13 August 2012

Uprooting Practice

Some of us make everything we undertake or experience into a quest for ourselves. Our selves. When doing something, we wonder "Is this me? Is this who I want to be, in the end? Does it fit the person that I am?" And although, for some of these things, the answer is 'no', we find ourselves doing them anyway, out of necessity, out of a sense of duty, or because we can't say 'no', we can only feel it. What we keep holding on to, however, is the notion that there is something that we are, intrinsically, that there is something we are meant for: some of us "must" be writers, or musicians, or "must" turn everything into a competition that will yield confirmation of our superiority as individuals.
One thing that seems common to these existential aspirations is the idea of context; that there is a specific context in which I, the real "I", the person I really am, deep down, can flourish, that there is an ideal soil for me to stick my roots into and grow without constraint. This context can be spatial (a particular climate, or socio-cultural environment), or temporal ("I wish I'd been alive during the sixties, it all seemed so much easier..."), or even mental (personally, being me is quite enjoyable on some days, less so on others); whatever the nature of the context, it is usually reminiscent of a theme much mulled over in the arts as well as in philosophy: homecoming, or rather, finding your "homeland".
While this is usually treated as a question of personal development ("finding oneself"), or, more poetically speaking, as an existential odyssey, looking into it in the light of a search for one's actual homeland, i.e. the geographical context in which one feels the most at home, carries with it some interesting questions.

When it comes to "birthplace vs. homeland", there seem to be two distinct categories people fall into: the ones who run to their native country, and the ones who run from it.
The former may equate their birthplace with their homeland, and vow to spend their life there, either because they have travelled widely and found that nothing agrees with them as well as the first place they called "home", or because they have never experienced a particular drive to leave the nest and explore whatever other lifestyles the world's geography holds, simply because they are content and fulfilled with the life their homeland allows them to lead. Other people may run to their roots, their "original" homeland, and away from their actual birthplace, because they associate with this move a purity, a shedding of the chaos and cluster of experiences their current habitat has encrusted them with; this yearning to unite with one's roots is often of a genealogical nature, but sometimes these roots have nothing to do with one's ancestors or one's heritage, sometimes they are generated by an individual's idea of who they are, and, indeed, some people will be self-proclaimed Spaniards even though their family has been composed of nothing but Swedes for at least five generations. This is where we find the seam between those who run to and those who run from: some will consider their native country an environment that does not agree with them, and will find ways of making themselves expatriates. My own country is, so to speak, "empty with" such expats, all of whom have found their country of choice in Germany, England, the US, etc. Whatever the situation, it seems it always involves a to as well as a from; we are drawn to what we have, or away from it and to something else.

And then there are those of us stuck in the middle, so to speak. Who neither run from nor to, because from isn't so bad, and to isn't yet determined. Those, who know they need to find their "somewhere", but that are still looking, still testing soil after soil with their roots in hand.
Maybe we just haven't found what agrees with us yet, or we are confused by the fact that everything agrees with us up to a point; that every soil is livable, inhabitable, but just not perfect. Every soil has flaws, everywhere has people that are too loud, political notions that are questionable, a climate that has "too much of the same" several months a year. On the flip side, these same places have opportunities and people one enjoys, culture and nature one wouldn't want to miss out on.
As for me, I am still testing the waters in this little part of the US, just like I did everywhere else I've lived for a while; imagining myself living here for good, pros and cons, most of them more visceral than rational, coming to the same conclusion I've come to everywhere else, abroad as well as in my native country: it's nice, but not perfect. Which leaves me with a kind of homeland-ADD, though I still want to experience a sense of belonging, of being at peace with my surroundings. After all, that is what they teach you in kindergarden: every shape has a slot it fits into. But as soon as I've lived somewhere for a while, I'm ready for something new. The problem with this is that, obligations to my studies and friends aside, I want it to be new but not too different. Also, I am essentially a sedentary person; I just don't want to be sedentary in the same environment all the time. Ideally, the environment would take a hint from the cyclical format of the world and change around me like the seasons. But it doesn't. So what will it be? Endless searching and migrating, despite my physical and mental discomfort during travels? Or making due with what I have? The older I get, the more I lean towards making due with what I have; however, as I still feel entitled to searching (not having hit 30), I reserve the right to hold casting calls for the country I will end up calling my home until I finally decide to grow the hell up and settle down. But, let's be honest, whatever home I choose, it will most likely end up as a balancing act between borders. And this balancing act will probably be the ultimate "return to the roots": I was raised that way.

Edit: As my significant other mentioned upon reading this, the notion of "alright but not quite right", which is the stance this post seems to have taken in respect to the question of finding one's home, is somewhat reminiscent of Theodor Adorno's "kein richtiges Leben im falschen", or "no right life in falsehood." The idea that there is no fulfilled sense of belonging, and that the world, in its inadequacy and inherent deformity, does not fully accomodate our "shape", our concept of a "right" life, seems to adhere to the general atmosphere of Adorno's work with great persistence. In the end, it seems that any life lived is lived in compromise. 

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