Beware the simple life

Beware the simple life

One cool thing about my job is I can show up to interview people with sand and salt on my legs and no one notices or cares. I’ve got to play that up more. I had to get to the beach for an interview this morning. I figured the earlier I was in, the earlier I would get out. I hummed the Mission: Impossible theme as I drove, fantasising about spending as little time on the beach on the Fourth of July as possible.
I have a weird relationship with Ocean City because there’s a disconnect between its potential and its reality. Sometimes it is really hard to take a good look at my fellow Americans, unvarnished and on vacation. Other times I take pleasure in their absolute joy. I think their attitude has something to do with it. People there exude an aura that makes the world better or worse. People everywhere do, but I just tend to notice it there more often, I guess. It’s part of my manic-depressive relationship with the Eastern Shore.
Driving toward Ocean City this morning, I was thinking how beautiful the backroads of Delmarva are sometimes. They can be heartland-y in an earnest but not campy way. It occurred to me that there’s something odd in a world where the idea of honest folk growing our food includes the least bit of condescension, as if they’re quaint or something. There’s nothing quaint about “working” for a living, any more than there’s something quaint about being a blogger or working at McDonald’s. There’s nothing realer or less quaint than work.
Still, the above photo was taken about a quarter of a mile from the nearest Confederate flag in a county where what God wants comes before what people want. It reminds me that a black and white life comes at a price and that simplicity can have a dark edge. Life never has been simple, but we’ve developed a kind of shorthand that gives us easy decisions: right and wrong and us and them. It’s useful for children, and among people who all hold generally the same points of view, but it comes apart in the wider world. Rural America only recently has been flooded with the wider world and it hasn’t been holding up well. Still, if black and white shorthand is what makes salt-of-the-earth folks simple, I wonder whether that simplicity is worth attaining. Trying to keep things simple in a complex world is patronizing on one side and naive on the other.
In a way, when we talk about “the simple life” we all get into that Make America Great Again mentality, craving a time in history that never existed. We imagine a world without nuance where we are unburdened by social conflict and people treated one another fairly and honestly and lived by the sweat of their brow. That’s the simple view. On the more complex side, it was a world that didn’t even bother to pay lip service to equity. It was an insular place where insular communities collapsed at the first inkling of competition or after a few bad harvests. Also, they did not get weekends at the beach.
I don’t think life ought to be simple or straightforward, and I’m happy that it’s not. I think the complexity of trying to be a person in the world is what makes us able to be creative and to enjoy the fact that we’re self-aware, imperfect, under-informed and barely prepared at all times.

Tony Russo
Tony Russo has worked as a print and digital journalist for the better part of the 21st century, writing for and editing regional weeklies, dailies and several destination websites. In addition to having documented everything from zoning changes to art movements on the Delmarva Peninsula, Tony has written two books: Eastern Shore Beer (2014) and Delaware Beer (2016). He lives in Delmar, Md. with his wife Kelly and the only of his four daughters who hasn't moved out. Together they keep their dog and cat comfortable. Follow him on Facebook and at @Ossurynot on Twitter.
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AuthorTony Russo

Tony Russo has worked as a print and digital journalist for the better part of the 21st century, writing for and editing regional weeklies, dailies and several destination websites. In addition to having documented everything from zoning changes to art movements on the Delmarva Peninsula, Tony has written two books: Eastern Shore Beer (2014) and Delaware Beer (2016). He lives in Delmar, Md. with his wife Kelly and the only of his four daughters who hasn't moved out. Together they keep their dog and cat comfortable. Follow him on Facebook and at @Ossurynot on Twitter.

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