Some wandering thoughts on ‘here’ and ‘there’ following a move from London to Sydney (having moved to Sydney in June 2015, and then spent four and a half months back in London October-February)…
I’ve been thinking about what it means to transpose myself from one sense of local to another. To understand what ‘makes sense’ what is ‘default’ and what is ‘invisible’ in a place. This moment (of transition) is important. This, in some ways, is the moment I would always wish to inhabit.
The moment right before I grow any roots or find any bearings or create any categories.
The moment in which I am aware of my own assumptions.
The moment in which I know that what I am calling ‘normal’ is just one version of things.
To feel my body as curious in a place, not already imposing an understanding on how I might fit there.
To not yet know how to assimilate the weather into my physical being.
To not yet know the solutions to small everyday problems; to not have routines fixed in place; to not possess ‘knowledge’ that shuts down options before they have been considered.
Of course, it is near impossible to always inhabit this place, but it appeals to me, the idea of always seeing the world anew, and most of all the idea of being able to encounter other people as new, with their thoughts, their feelings, their histories, all curiosities rather than problems or – worse - things to be dismissed because somehow I already know better.
Learning to be a local somewhere new.
Of course, I have done this before. I actually moved here almost a year ago, in June 2015. The privilege of my situation is very clear to me. Also, the privilege of taking time to assimilate, to even be able to consider not assimilating as a choice; the privilege of being able to take time to feel lost here without the imperative to lock into survival mode. It takes very little to make humans lock down into survival mode. I know this. So to push forward into a not-knowing that is about choice is perhaps the greatest privilege.
But also, it is something worth fighting for. Because caring for this is also about caring for each other, if it is about caring enough to create those spaces where not-knowing can be chosen.
I know now that my body eventually did find its place in London. I found a way to belong, and I began to make a lineage, a family of sorts. Those past few months back in the city made me realise that the place where I had lived for the past thirteen years has become familiar to me, and me to it. I know people who live nearby. I know shopkeepers and market sellers. I know teachers. I know certain routes to certain places. I know how to walk to trampolining, and who I might see when I get there.
And yet, this place has not changed, it is me that has changed.
When I first moved to London, I felt scared and alert and unsure. I was younger, of course, and London was new(ish) to me. But also, I hadn’t made myself feel secure through my own rhythms and relationships yet.
Nowadays, when I walk the same streets, there are still many people I don’t know, many people behaving in ways I don’t understand. But I see them in a place that I do understand, or at least that I understand myself within.
Perhaps that is the other side of not-knowing. Like a crescent, at the one end not-knowing is a kind of acceptance because I do not yet have another category. At the other end, in a familiar place, perhaps I can hold my own ground enough to accept whatever is there. It is a different kind of acceptance, the acceptance of the familiar. It sits in the body differently.
The speed at which I am moving
I am reading Jo Carson’s Spider Speculations and a kind of truth comes back to me. I remember that sometimes I am moving too fast to take in the person or the thing or the writing or the idea that is in front of me. And then sometimes I am moving at exactly the right speed to take it in. And so the quality, or worth, or value, of what is in front of me is not given by that thing but by me. By the speed at which I am moving. Which is quite radical when it comes to ascribing value to things in a new place. It means that what is before me can always be encountered – there is always that possibility. It means that there will always be a way of seeing, a way of hearing; and the only work that can be done to make that encounter happen is within me.
I’m not saying that I feel the need to be able to encounter every person or thing that comes my way. But I am saying that there is something fundamental in recognising that the value of what lies before me is far from being intrinsic to that thing.
We are so used to the idea of ‘forming opinions’ - digging ruts for ourselves in the form of belief systems - that it can feel naughty to stay open to the idea of change. But somewhere in there lies a great possibility. I love coming back to books or pieces of art or even people whom I had previously dismissed and realising that it was me who was moving too fast to be able to notice them.
I wasn’t yet the person I needed to be for that to happen.
I wonder if I could live in a way that included the possibility of being that person
– which is not to say that it will happen for sure, but that it could, and it might, and to not dismiss this possibility seems important.
In terms of Sydney, my new home-city, what is happening here is not yet in focus for me. I am far from being able to tune into the frequencies of this city. But I’m noticing my points of resistance, and trying not to take the easy route of translating them into judgments either of myself or of this place and the people in it. Instead, I’m holding open the possibility that one day I might be able to be here; that one day I might be able to encounter this city.
And for now, our encounter makes visible the contours and pitfalls of my supposed knowledge.
A big silence
Recently, at a screening of Experiments in Listening, I insisted that we invite silence into the room in our discussions. I was hoping to un-anchor us all a little from the need to speak as a way of affirming. I hoped to invite curiosity over visibility or the display of knowledge. I hoped to loosen some of the hierarchies that were in the room. Many people I know fear silence. They fear what might emerge in silences.
I think I am trying to hold a big silence in my entry into Sydney.
It can seem rude sometimes, as I refuse to declare “who I am and what I do” when I meet new people here. It’s strange, it’s not courteous, to refuse to offer what is expected as a guest. But that silence, that holding off, that act of waiting, is all I can do. That silence is what I have to offer right now.