Thursday, October 29, 2009

Familiar Second Person

I saw you last night. I think you might have seen me, too.

For the first time, the sight of you did not send shivers up and down my spine. I did not attempt to catch your eye. I did not approach you, or say hello. I saw you, surrounded as usual by beautiful people, and, this time, I did not feel a need to interrupt, to make my presence known, to smile and nod knowingly in your direction.

The air did not zing, or pop, with the energy usually generated by our proximity.

I left, last night, without a backward glance. I left, knowing that the place I would lay my head shortly thereafter was more welcoming than you have ever been. Even when you were most drawn to me, you pushed me away with your other hand. A human yin-yang. I loved you but I am not a see-saw, being pushed and pulled like flotsam and jetsam in the fickle tide of your desire does not suit my fragile temperament. Over time, you would destroy me. My edges rubbed raw through constant friction against the relentless rockface of your occasional indifference.

Now it is my turn to exert my indifference upon you. Schadenfreude. I hope you feel the coldness of it. I hope it affects you.
And this: in that hope lies the truth, that I will never truly be indifferent, much though I wish to be.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

I have recently started a job which involves a daily commute. One hour each way. Although I was initially less than thrilled by the prospect, I now find myself wishing every morning that the train ride was just that little bit longer. The time I have to myself, every morning and every evening, provides me with a balance between social time and me-time, which, if it is not enforced, I find difficult to instill in my life.

But I think there is more to my joy in the commute than I initially thought. As I prepared myself on Sunday night for the week of train trips ahead, it dawned on me. And as I settled myself on the train this morning, it was confirmed. I had planned ahead. I had a phone card, allowing me to make the overseas phone calls from my mobile phone that I find it so difficult to find the time to make from any landline. I had my large coffee, set on the seat next to me, to last the entire train ride. I had snack bars in my gym bag, to breakfast on. I pulled out my tiny laptop computer, set it on my lap, and connected to the internet. I pulled out my current novel. I pulled out my iPod, clad in its new leather shell, and the in-ear balancing headphones I recently purchased, and turned on the new album I downloaded last night from iTunes. I had a pashmina in case it got cold, and a spot for my umbrella beside me. I was all set, established in my own small interior world even as I sat in that most public of spaces, the suburban train.

And I realised: I am a gifted commuter. I am a gifted commuter because I am an experienced traveler. Getting on the train each morning and heading out of Sydney is restoring to me because it is like getting on an airplane and flying away from Sydney, something I have been itching to do for months.

I haven't left Sydney in so long and it was beginning to get to me. But now I have a local equivalent of overseas travel, and I get to indulge in this more localised form of travel every day.
No wonder I feel peculiar when I arrive back in the city. My mind has established itself by that time in the familiar routine of away-ness.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

In Former Days

In former days we'd both agree
That you were me, and I was you
What has now happened to us two,
That you are you, and I am me?

- Bartrhari

Egypt in all its oppulence lies before me
As I sit in jewels and eat grapes.
You stare with hostile eyes
As gold glitters on each servant
And I clap to the rhythm of the dancers.
Sometimes when I think of you all I see
Is a land of Arctic tides and men
Reigning logic, scorning sentiment
And I wonder why it is you're still with me -
In former days we'd both agree
To laugh at Rome, silly Octavius
Marrying off his sister, but oh so
Full of reason, I was vulgarity to him
Wicked witch of dreams
I stole his favourite general
And I wonder, am I vulgar to you?
With you my sweet Marc Antony
I scorned my people and became like you
And you took Egypt. We both knew
That you were me, and I was you.
If only time had stopped just then
Balancing like a juggling act
The perfect symmetry of our two worlds
As if we were a comedy. I weep,
Slowly removing one asp from the basket.
This is beyond my control, nor is it you
Who draws the sword though they say
They saw you do it.
I was content with less than our due,
What has now happened to us two?
Had we but lived a little longer
The cycle would have turned.
Little Egypts, little Romes
Could have saved us like Perdita and Florizel.
We two were one, though I weakened you in battle
And you me at home; would we were at sea,
Rome and Egypt extremes on land
Our marriage of opposites sealed in waves.
What hand has created our tragedy,
That you are you, and I am me?

- N.


When she awoke she had forgotten where she was. She stumbled out of bed and into the bathroom by rote, and sat on the toilet in shock as she remembered. She never dreamt she would be back here ever again.

The night before, she remembered now, after walking home seedy from the club setting of their coincidental meeting, they had settled enwined on the couch to watch television, as in times gone by. Her glasses, weakened at one joint, had broken, the arm had fallen off, and he had laughed as she determinedly continued to wear them, skewiff, having set the arm back in the case, an unfortunate, drunken amputee.

