Sunday, September 16, 2007
Exile Off Main Street
“Now, after ten years, I have realized that an exile has no place anywhere, because there is no place, because the place where we started to dream, read our first book, loved for the first time, is always the world of our dreams.” Reinaldo Arenas
“I know it’s only Rock-N-Roll….. But I like it.” Mick Jagger
The country in which I was born is a vast beautiful ocean away from me now, thousands and thousands of empty blue sea miles with the only life hidden underneath its solemn mysterious waves; to cross this great expanse is many hours by expensive jet plane, too many by slow boat and not attractive to me either way, having already done it once. The fact is simple- a person needs a reason for such a journey, a good reason, or he needs a reason to stay put, dig in. In the end I find it easy to weigh the two.
My grand birth Nation is also smack dead in my face everyday like a splash of cold water. I can see it coming and feel it hit me, but I cannot touch it or dive in. It’s almost everywhere I go even this far away, it’s like the moon or stars, the same everywhere and everywhere.
There’s a newspaper headline screaming our latest blunder or more luckily, our great good deed.
Here’s one of our fearless leaders talking at me on the boob tube, just like home.
There are the ubiquitous signs for fast food, gourmet coffee, designer blue jeans, hardcore hip-hop, Hollywierd Movies and the assorted detritus of a junk culture I thought I’d left behind those thousands of ocean miles ago, entrenched firmly among the riot of Neon Nippon advertisements that, pitifully, I still can’t read so I gain little comfort from either.
I’m alternately totally disconnected from my new environment and an uncomfortable object of curiosity no matter who I’m with or where I go. I am exotic, mundane, polite, profane, a delight, a disgrace, valuable, worthless, handsome, ugly, coveted, repulsive and I have no control over any of it. I am a guest and my hosts will make all decisions on these matters but, of course, this position is the one I’ve chosen freely and for my own reasons. Perhaps it might be the same in every corner of the planet but I am here and my face announces my strangeness to all, an instant and inevitable fact. I’m not from anywhere around here, I’m far from home. There is no need for discussion for it is no revelation, just the simplest of realities.
The majority of my hosts generally behave not quite like the majority of my countrymen and at the same time not all that differently.
Both groups are driven to succeed whereas I am not-
Both, to a great degree, measure that success in terms of material wealth or at least material accumulation, I do not-
Both are increasingly hooked into a digital cyber world that conversely (or is it perversely) sets them adrift from the more physical one they inhabit, I have a generational aversion to all things digital-
Both are routinely inundated by mass media consumer driven hard sell messages almost everywhere they go and both seem to seek solace from the onslaught, being somewhat of a recluse I am less susceptible to the barrage-
Both seek a faster, easier future of comfort and leisure while simultaneously yearning to reach back and connect with their own personal history, their roots, I can trace my roots back to my grandfather and no further and have no further desire or curiosity.
In all these ways I am as comfortable here as anywhere because the rules (or is it the plan) seem to be similar if not the same, whether I agree or follow along is another matter entirely and for me the question of whether to play along has always been open and unanswered.
It took me decades to learn how to say thank you and mean it (or not) in my country and I never did learn the rest of the rules if in fact there were any. I had a suspicion there were but no inclination to pursue my discovery any further and now I am in a land where my suspicions about these “rules” are a good bit stronger but my comprehension of how to properly absorb the complexities of them is even more uncertain. At home I gave up on discovering these facts and it was easy to do so, I practically felt patriotic in my surrender for wasn’t I ( we?) a strong single minded individual hell bent on doing it his own way? Wasn’t I a maverick, a rebel, an untamed non-conformist? Wasn’t I an outlaw, a cowboy, a loner? Didn’t I seek the road less traveled?
But now I’m here and those particular roles seem somehow socially unnecessary and more than that, personally unsatisfactory. I’m not home and maybe there is no home but I’ve been welcomed openly in this land where the only objective certainty is that I don’t fit in. I’ve been treated as a guest, and one of honor, not a feeling I was familiar with in any previous environment. I’d done nothing I could think of to deserve this kindness, nothing to warrant such hospitality but it was there nonetheless and it was freely given; a much more than generous gift given to me- at the time of my unheralded arrival an anti-social misfit who wanted nothing more than to be left alone to work or more often, play.
But a small confession is in order.