Yet another postcolonial journey
I was on my way back from Cornwall, sitting in the train from Penzance back to Paddington in London. I had thoroughly enjoyed Cornwall (as I thought I would): the rocks and the sea, the land and the rivers, and again the rocks by and beside the sea: because
they were most spectacular, with waves splashing on and off them, and their forms and formations, absolutely fabulous! They, these rocks, were mostly to be found on the
northern coastline, but I liked the southern coastline too: them being towards each other
like Yin and Yang, I thought. And so I had dipped into the beauty and the magic of the
land, and I had done so so deeply, that my intensity of presence would easily count as a good example of being in the here-and-now.
The Here-and-Now has become a slogan that is emphasizing being, and presence, existence par excellence, with a consciousness about it that equates to a feeling of flow, and of bliss, of feeling yourself as yourself, of being in the moment, and all that. It’s used to describe the erstwhile Buddhist practice of mindfulness. As a term, though, the here-and-now comes from psychology, or, to be more precise, from the person-centred counselling approach of Carl Rogers, who emphasized the here-and-now as a state of existential living and of grow into, becoming and being, a (fulfilled) person – though Jung before him and many others after him have somehow referred to the healing powers of existential living as well.
As a dreamer-type, I get into these states of mind (and of being) very often, quickly and easily, particularly so when I travel, in Cornwall, as elsewhere.
But there is something else to the ‘here’ and the ‘now’ that is often overlooked in philosophy, psychology or spiritual literature, and it’s probably overlooked because it’s not experienced by what is considered the ‘mainstream’. It’s the ‘outside dimension’, the sociological aspect of it all – which happens to some of us (‘Others’) more than to others (the non-labelled, the ‘expected’), hence its ‘overlookedness’.
It’s to do with identity and with identity politics, something some liberals might often reject, but something that is significant reality for those of us branded as ‘Others’. It happens when the colour of our skin is not considered to fit in, or when our accent is not considered to fit in. It could be both, of course, but even if it’s just one of those two, it triggers immense reactions, on a daily basis, in our human environment.
So now I am back to my return-journey on the train. I got on the train at the very beginning of its route, so within the course of my journey, people came and went. One woman who got on half-way through the journey said something to me and I said something back – all in good faith, initially from both of us, but at the moment of my reply something happened – and it quite often happens in this way: she find out I am ‘foreign’ and feels triggered. It’s my accent that’s the trigger, it’s my speech that marks my otherness, it’s a sign that I am ‘Other’ , and therefore am liable to labelling such as ‘not belonging ‘, being an outsider, an intruder, not being ‘of the group’ (of this nation) that she had initially thought I was from. A situation like this is a regular occurrence for me, people feel misled by my appearance, and I cannot help it.
The moment I speak is the moment of truth and of discovery that I am not what I had seemed to be: I am not ‘from here’! And this being not ‘from here’, has no temporal limitations: if I had once been ‘not from here’ I will never be ‘from here’, not then, and not now! And there it is, the here-and-now!
Now the guessing-game starts: she asks whether I am a student (thinking I could be ‘here’ as an exchange student). I answered no, I studied many years ago. That answer, like my accent previously, came as a surprise, so she continues to wonder what I could possibly be doing here – and how I could possibly be here – if I am not a student. After a pause the next question comes: she asks if I have family here? Being used to this Spiel – it’s a familiar game to someone like me considered not ‘familiar’, I now I started playing as well, I thought it was too obvious to answer no, especially considering that ‘family’ is a large concept, as we are all related, so I decided to say yes, I have family in Yorkshire (whatever, and why not, what difference would it make to me being interrogated?). That didn’t satisfy her, and the next question was what I had been doing in Cornwall. I said I had been there on an art-project. That was true, though I could have made it easier for her to say that I was just visiting, but then why not talk about art? But that was confusing as well. So now she came out with her star-question: “Do you live here now?”
I had to think about how to answer this, because no easy answer was possible. What is this combination of the ‘here’ and the ‘now’ in her question, after all? Here ‘here’ refers to ‘Britain’: so the ‘here’ has become a country! And her ‘now’, what is that? It suggests ‘recently’: such as ‘I have recently moved ‘here’, I have recently moved to Britain. But I haven’t moved ‘here’ recently, I have moved ‘here’ more than half my lifetime ago (as of ‘now’: 25 years ago). So it’s too long a time – or too far away a starting, or moving point into the ‘here’, to still count as ‘now’.
So how to say all this in a single answer? I found a way out: this conversation took place, to be honest, quite far away from home. The train wasn’t even in Bristol yet, and my home is London. So I thought, actually to make it easy, this would be the simplest answer, to say no. So I said: “No, not here” (I don’t live here), because I felt that this was not my ‘here’, I was miles away from home, I don’t live (here) in Plymouth after all but in London, and that’s not the same place. My ‘here’ is not a country…
I was wondering how much this identity journey is similar or different to a black person. A black friend was telling me, she doesn’t like travelling ‘out there’ – into largely white areas outside London – on her own. I, with my different otherness, by contrast, think I am best off on my own. If I had another person with me, any questions about my identity would become even more complicated. If I travelled with an English friend, then such questions would corner me even more and be even more disruptive than they already are, because my friend would not be used to them (those questions). If I travelled with a black friend, then those questions would only add to the complications that a black person has to deal with, and my friend would then be burdened with both her amplify the issue as well. So I think I am best off on my own. So it’s interesting what different coping mechanisms we as black and white ‘others’ have (or ‘others’ of black or white appearance) – as well as how society displaces us from each other.
And it’s important to talk about it. It’s yet another (absurd and daily) postcolonial journey. Meanwhile I give thanks to the Cornish rocks and the sea, the seagulls and the trees and the light – and all those who don’t feel disturbed by diversity.