You move away. You’re elsewhere. You may move away repeatedly, you may stay away for long, your elsewhere becomes a here, your former here a onceuponatime. Yet. However. That onceuponatime lingers. That supposed elsewhere remains more here than you expected. Its stubborn hereness bothers you, because you thought you were moving. You thought you might settle. This isn’t even hereness, you say as you look around yourself. It’s not even heredity; it’s hereish, at most. It’s all just mildly hereish.
All the heres you travel through accumulate into a heap of hereishness you waddle in, but the one that most irritates you with its stubborn refusal to become a there and onceuponatime is the place where you started. It even lingers in your mouth; when you speak, it’s there. Your accent keeps giving you away, linking you to lots of people you have no particular reason to like a lot and even more reasons not to particularly like at all. Your accent even gives away your relation to particular people that may or may not like you at all; none of you may like each other and yet, there you are, all like each other, with that never absolutely local pronunciation of whatever words, whatever language you supposed might become part of your new here. Pronunciation, grammatical errors, slang, habitual keywords, exclamations—hereishly they stay.
What’s more, you find you don’t even care. It’s not just the old here that presses on you more than you like; the new here does too. All the heres, they’re somewhat rude. They don’t seem to know their boundaries. They here you more than you care to be hered. Still they never seem to here you fully—they push as they pull; they don’t send clear messages. You know there’s nothing vague about yourself, all flesh and blood, so it must be them. It’s the heres that are only vaguely here. They demand you, yet they give so little in return. They demand all of you, your absolute presence, but you realise they will never be fully yours.
You take a new turn. Whatever there is that can be referred to as you changes its attitude, takes pride in this lack of a full and complete here and decides: I’ll be neither here nor there, their refusal to fully here me, to here to me, the necessity they impose on me is now my choice, my chosen I, I will be neither here nor there. You decide: whatever lack of here I feel, that is my own private here, I cannot not be here, in any real sense, wherever I do not fully go, there I am. So here I am, by definition, whether any acknowledged, identifiable here heres me or not.
I’m trying to deliver some sort of thoughts on nationality or ethnicity as experienced through migration. In ‘Reflections on Exile,’ Edward Said paraphrases Wallace Stevens’ ‘Snow Man’: “Exile … is a ‘mind of winter’ in which the pathos of summer and autumn as much as the potential of spring are nearby but unobtainable.” It’s true. This betweenness makes you always absent, absent as only winter is.
Whether it was forced or voluntary migration, there remain traces of that old place within you, around you, that you may not care to bring with you. You may never have felt at home there either. Because you’re anti-nationalist. You’re cosmopolitan. You’re no-borders. And yet, there you are, somewhere on the national-identity-obsession-scale, preoccupied either by nationality as an enemy, something to conquer, slay and do without, or, in rarer cases, as something to be cherished. Origins stay with you the way shared celebrations do, the way Christmas does for anyone brought up in a pseudo-christian, post-christian, post-post-society: not celebrating that sort of thing takes more force than taking part ever does. It’s human-made, it’s something we do. Yet it’s simply there, persistent as you thought only mountains would be. A habit.
Of course though, it’s not just about actual migrants. Wherever you grew up is no longer there. Phones didn’t use to be this smart; energy didn’t use to be this green. Coffee wasn’t this creamy, the heres weren’t this vague, vague wasn’t this vogue, there seemed to be a saner shade of vain. Even etceteras seemed to know their place and lead somewhere. Etc. Still this is not nostalgia. (Ah … remember when we had nostalgias? (Ah … remember when we reminisced about the times we had nostalgias (etc.)))
You’re all grown up now, you migrant, you let go of your here and thought there was something to be gained. You’re all grown up now. This is it. It’s not even a this. Not even an it. Just fifty old flickering shades of not here. Not even revolution will be here in any fulfilling sense. Here is over. Who killed it?
Coffee wasn’t this good, the heres weren’t this vague, vague wasn’t this vogue, there seemed to be a saner shade of vain. Even etceteras seemed to know their place and lead somewhere. Etc.