Global Nomads and TCKS- 23: Looking for lost pasts, lost selves…

Here is global nomad Andre Aciman on his habit of summoning his lost past, and consequently, his lost self at the seaside:

Drop me in Nice or in Anzio or in East Hampton as someone’s guest and early on Sunday morning I will look for any excuse to go out to buy the paper and take the long way, not because I need to read the paper or because I need to be alone, but because I want to take time out and think that I am going on a very familiar errand, that I know exactly what I’m doing, and that any moment now I’ll end up pushing open a very old gate whose squeak I can’t forget. As long as I keep expecting to arrive there and never really hurry back, I will, if I try hard enough, make out the voices of people who have long since died but have suddenly come back and are beginning to complain that I’ve been gone too long and have almost missed breakfast.

If I long for the sea or for Alexandria, it is because, with the sea around me, I can begin to rebuild my life, put things back together again, pick up where I believe I left off. I collate little snippets of the past, the way those who’ve been deported map out every corner of their city, their street, their temple.

I look for the sea everywhere, because the sea was the back­drop for almost all the scenes of my childhood. I look for my childhood, for my own gaze looking out at the sea. What I want is not to swim but to have the pleasure of “finding the sea,” of guess­ing and spying the sea, of suggesting the sea, the way children today play at “finding Waldo”—because in finding the sea I find myself.

 False Papers: Essays on Exile and Memory

Originally posted Wednesday, July 3rd, 2013

Global Nomads and TCKS- 22: What we are left with

Here I describe the legacy of the global nomad childhood for me:

What I have taken away from this itinerant childhood: a learning stance; the confusing but deep conviction that there are multiple truths and that mine is not the only one; a wish to honor others and not impose on them. Most of all, a NEED for other cultures: for the smell of fish markets, for the sound of Japanese, for the smell of batik, for the bong of a temple bell, for the suck on my boot of a wet Dutch field, for the smell of airplanes, for the sprawl of a transit lounge, for the taste of sticky Japanese rice, for the texture of a reed mat, for the sight of thatched rooftops against clean blue sky, for the ocean that sails me to a new place.

What have you taken away from your nomadic childhood? What do you want to keep? What do you want to discard? Where do you want to go, to be, from here?  Bring some of it back here.

 Of Many Lands: Journal of a Traveling Childhood 

Originally posted Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

Global Nomads and TCKS- 21: The compulsion to depart

Edward Said on the many contradictory feelings and penchants of the global nomad: the fear of abandonment and the compulsion to abandon, the pain of departure and the compulsion to leave, the habit of packing as if one will never return to a place

The underlying motifs for me have been the emergence of a second self buried for a very long time beneath a surface of often expertly acquired and wielded social characteristics belonging to the self my paren­ts tried to construct, the “Edward” I speak of intermittently, and how an extraordinarily increasing number of departures have unsettled my life from its earliest beginnings. To me, nothing more painful and para­doxically sought after characterizes my life than the many displacements from countries, cities, abodes, languages, environments that have kept me in motion all these years. Thirteen years ago I wrote in After the Last Sky that when I travel I always take too much with me, and that even a trip downtown requires the packing of a briefcase stocked with items disproportionately larger in size and number than the actual period of the trip. Analyzing this, I concluded that I had a secret but ineradicable fear of not returning. What I’ve since discovered is that despite this fear I fabricate occasions for departure, thus giving rise to the fear voluntar­ily. The two seem absolutely necessary to my rhythm of life and have intensified dramatically during the period I’ve been ill. I say to myself: if you don’t take this trip, don’t prove your mobility and indulge your fear of being lost, don’t override the normal rhythms of domestic now, you certainly will not be able to do it in the near future. I also experience the anxious moodiness of travel (la mélancolie des paquebots, as Flaubert calls it, Bahnhofsstimmung  in German) along with envy for those who stay behind, whom I see on my return, their faces unshad­owed by dislocation or what seems to be enforced mobility, happy with their families, draped in a comfortable suit and raincoat, there  for all to see. Something about the invisibility of the departed, his being missing and perhaps missed, in addition to the intense, repetitious, and predict­able sense of banishment that takes you away from all that you know and can take comfort in, makes you feel the need to leave because of some prior but self-created logic, and a sense of rapture. In all cases, though, the great fear is that departure is the state of being abandoned even though it is you who leave.

 Out of Place: A Memoir

Originally posted on Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

Life Notes: Rupture and Repair

Maud's Art NYAA FAll 037
“Civilization and Nature” by Maud Taber-Thomas

“The intensity of the conflict between parent and child isn’t what matters.  The emotions can be very intense.  What matters is the repair afterward.”  The professor said this one day during an infant development class I took in graduate school.  That notion about rupture and repair has stuck with me, and I have relied on it, and in my experience, it has held up most of the time.  Emotional heat has caring behind it, and so long as that emotional warmth is expressed, too, into the efforts at repairing a fracture afterward, often the temporary break results in a stronger bond.  I can summon more than one occasion with my children, young, larger, and fully grown, when, fed up at their messes—they are both artists who make great, spreading projects—I burst out at them.  “You guys have to clean up or I’ll go crazy!”  I always stifled my mess-frustration past a point when it could be calmly conveyed.  After their furious, fuming tidyings-up, and my lurking about feeling guilty about my vehemence—and conciliatory hugs all round when the room was, to all parties’ relief, clear and spacious and ready for new messes—there would often be smiles as bursting and full of warmth as my explosion had been, and good-natured chats around cookies and milky tea to boot.

Recently I listened to a program on BBC’s The Forum, a show that features a “Sixty Second Idea to Change the World.”  This round, the idea, put forth by Phillip Ball, was: “Make mending an art form: encourage and celebrate the skills of mending in everyday life.”  The English science writer explained, “I’m thinking we can learn from the ancient art of mending broken ceramics in Japan, where the mend is seen as an opportunity to make the broken object even more beautiful, in some cases by picking out the network of glue in gold powder.” Mending, he said, ought to be regarded as an important life skill to be taught to children.  Most important of all is to “remove the stigma of repair.”  Mending ought to be seen as an art form, and mended clothes, rather than regarded as scruffy, should be “as welcome in the boardroom as the workshop.”

Ball’s fellow panelist, physicist Lee Smollen recalled a summer at Oxford when he studied with the mathematical physicist, Roger Penrose.  Often their chats took place in the college commons where the staff kept “a cache of broken teacups” because Roger Penrose liked to mend them.  While the young physicist and the older one chatted, the older man carefully pieced and glued the china cups.

Originally posted Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

Global Nomads and TCKS- 20: A new language releases us

Alice Kaplan on the pleasure of living in and speaking another language, in this case, French.  A new language can release us—to desire different thing, to claim new body parts, to become adult…

“It was not what France gave you but what it did not take away from you that was important”: Gertrude Stein pub­lished that line in Paris France in 1940, the year her adopted country caved in to the Nazis.

I’ve been willing to overlook in French culture what I wouldn’t accept in my own, for the privilege of living in translation.

Learning French and learning to think, learning to desire, is all mixed up in my head, until I can’t tell the difference. French is what released me from the cool complacency of the R Resisters, made me want, and like wanting, unbut­toned me and sent me packing. French demands my obe­dience, gives me permission to try too hard, to squinch up my face to make the words sound right. French houses words like “existentialism” that connote abstract thinking, difficulties to which I can get the key. And body parts which I can claim. French got me away from my family and taught me how to talk. Made me an adult. And the whole drama of it is in that “r,” how deep in my throat, how different it feels.

French Lessons: A Memoir

Originally posted Wednesday, June 12th, 2013