Sunday, June 3, 2012

"Non-Belonging Is My Very Substance"

"I feel that I exist only outside of any belonging. That non-belonging is my very substance."
--Edmond Jabès, From the Desert to the Book

I was born in Scotland, I went to high school there, and my parents still live there. In the US, I tell people I'm Scottish – it's just easier. However, it's not strictly accurate. Both my parents are English, so I lack the Braveheart ancestry (which is what most people in the US mean when they say “Scottish”); I spent my childhood continent-hopping, so I lack the emotional ties, personal history, and identifiable accent of one specific place (which is how a lot of people seem to relate to a place they call “home”); and, to be perfectly honest, if my parents moved away tomorrow I doubt I'd ever go back to Scotland.

I'm not really Scottish.

At first, I tried telling people I was “British” or “from the UK,” to which if not my accent then at least my passport can attest, but nobody who's really British ever says that. People claim England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales: the place they identify as being from. The UK is a political fiction – not that any nation-state isn't; but the UK seems to be a particularly unconvincing one, at least as far as hearts and minds are concerned. I certainly don't “feel” British. I have no heart-and-mind national allegiance.

I'm not really anything.

These days, I try not to be a douche about this. It is both easy and insufferable to bang on about being “a citizen of the world, you guys” when you possess both the geopolitical privilege of a UK passport and the socioeconomic privilege to take advantage of the myriad doors that passport opens. I also try not to fall into a self-pity-party about my sense of alienation. My errant childhood may have robbed me of any place to call “home,” but it also gifted me broad horizons and an unslakable wanderlust – a tradeoff I'd not reverse for anything.

Sometimes, though, I do feel a secret wish to able to participate in outpourings of jingoistic fervor.

I've been witnessing such an outpouring from certain of my Facebook friends over queen whatsit and her diamond thingamajig. I am, as that last sentence might have tipped you off, firmly in the small-r-republican camp when it comes to the whole monarchy malarkey. Even if I somehow felt myself to be authentically British, my deep cynicism regarding autocratic headship, even of the mostly-symbolic variety, wouldn't permit me to do anything other than sneer at the whole business.

But, gosh, it looks like such fun.

I feel the same sense of alienation and frustration at international sporting events. Look at all these people, who are capable of (a) claiming a national identity without feeling like an impostor and (b) giving a rat's rear-end about the event in question! They all seem to be having SUCH FUN. I wish I could have fun.

Alas, I am a fun-killing overthinker with no ability to switch off my cynicism and no sense of belonging anywhere. But, on the upside, Salman Rushdie says I am a special snowflake.

1 comment:

  1. Found this post while informally researching for a study I'm thinking of doing on that first moment of realizing you no longer fully belong in the place or group where you thought you would.
    I have a similar story. Grew up in Ireland, moved around a lot, now live in Seattle.
    Do you think that if we can choose to settle down for a long time somewhere, we will find ourselves suddenly fitting? Would we choose it if we could? I have a feeling that this non-belonging, once recognized, will always lurk under the skin.