April 12, 2015.
This morning I woke up thinking about the word exile.
When I say the word aloud images of a long dark aisle and an isolated isle pop up simultaneously in my mind.
The word sat there in my head to be grazed by my very cow-like laziness this Sunday morning.
I don’t come to writing like I once did because I don’t want to write what I once wrote because I don’t think what I once thought. It’s not as simple as it sounds. Once you grow you have to get refitted for Stillness.
I have developed a resistance to writing in stillness due much in part to the last two years here in California where I would mostly read on Sundays. Any writing has been personal. Not all growth can be shared publicly. In fact, I argue that the deepest evolution cannot be framed, put in words, or even shared. We just show up after that kind of change and the world must adjust.
So in that sense, Stillness and I are reacquainting. Surely, it is me who has changed.
The word exile, as defined by contemporary dictionaries, has something to do with being removed or banished from one’s country of origin either by force or circumstances.
In an unpublished essay author Cristina Garcia, who was gracious enough to share that essay with me after I met her at a conference, writes, “It is a severing from one’s homeland, a rift between here and there, a longing unsoothed, the terrible sense of un-belonging.”
She continues in her essay about exile and Cuba,
“This is not to say Cubans are permanently stuck in el pasado, the past. There is too much work to do in the present. Thoughtful Cubans on both sides of the Straits of Florida (and beyond) continually ask themselves: What does ‘home’ mean? Where do I belong? What do I owe the past? The future? What does it owe me? What does it mean to be Cuban?”
Before this brick of a word landed on my head this morning, a few days ago a couple of things happened.
First, I was recently interviewed by Jessica of Jessica Ann Media for a podcast series she is launching titled Art of Humanity: Fresh Perspectives with Artists, Leaders, Authors, and Entrepreneurs. Although usually I am weary of “marketing consultants” Jessica and I connected because of my blog a long time ago and I have paid attention to her pursuits and efforts. She truly does bring a new level of consciousness and a much needed fresh, creative perspective to the PR business. Hesitant, I agreed, honored that I could add some value to her series. The depths of her questions were a welcome surprise and I am looking forward to the beginning of the series.
During one part of the conversation she brought up my “bio” and the seemingly constant nature of my moving, from one city to another, not to mention from one country to another country to yet another. I stumbled to explain that I was not a vagabond by any means although to an outsider it might appear as such. We moved on to other topics but that part of the chat stayed with me.
Second, a few days ago I connected with writer, Natasha Moni, and in one of our exchanges she brought up the tiny nuance of being a first-generation versus second-generation American. How we connected is a very convoluted story that I will save for another time. She lives in the Seattle area and our email conversation thread is titled, “Books and Things”. I told her I had never thought of the difference and perhaps there is no difference and paradoxically that is the difference.
Third, Seattle based attorney and fellow writer, Charles R. Wolfe, shared with me a recent article by him about the changing face of his city. He writes beautifully about ever-evolving cityscapes and the memories between and impacts beyond. You can find more of his photography and essays at My Urbanist.
His article “Using Urban Observation to ‘Ghost-Bust’ Cities” in the HuffingtonPost.com strung several chords.
First chord: I thought of these fantastic, very moving paintings by Jennifer McDaeth, a Seattle based artist.
Second chord: I recalled parts of A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit. This book was a recent Christmas gift from my brother-in-law. I learned about Rebecca Solnit because of a comment by Peter Ciccariello on a Still Sundays essay from May 15, 2011 but it would be now that I would finish reading her book.
Here is the music…
Charles R. Wolfe begins his essay that while walking on a familiar intersection in Seattle, he “[…]saw a ghost, of a missing building from a boyhood memory—something that Amazon might have retrofitted, today, if it were still there for the taking. Gone from this layered, contemporary scene was something significant to the history of Seattle, the Orpheum Theater […]”
“I hold that scene in perspective, because I’m old enough to recall what was there before.
I’m also an inductive, first person urbanist, always looking for context in what I see. Amid urban change, I see ghosts of bygone images, wondering, ironically, about their unrealized role in today’s vitality. This approach, allowing for and explaining the stories behind our redeveloping cities, should not be viewed as antiquarian, academic or obstructionist.
The tool of human memory, discerning eyes and understanding both the pragmatism of the present and the symbolic, collective meaning of a given place are often left behind in today’s discussions of urban solutions.”
When discussing her recent art in progress, Jen Macdeath, wrote,
“I completely get this [referring to the Seattle article by Wolfe]. It makes me so sad to see the incredible old buildings being knocked down and destroyed!
That is why I did my Ode to Piecora’s series as our favorite pizzeria and the entire block was being demolished for new crap condo buildings.
Ocean [the artist’s daughter] said she is tired of seeing her childhood memories being turned into condos!
This Seattle doesn’t feel like my Seattle anymore and it breaks my heart!”
Exile then is not a mere banishment from one’s country of origin but can happen within cities, communities, professions, and worse without an option to leave that very place that now feels absolutely foreign. What I am talking about is more than mere gentrification, it is a complete stripping away of time itself and vis-a-vis a part of oneself that only exists inside one’s mind.
Rebecca Solnit describes emptiness by quoting another text, “‘Emptiness is the track on which the centered person moves,’ said a Tibetan sage six hundred years ago, and the book where I found this edict followed it with an explanation of the word ‘track’ in Tibetan: shul, ‘a mark that remains after that which made it has passed by—a footprint, for example. In other contexts, shul is used to describe the scarred hollow in the ground where a house once stood, the channel worn through rock where a river runs in the flood, the indentation in the grass where an animal slept last night. All of these are shul: the impression of something that used to be there. […] As a shul, emptiness can be compared to the impression of something that used to be there.'” (50-51).
So here we all are, experiencing this scared emptiness, where we don’t recognize our streets, our schools, our neighborhoods, our professions. We pack and move from one place to another so as to belong to ourselves at the very least. There is no ‘there’ to go back to and nostalgia hurts more than it helps as we move forward.
The corporate take over by Wall Street from one end and Silicon Valley on another, of every single non-corporate industry, leaves no room for the majority of Americans, whatever their ethnic backgrounds. Many of us are now exiled within other exiles.
Charles Wolfe ends his HuffingtonPost.com essay by mentioning a link to blended superimposition images of London to show how much London has and hasn’t change and therein lies her charm.
As “Pakistan’s democratic rebirth remains constantly under siege” thanks to Islamic fundamentalists and all “moderates” who look the other way, I can’t help but feel frightened about American democracy.
After all, America has been home for so many in exile that I honestly can’t imagine how one even begins again if the very word exile must be redefined given all that is happening in this country.
Cristina Garcia ends her essay by stating, “But like all great loves, a homeland is not something one can ever fully possess.”
And yet we, and only we, can possess this emptiness which serves as a “shul” of all that was once there.
And if we continue writing about it, talking about it, sharing about it, we are bound to recreate that very thing that has been lost.
Perhaps all of this going forward has always been about going back.