where there are no farmers or religion or dissent. It can change perspectives and lives in an instant, I truly believe that.
I know people who live in Marysville – just an hour or so north of Seattle – who’ve never been to our city. Because of this, they’ve labeled everything in the city – one they’ve never set foot in – as dirty, dangerous, and ungodly. “There’s nothing there for people like us,” they said, and I wondered what kind of people they saw themselves as. I know they voted for Trump because they were sick of all the [insert something other than white guys] “taking over.” Since Seattle is a major city, they’ve decided all major cities are the same and filled with terrible people. This makes me pretty sad. No amount of coaxing or convincing or pleading or logic will change their minds; I’ve tried. I wonder if this is also how it goes in the Midwestern states.
For the interested folks who can’t afford to travel, or for those who can but are “too busy,” allow me to introduce: Sir David Attenborough. As an expert in all things worldly and wondrous, and The Earth’s Chosen Narrator, he has opened my eyes, mind, and heart to some of the most amazing things outside of the human experience. From the Life Of Collection to Blue Planet to the Planet Earth series – with a big nod to Human Planet, an extraordinary documentary series about people living in nearly every environment on Earth (not an Attenborough project, but narrated by John Hurt) – there are ways to expand our worldviews without buying a plane ticket. This is the easy way: 1) Turn on your TV and 2) Press play (or nowadays, type “Netflix” into your browser or yell at Alexa, whatever works best).
If you’re anything like me, you’ll look up and wonder how you just watched flowers opening in slo-mo for two hours with total fascination. I don’t think documentaries are going to fix the nation, but immersing ourselves in learning about the world can’t hurt. Real talk, though — the best thing I learned about this year: fleece sheets. They’re the equivalent of napping on a cloud that wants to hug you all night long – which is why I should never lie down when instead I should be writing.