Surprisingly she was not self-conscious or shy as she re-entered his familiar bedroom, even though she wore only underwear. She stood in the doorway and looked at him until he sensed her presence, opened his eyes, and turned.

"What the fuck are you doing here!" he exclaimed. But his voice was warm.

She doubled over with laughter. "I don't know! What the fuck am I doing here!"

She got back into bed and they giggled together like children and she folded into his warm side, recognition dawning of the same soft skin, the same strong torso.

"I don't even remember... did we... last night?"

"No," he said. "No we didn't."
She turned towards him and kissed his lips, and, that morning, they did.
She saw him two days later, in Court. She stood in the corridor, mobile phone to her ear. He walked around the corner towards her, out of the lift well. Tall in his suit. He looked at her, raised his eyebrows, smiled, but uncertainly. She smiled back at him with a nod of her head, phone still at her ear, on hold.

As he approached he held his hand to his head, miming the wearing of spectacles.

"I have your glasses," he half-whispered.

She smiled. The night before, she had gone to watch television, had opened up her glasses case only to find a lone arm but nothing else.

"I wondered where they were," she said.

"Only they're missing an arm." he said.

"Yes," she said. "I have the arm, I couldn't understand where the rest of them went."

It seemed hilarious, all of a sudden, that they should have divided and conquered like this, a Cindarella moment, one shoe each of a pair, one at his house and one at hers.

And then they were laughing together, silly in their secrets, until she was taken off hold and he walked away.

Strangers again until the next time.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The TCK Experience

Third Culture Kids. TCKs. A term coined by sociologist Ruth Hill Useem to denote those individuals who, as children, spent a significant period of time in one or more culture other than their own, thus integrating elements of those cultures and their own birth culture into a third, unique culture.

Ruth Van Reken has recently suggested that the term should now be updated, to "Cross-Cultural Kids". Most TCKs I know have had to integrate elements from more than two countries into their 'third', composite culture, so the renaming perhaps makes sense, although in my view it removes from the identifier a critical constituent of TCK-ness: the composite culture created (still generally referred to as the 'third' culture) is more than simply the combination of several cultures. Useem's original hypothesis, with which I agree, is that the experience of the TCK means that their own cultural identity is different from either, or any, of the cultures that have gone into its creation.

This is why TCKs often find they have more in common with one another, regardless of nationality, than with non-TCKs from their birth or citizenship country(ies). They never have full ownership or full understanding of any of the cultures into which they come into contact, even the cultures of their citzenship and / or birth countries.

Returning to a nation of which one is a citizen when one has never actually lived there is not returning at all, although the majority of non-TCK individuals would view it as a homecoming.

What answer, then, to the question: where are you from?

Most people mean, where were you born?

I was born in a country of which I have precious few memories, a country the language of which I do not speak, and of which I am not a citizen. None of that country's more typical natives would view me as one of them.

Some people mean: what passport do you hold?

I hold two passports. I had never lived in either of my passport countries until I finished school.

Some people mean: yes, but where is your accent from?

My accent is a hotchpotch of voices, a motley assortment of lived experiences that have coalesced to create a unique bastardisation of the spoken English language. But what you hear? Well that depends on where you're from. If you're from North America, I sound English to you, or Scottish or Australian. Perhaps even German or Scandinavian. If you're from Australia I sound North American, or perhaps Irish. If you're from Northern Europe I just sound strange.

My answer changes depending on who you are, which is to say, I am telling you nothing about myself by my answer, I am telling you about yourself and your preconceptions of cultural specificity.

Defining characteristics of the TCK: Adaptability. Isolation.

Inch by Inch

Salman Rushdie writes in Midnight's Children of a wife learning to love her husband one bit at a time - focusing her love one day on his nose, the next on his chin, the next on the little finger of his right hand, and so on.

This is how it worked for her, too, with him, although they were unaware of it at the time, it was a subconscious process.

He never saw her naked until many months later. Without intending to be so reserved she let him see just one part of her at a time. One evening she remained fully clothed and unbuttoned her shirt so that just one breast was revealed. Another time she wandered through the room in his white button-down business shirt, legs bare in the moonlight. He lifted her shirt the next night and kissed her belly. She lifted his and became familiar with the muscular indentations at the base of his spine. He carried the soft weight of her hair and nuzzled his nose and lips into her neck. She raised her head and bit, sucked his earlobe, exploring the private space behind his ear. Bit by bit, part by part, they drank each other in, growing gradually to love each other.

So that when he told her he loved her, all of her, she believed it, down to her little toes.