I’ve reached the end of nearly a month in motion at the end of a year spent here and there with no easy center. I’ve visited with family, chosen and born, seen comrades and friends, and even managed to get some work done. And now I’m finally back in Toronto. I’m exhausted.
I’m not sure––never am––that I’ve collected all the baggage that I toted with me throughout border crossings, bag searches, administrative declarations, and weather delays. How does the baggage survive all that time traveling? How do I? Speaking different languages, coming to my senses, numbing my senses, checking-in on crises of one shape or another as if my role in them matters, peppering the blandness of in-betweens with gossip or an uneasy smile, reveling in stolen sweetnesses when someone remembers who you are trying to become, recalling long dormant shared jokes, playing games, feeling like a ghost, being reminded that I am both loved in this space and an orphan of it.
What I’m left with is a question: What keeps me consistent throughout all of this movement?
Languages and architecture and ways of being in these places seem untranslatably different. Yet, in the quotidian-ness of all that crossing, they are somehow threaded together. Or maybe its the weather? How it doesn’t make sense anywhere? (Except the thick fog, as B told me, which lets you pretend that you are anywhere/nowhere.) Or maybe just the basics? Getting the laundry done in every different kind of machine, this or that surface to clean, thing to put back in its place, remembering that each place has this or that logic of where how and when to replace the thing so it can be found, moved, lost again.
Toronto-Bologna-Cleveland-Toronto is a strange itinerary. Not the Sunday Travel section’s first choice. Multiculti boomtown built over top of resplendent ancient meeting place where the trees stood in water and this would be storytelling season to medieval university town still floating on the slowly cooling magma layer of hot Augusts of decades past petty politics at war with real politics to putatively post-industrial American Great Lakes once unified (but now different) whose begged for renaissance gives those who survive the depression or the violence a specific kind of chip on their shoulder. Daytime television and a stream of oil company and pro-fracking commercials. ExxonMobil does help me.
Is home an exhaustible resource? It’s a real question. On what exchanges is home traded? How is it extracted from the peat of experience, barely compacted? Who’s gaining commission? Is being ‘at home’ a fact? A feeling? A mode? A delusion. Must it be striated through everyday life thinly, like rare earth? What work is required to be ‘at home’ here? And then here. And then, finally for now, here.
If mobility is a privilege––and my body is not always or even usually convinced of this anymore––I could say that I am in need of its opposite for a while. And I get what we need sometimes. To think that, when I was a young teenager, I was convinced that I’d never be able to see the world beyond my hometown. Stuck like every queer felt stuck and feels stuck going back. But slowly, being unstuck becomes a kind of compulsion. Adaptability a life requirement. Must keep things going. Must go. Must do without stillness or else risk stiffness.
Bodies become rigid and brittle for other reasons too. And then we are called to new effort to hold on to any consistent element, to keep at least one particle the same across all that numbing confirmation of identity. Are you who you say you are? Nationality. Do the contours of your face match the contours of the face in this document, the image of someone unwearied by so many mandatory crossings? Place of origin. Has this expired? What’s your status. They add up: Document check, document check, document check, document check. Questions: Why are you here, why were you there, what did you do, who are you carrying with you, what are you leaving behind, what is the total value of your experience? The lucky pass through the fortress, I’m told it makes me lucky. And so I try to remember that when the experience serves up the unluckiest of feelings.
No matter where I go, I carry more books than I can possibly read on any one journey across every border. Their completeness is comforting, consistent. The weight is substantial. It keeps me on the edge of frustration, which is sometimes the only way to survive travel. Books feel like dangerous travel accessories, they might say too much about you.
One book that has crossed every border with me this month is Dionne Brand’s “A Map to the Door of No Return: Notes to Belonging” I’ve read it little by little and I’m still trying to understand how and why, despite the differences in the reasons for our movement and displacement and return/s, this book has helped me more than anything when I am feeling weary, uncertain, lost for words, lost in cartography, in our out of love, in or out of place; jetlagged, dreadful, devoid of thoughts, or simply too full of them, a fool.
There are ways of constructing the world –– that is, of putting it together each morning, what it should look like piece by piece –– and I don’t feel that I share this with the people in my small town. Each morning I think we wake up and open our eyes and set the particles of forms together –– we make solidity with our eyes and with the matter in our brains. How a room looks, how a leg looks, how a clock looks. How a thread, how a speck of sand. We collect each molecule, summing them up into flesh or leaf or water or air. Before that everything is liquid, ubiquitous and mute. We accumulate information over our lives which bring various things into solidity, into view. What I am afraid of is that waking up in another room, minutes away by car, the mechanic walks up and takes my face for a target, my arm for something to bite, my car for a bear. He cannot see me when I come into the gas station; he sees something else and he might say, “No gas,’ or he might simply grunt and leave me there. As if I do not exist, as if I am not at the gas station at all. Or as if something he cannot understand has arrived –– as if something he despises has arrived. A think he does not recognize. Some days when I go to the gas station I have not put him together either. His face a mobile mass, I cannot make out his eyes, his hair is straw, dried grass stumbling toward me. Out the window now behind him the scrub pine on the other side of the road, leaves gone, or what I call leaves, the sun white against a wash of grey sky, he is streaking toward me like a cloud. Frayed with air. The cloud of him arrives, hovers at the window. I read his face coming apart with something –– a word I think. I ask for gas; I cannot know what his response is. I pass money out the window. I assume we have got the gist of each other and I drive away from the constant uncertainty of encounters. I drive through the possibility of losing solidity at any moment.
Today is not a day that beings with the luxury of feeling together.