Thursday night/Friday morning, I wrote an insomnia-fuled post, intended to be humorous (did I mention the insomnia part?), for next-up publication. After Friday, I put it on hiatus; it’s still in a notebook.
I’m not going to attempt political commentary; I’m not informed enough to say anything of substance (or that hasn’t already been said, and better). What’s written below here is abstract and could apply to pretty much any situation, and that’s intentional.
The following is the only concrete detail: What I have seen in the headlines, as of this morning, concerning only the Paris attacks (and not including the Lebanon ones): at least three attackers were French citizens. The victims were various nationalities. Photos of increased military presence, including officers in full combat gear, carrying what appeared to be assault rifles [this picture has disappeared from the New York Times (online) article in which it appeared during the time I’ve been writing this; when I tried to go back and confirm that’s what they were, the photo was gone].
What I am thinking about is how very, very little it takes to feel out-of-place, like home is not, in fact, home, and as if you do not belong. How little it takes to feel as if you’re being encroached upon. How your automatic urge is to throw up barriers and defend. How, when you’ve become disconnected from something even very small, it’s acutely disorienting.
My micro-microcosm: I’ve been in this apartment slightly over a year, and I still don’t call it home. It doesn’t feel like home, but it is the place I live. I’ve never shaken the feeling it’s temporary.
Some time back, someone asked if I’d ever posted pictures of this place (as in the “ta-da, look at my new place!” sort of thing), and I said no; it hadn’t occurred to me that putting up photos of decorated areas would be something to do. Nothing ever feels finished, and nothing ever feels complete or right. I have no sense that anything is complete, and not in a ongoing-project sort of way: everything feels temporary and transitional.
I also sometimes have nightmares about the other residents waking me up in the night to evict me for some unknown offense (it’s very Kafka), but that’s probably me being me.
However, that’s what I feel living as a resident of this state in the country I was born in, how unsettled I feel even now. I certainly don’t have any friends here, but I’m not dealing with active hostility. All the same, I’m uneasy in the place I can’t even call home, and I have dreams about being kicked out. Magnify that by . . . what?
Then there are the physical objects I’m disconnected from: my books. I realize most people think this is trivial, but my missing books are my phantom limb, and their absence troubles me every single day: it’s not just an annoyance. I feel like I’m missing some part of my self. Those books have passages marked, things written in them that are parts of my mind, bits of my thoughts. Each one is like a piece of my brain, “serious” and potboiler alike.
And then I imagine what I could do with them. I picture the (completely imaginary) bookcases I could fill with them, lining the wall between me and my noisy next-door neighbor as a sound buffer. They’d become a protective barrier that could shield me from the encroachment of something that bothers me. Instead of noise and the pervasive odor of smoke at my back, I would have all my friends and allies behind me: a wall of comfort, not a zone of vague tensions.
I spend a lot of time joking about apartment-life annoyances (microcosm again), generally noise-related. Last weekend was chart-topping bad: Beatlemania next door at a volume that reflected the second coming of the British invasion (and I really dislike the Beatles). Sonic assault from the other side as well; pictures on my walls were vibrating. I’m pretty sure it was bowling upstairs. At one point, late in the evening, I spent a very, very long time in the shower for some peace and quiet, having nowhere else to go (it was also raining in a fairly epic way).
Again, magnify this minor living hassle (which felt pretty far from minor at the time) by whatever is necessary. There was nowhere to go in a place that is supposedly safe to escape what felt like encroachment from all sides. Everybody’s everything was leaking into my space, into my skin, all over all my senses. I tried to explain to a few people what it felt like at the time– how extreme that particular violation felt at that moment– and no one understood.
This lack of understanding is in part, because, yes, I’m editing to make this a story I’m willing to tell publicly; the reasons for my personal reactions are getting left out, as they tend to, because they’re convoluted, long-story-stuff that you don’t want to put on a public forum, anyway– could a journalist tell each and every one of those stories, either, even if they were spoken?
If it’s not clear by now, I’m not speaking about immigrants, migrants, French citizens, attackers, or really anyone of any particular nationality with this abstract nattering about an apartment. What I am talking about is how very, very little it takes to unbalance the entire pH of your entire environment, how very little it takes to make it feel like your personal space (or simply the space you would like to call safe) is anything on the continuum from uncomfortable to unbearable. It takes a lot of personal investment– mentally, not monetarily or otherwise– to feel like anywhere is home. It doesn’t take much to strip away the sense that a place is home or that what you know as home is imperiled. When you are in that moment, you don’t have to know specifically why that is or what’s causing it: it is simply real.
The why gains in importance in the long-term, as the situation drags out and the sense of destabilization turns from temporary into a fixture of your life.
–Where do you live? –Over there, see that building? –So that’s home? –Well, no, not really; it’s just where I am right now; we’ll see. –What are you holding out for? –I really don’t even know. I’m just in a holding pattern now.
How long can you [a personal; a nation; an international consortium; etc.] realistically be in a holding pattern before everything crashes?