• Daniel Mollenkamp

California Dreaming

Daniel Mollenkamp

Feb 9, 2018


I’m sitting in an airport, disoriented and a little sick, upset that I’m headed to California and not back to South Sudan. I grew up in California, and for a long time I thought I would die there without having seen much of the world. Were it not for some family tragedy, I might have.


My life was set on a certain, immovable path. At least it felt that way. There was agency in that path, to the extent that there’s any agency in any path, but it felt almost like a birthright. It was as if my genetics were helping choose my life, guiding my hand. In some sense, of course, they were (and still are). But the feeling is numbed. Life feels unmoored.

A group of high-school aged Jewish students are dancing and clapping and singing in a circle nearby, interrupting my train of thought. It’s pleasant to listen to, though. Some culture in an otherwise drab airport.


A lot is going on in California. Little of it has much personal meaning, but it does cast a dark shade on this nostalgia. It makes it seem narcissistic, especially since I’ve gone out of my way to avoid this kind of writing, which is based more on feeling and perceptions and intuitions than historically or culturally significant events.


The headlines tell me that the state is struggling with the daunting task of creating a single-payer health system, that an assemblywoman is taking an LOA amid sexual misconduct allegations, and, because there’s always some drivel, that people are freaking out over some “invasive giant swamp rodent.” Cue the Michael Bay footage.


Meanwhile, 63 students are preparing to graduate in Rumbek, South Sudan. Abukloi, the little secondary school where I had planned to be right now, is elated. They walk tomorrow morning. Unfortunately, I caught what I think was pneumonia a little while back and was too sick to catch the flight. Like I said, sick and disoriented. Some of the other board members keep sending me pictures.

In Juba, people are protesting the announcement of the US arms embargo, according to emails I’m getting from the US embassy there.


Shakespeare made a successful bid for a family coat of arms in his middle age, something his father tried and failed to do. It was a mark of social ascendency then, something which is a little hard to translate now. Shakespeare chose as his motto something a little defensive: “Non sanz adroit.” Not without right. Another possible translation for someone accustomed to speaking English might be: Not without skill. That’s how I feel. I can feel myself drifting. But not without skill; not without right.


My brother, James, and I. I must be about 16, which would make James about 10 or so.

I wonder what that more provincial self would be doing right now. Probably not sitting in an airport. Probably not dreaming of South Sudan. But maybe he would still be feeling nostalgic.



Original: https://medium.com/@dtmollenkamp/california-dreaming-dea26611854

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