I have learnt to believe wherever you hang your hat is home or there would be no way back. You would never do anything, go anywhere or attempt to follow a different path.
Who feels completely at home in one place? Who moves to accommodate their latest impulse, desire, love affair, job or education? And who leaves pieces of themselves everywhere they’ve stepped, surrendering to the complexities of feeling both less than whole, and then more whole, bursting at the seam lines of experience, culture, thoughts, people and ideas that won’t quite gel together?
I struggle to realign my senses after being ‘elsewhere’ be it in a tiny workplace on the edge of the Highlands with three other staff and a field of sheep for company, sipping tea with my oldest friend in a hippy café in the Hertfordshire villages or here and now at an office in India’s capital.
But there are two sides to everything. Ralph Waldo Emerson softly warned ‘Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.’ You could traverse the globe with your hat ready to throw down, but if your heart is glued shut, you will feel nothing and be closed for business, new experiences and sentiment.
Edward Soja, postmodern urban planner and geographist classified the elsewhere and unknowable space that happens as soon as you walk out the door, these in between places as ‘Third Space’ and spent decades theorizing on the value and ideas associated with this dimension.
His ideas of this Third Space:
‘Everything comes together… subjectivity and objectivity, the abstract and the concrete, the real and the imagined, the knowable and the unimaginable, the repetitive and the differential, structure and agency, mind and body, consciousness and the unconscious, the disciplined and the transdisciplinary, everyday life and unending history.’
In India, where my cultural mismatch is most acute, I am dragged between a Third Space and a concrete reality that is sometimes too much and like Soja, become aware of ‘the abstract and the concrete, the real and the imagined.’ But, our hearts won’t crumble like cookie dough. Handing over a piece every now and then is a good idea to help the immersion process.
On a train returning from Shimla, the old British Summer Capital, I asked the staring man opposite me: ‘Are you going to stare at me all the way to Delhi? If you are, I’d like some warning, so I can prepare myself.’ It is a ten-hour train journey.
Then to his young companion, I said ‘ You should learn not to stare at women,’ really what I wanted to say was not a feminist stance but a plea ‘I’d like you not to stare at me. I feel naked enough here, even when fully covered. And I don’t just mean in India, I mean on this planet. I am a twenty something, in the mad limbo of life, give me a chance to breathe.’ Or as the better poet Eliot asked for time ‘to prepare a face to meet the faces you meet.’
I’ve seen the struggle in stranger’s eyes as they come to terms with my face, with my travelling companions. We aren’t all the same like dominoes or chess pieces in a flat line; we come with hiccups and lumps and bumps and no receipt. Pretending to be a uniform homogeny is the biggest mistake. So to cope with hanging our hat on a hook that can be hostile, we might play safe, its often the only way we can anticipate the next moves on the field.
Ways to cope with feeling out of kilter and culturally mismatched are to go to places that make you feel at home, to run somewhere with trees and grass and find some peace. By putting on our shoes, and stepping out, we have already dived into deep water before learning to tread. The places that demand more of us will be waiting.
Below is a poem I wrote to capture some of these feelings, the mismatch, the Third Space, the heart space and the home space:
Surveying the open wreckage of the heart
can be achieved by opening up my suitcase and seeing what I cannot live without.
Anointed in splendors from the East,
lavish beads that stain a wrist, coral reef that will drown twice,
you take me to accidental dinner parties
give the tangerine of an invitation that later
I will destroy
or take home and hang somewhere.
But I always hope that no matter what, I might find a way back to my hat- to call somewhere else home, drag it firmly from the rusty hook and replace it on my head, brushing off the amazon dust, acid rain and thousand other faces.