The sky is the same
I look up at the sky. It’s the same bright, limpid blue sky that promise of possibilities. It gives me the same overwhelming feeling as its height is emphasized by the tall building made of glasses that draws perfectly parallel vertical lines. Yet it’s not the same sky. How can it be the same now that I’m here and not there anymore? How can I leave that place and still carry its sky with me? Do I only see the sky in memory? I’m here, and yet I’m not here. I’m not there, and yet I’m there.
I started a new novel and now I’m half way through it. Probably finish it today. It reminds me of The curious incident of the dog in the night-time. The protagonist is a kid with schizophrenia, but it’s not clearly stated in the story because it’s told in first person. Like the dog in the night-time, the mental condition of the main character makes him blamelessly anti-social and brutally honest. But I like his voice. It forces you to have understanding (and not sympathy) of the subject. It’s not your version of the story, but it’s about how they see their world. In that world, it’s not them who are mad. “the only thing I have control over in my entire world is the way I choose to tell this story”, wrote the protagonist. It makes me think about victims of deeply traumatic events. You can’t judge whether they’re telling the truth or not. Because they were affected by what happened, you can’t expect them to provide an objective account of history.
Take it slow, I tell myself. Maybe when I finish all these books, I’ll be healed. Right now, I’ve decided to be in a state of numbness and stasis, that is, stagnating in the present moment, not reminiscing the past, not projecting myself in the future. I can’t participate immediately. Everything here brings back the person that I used to be, and that I didn’t like. Maybe if I hang about on this campus often enough, I’ll finally get attached to it, even though it’s not mine. Feeling familiar, knowing my way around.
I feel nervous when I step in this university’s cafeteria for the first time. As if I returned to my first day of being a bachelor’s student, unaware of how it functioned. The sociolinguist Pennycook talks of “passing as a local” in a second language (besides, I find this term more sensible than “foreign language” which denotes a stronger sense of ownership), i.e. making yourself credible to your interlocutor so that they would believe that you actually are a “local” from somewhere else. You don’t need to be fluent in that language. It’s not a matter of authenticity, but of legitimacy and perception. In the end, authenticity may be less about turning inward and being true to oneself, than about putting on a convincing performance to an audience. So every time I feel vulnerable in a new environment, I observe people and, not imitating them, I try to act as if I was a “local”, an insider. I get so self-conscious about it. Of course nobody cares. I guess I do it for myself. I surveil myself before anybody else could. Is that a way of claiming ownership over one’s own image, by subjecting oneself to the imagined gaze of others? Of course, if they ever watch me, it doesn’t matter what they perceive. It’s what I think about their perception of me. Then I wonder if we ever do not perform. Maybe we’re constantly performing to ourself, looking at ourself as if we were somebody else. Anyway, I only want to find the the place to get tap water. And I guess all this can be summed up in one word that is meaningless to me because imprecise and abused in CV: adaptation.
The feeling that it won’t last
The lunch meal in the cafeteria reminds me of the lunches I shared with my classmates last year, in the common room of the information and communication department. That was where we gathered every noon between two 3-hour lectures or seminars to eat, talk, do projects and revise for exams. I recall this because we didn’t have a cafeteria there, and I’m trying to remember the last time I had a lunch meal in the cafeteria of a university that was mine. Last year was the first time that I was constantly surrounded by people and belonged to a group, but then again, none of that lasted longer than the academic year. It was an affiliation born out of convenience and necessity. But can we talk of permanence even when it comes to people with whom we’ve been deeply emotionally involved? Because now my thoughts drift to him, as I think about the novel that I’m reading and how it’s similar to the dog in the night-time one, because I gave him that book last summer. I thought he’d love it because it was peculiar like us, but he never showed me any sign of appreciation. Like with everything else I gave him. I’ve settled on the conclusion that, it’s not that the story is lost, but that there has never been a story. All those years, I was chasing an ideal. How ideas are dangerous. They can kill.
Longest day of the year
I find my shelter on this campus. These days, by “shelter” I mean shelter from the heat. It is nestled in a passage between two blocks, and has benches shadowed by the thin and scattered foliage of some newly-planted trees. Sometimes, a slight breeze flirts with the leaves. I lie down on the bench and look at the sky. Instead of being covered by vertiginous pine trees, my view is invaded by metal-and-glass high-rises. The sky is not the same as I thought. It’s lower and heavier.
People start to come out, so I move inside one of the building nearby where it’s fresh and empty. I crawl into a corner and press my body against the glass wall. People keep talking but their sounds can’t reach me. I’m sheltered from the heat and from human noises. Of course there can’t be absolute silence. There’s the elevator’s ringing sound. The bangs from the slamming door. But I guess it’s the empty space that keeps people away from me. I feel safe in a corner of a very large room that offers no point of reference.