Actually, this post was supposed to me groveling for my lack of presence to anyone who cares but as it is, I think I’ll talk about something else instead. Identity. It’s a topic dear to me. It’s the theme of the book I wrote and it’s what I have been searching for ever since we moved from Fiji to Canada. I’m sure this search would have been present in Fiji but I’ll never find out because when I was there, I was sure who and what I was. I was limited by my economic and geographical situation but I had learned to construct myself in the narratives they provided.
When we moved, I found myself at a loss. I needed to write myself into the narrative of the Canadian landscape and with the Canadian way of being but I didn’t speak the language of the primary narrative was composed in. I spoke a version of the language but our sides didn’t measure up. I had so much taken away from me when we moved – I received a lot in return but at that moment, all I could see were the losses. I lost the physical land that I loved every single day, I lost the surety of my own self, I lost that intangible space in which I belonged and I lost my language. Losing my self, what made me me was compounded by the fact that I had no idea how to be someone else. I was an adolescent and at that time, everything is in upheaval but adolescence in Fiji means a whole different thing than adolescence in Canada – or it used to anyway. It took me three long years to stop feeling homesick and only when I let go of what I lost was I able to begin reconstructing myself.
When I thought I had finally comes to terms with the person I am or am beginning to be, the rug was pulled out from under my legs if you’ll excuse the cliched expression. I hadn’t realized, in my attempts to construct myself as a Canadian, that my Otherness will always be a loud unspoken presence in any room I am in. This was made very clear to me when a professor called me into her office after I had decided to do a creative writing thesis and spent thirty minutes telling me why I can’t write, how I was bad at writing and how I didn’t have what it takes to write a novel. I refuse to trivialize the incident by joking or commenting on her because though I may speculate about the reasons why she did all this, all I know for sure is the effect that thirty minute meeting had on me. The fact that this person who knew nothing about me apart from what she saw in two hour classes with minimal interactions over the course of one year could say so decisively what I was or wasn’t capable of threw me. At first I was distraught, then I was angry. And after the anger had passed, I was contemplative. I wondered why she thought she could say all that to me? Would she say the same things to other students in her program? She made a line between “her students” and how she was “so protective of them” and me. What did she see when looked at me?
The answer was obvious when I gave it some more thought. She saw someone who wasn’t her, someone who wasn’t her student. For whatever reason, maybe it was the way I looked, acted or conducted myself, maybe it was the colour of my skin, whatever, she constructed me as an Other. She read me as foreign and different from all the other students she claimed to love and protect. So obviously, though I had managed to constructed for myself a, what I thought, Canadian identity, I hadn’t done it properly. I was still different without choosing to be, even when I was actively trying not to be.
There were two ways I could have gone with this. Tried and failed to be the Canadian that professor wanted or embraced my differences. You can guess which one I chose. This is where the anger factored in. I figured that if they looked at me like I was an Other, I would make things easier for them and look like an Other. That’s when I put the hijab on. Admittedly, it was not the right reason to put it on but I kept it on for the right reasons – this will be a different post. When I embraced my differences, my Otherness, my lack of language ceased to matter. Just because I didn’t have the language to insert myself in the general Canadian identity, didn’t mean I couldn’t also exist. I would exist but on my own terms. My identity is obviously fluid and in flux a lot of times but I am not written in a language that no one understands. It’s just that some people choose not to.
So the above are two ways I lost myself unwillingly. The third way I lose my self is far more enjoyable and I’m complicit in this kind of loss.
Reading has always been an escape for me. An escape and a blessing. Even though it has become difficult to lose myself due to school and an overly analytical mind, when I’m reading a good book, I do willingly give myself over and cease to exist in my body and mind. I become wholly immersed in the characters (until the character does something obviously stupid and shove me back into my body and mind) and I experience the world through their eyes. That is what I look for in a book: world or characters that strip me from myself and take me someplace else. This is a lot more difficult than it sounds. It should, however, explain why I veer mostly toward fantasy than realistic fiction.
So there you have it. Not the post I set out to write but one I perhaps needed to. Thanks for reading.