Sunday, December 13, 2009

A return to the place of my parents' sojourns. . .

Yesterday, the weekly Torah portion commenced with a line about Jacob who settled in the land of his father's sojourns.

"Jacob dwelt in the land of his father's sojournings, in the land of Canaan."

In Shul, the term "sojourns" (meguray aveev in hebrew) was considered and we arrived at a definition that equated sojourns to "troubles". With this definition we can read that Jacob returned to the place of his father's troubles which directs to us to consider the interesting conflations of geography and emotionality, of heredity and lifestyle. Interestingly, these very relationships of terms are central to many of my internal musings of  place and identity that have been preoccupying me of late.

From a starting point in Vancouver, I have come to understand my existence here as rather temporal. There is so little that roots me in this particular city. A recent trip to Berlin, a city I felt an enormous and encompassing attraction to, further dulled my enthusiasm for Vancouver.

It wasn't a feeling of being "home" that fomented my attraction to Berlin. In fact, my poor German, my disdain for German "cuisine" (being a vegetarian) and a certain, let's say, discomfort of German bureaucracy lead me to a very distinct feeling of uneasiness. This uneasiness  is what underlines a major part of my attraction to Berlin. In Berlin, I felt like a displaced refugee which, of course, resonates for me far better than the benign comfort I feel living in a city where I speak the primary language as my first language, where my nationality affords me rights and privileges and where I am aware of and can participate in deep-rooted cultural norms (anyone want to talk hockey?)

This desire I have to resettle myself into a space of unease is a current that has moved me through my life. As a young child in an affluent neighbourhood, I craved a move into the inner-city in order to "normalize" myself. As a teenager, I derived a great feeling of pride and enjoyment from living on my own in makeshift habitations.  Finally, as a young adult, I derived great solace from spending time in jail in those times when I was most emotionally distressed.

For a longtime, I had considered that my tendency to shun success and take the "road less travelled" was a kind of internal self-destruct mechanism. As though I were too psychologically damaged to enjoy an engagement with success. In my life, this bread a kind of marginality that ultimately forced me out of Montreal, my home for over 10 years, angry, bitter and at the periphery of the worlds I sought inclusion in.

In the 3 years since leaving Montreal, I've stabilized myself somewhat and no longer construct circumstances that promote my own marginality. On the contrary, my practices of building career and community and even commencing this blog are actions that seek to place myself "within the world".

However my efforts are compromised by my ability to "be" what I "am". What I mean by this is that depending on where and how I live, who I am is read differently. In Vancouver, I am read, perhaps, as a slightly ethnic malcontent who has unrealistic propositions about the nature of Canadian society. In fact, my inherent rejection of "core" Canadian values is, on the whole objectionable. In Berlin, I might be read as a part of a community of disparate refugees and ex-patriates who co-habitate a world where borders and the concept of a national identity itself reference a latent calamity. My ultimate comfort with being in Berlin was that it was  a return to the displacement of my parents who themselves started their lives as refugees.

In Vancouver, I am a long way off from these geographic and emotional roots. Thus, the fundamental multi-generational questions that my psychology has been struggling to address, do not properly manifest in this place. My political radicalization and cynicism are seen as an ungrateful response to a fine national entitlement. Indeed, the prevalence of status and privilege that I enjoy creates a confusing contradiction to my behaviour and ultimately, alienates me from my most significant underlying emotional and historical narrative.

In Berlin, I had the sense that my journey was better understood and thus while I found myself conversing in second and third languages, where my fluency is questionable, the subtext to my speech was far more articulate. From my face and disposition one understands that I have returned to the place of my ancestors' wanderings. It is on a transient, anonymous landscape that my understanding and expression of the world is most acute. I am beginning to understand that within Canada, the construction of my own marginality addresses my need to be understood as a refugee from an entirely different place but, how can this be logically understood when my place of birth is indeed Toronto?

Perhaps, as it was my feeling when I was in Berlin, it will be most effective to leave this foreign place and return to my root as a refugee. Then, in that certain kind of upheaval of status, my voice might resonate in harmony with the elements of emotion, geography, heredity and lifestyle.

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