Sunday, January 08, 2006
Neither Here Nor There

I'm feeling restless tonight. I want to go out and do something with somebody, but I can't think of who to ask, or where we'd go if I got anyone to agree. I really felt like going and sitting by the pond at Audubon Park today, reading or writing or just shooting the breeze. Instead, I took a drive in the morning; then I came home, opened the window in my room to admit some air and light, and spent the afternoon reading and snoozing. But I couldn't relax completely, because what I really wanted was to be out doing something, with somebody. Frustrating.

I was in an odd mood last night, too. I had a sort of emotional flashback to London, which left me feeling wistful. A long time ago, I used to sit up at night and listen to a webstream of music from a London radio station; I'd listen to songs by bands that nobody in the US had ever heard of, presented by people with peculiar variants on the only English accent I knew then. And I'd try to wrap my mind around the idea that what I was hearing was happening at almost that exact moment (and yet hours later), far away, in a place I'd never been to. I would feel remote from the world, adrift in a life I'd never experienced.

A few years later, the same thing would happen in reverse: I'd sit in my room in one of the flats I lived in (Tooting, or Mile End, or the Isle of Dogs) and try to visualize how far from home I was. I'd try to remember what home was like, to feel it viscerally as though I were there. I'd lay in bed and imagine the arrangement of my room in Memphis, feel it around me; then I'd open my eyes and enjoy the surprise of not finding it there.

After a while, though, I couldn't really remember what life in America was like. For a couple of years, at least, I was thoroughly a Londoner; I remember in 2000 going to the embassy and being struck by how much it seemed designed as an oasis of American-ness in the middle of Mayfair. I remember looking at quarters and dollar bills and seeing them as foreign money -- my eyes were accustomed to the relative softness of the Queen's face and to the elaborate curlicues of calligraphic script. Suddenly stars and eagles looked blunt and militaristic. It was money with no subtlety, just like the culture it came from.

And yet I've never felt as "American" as I did in London. Living abroad, you finally get an opportunity to learn what that actually means. Not the "land of the free, home of the brave" cliche, but the actual place of America and Americans in the world: our simplicity, our gift for self-contradiction, our potential for both transcendence and delusion. I could go on about this for a long time -- suffice to say, living abroad was one of the defining events of my life; few things in life have altered me as profoundly and those three years did. Visiting another country is one thing; living abroad is something else completely.

Anyway, last night... I was lying in bed, and semi-consciously ran through my old exercise in reverse: trying to imagine my last room in London in the place of my room here. Trying to feel the distance between here and there. Remembering the sound of the Docklands Light Rail in the distance. Mapping in my mind the oxbow in the Thames that curled around the district in which I lived. Recalling the route I used to walk from the school, through the Tudor alleyway of Covent Garden, down to the Embankment, across the train bridge (with the best night-time view of St. Paul's), past the Royal Festival Hall, under Victorian arches to Waterloo station. And having projected myself that far, the act of opening my eyes and finding myself in Mississippi was almost vertigonous.

But you've done that, too, I'm sure.
7:34 PM ::
Amy :: permalink