Saturday, October 02, 2004

The beginning of a letter to my friend Mary:

I just got back from watching hanabi, fireworks, which in Japanese translates literally into flower fire. I like the idea of flower fire better the fire works, don't you? I think it's more accurate, the way they burst and blossom like flowers. That makes more sense. The Japanese is sometimes more correct in their naming, though sometimes I think English has got something over on certain expressions also. There was a man from West Africa there tonight. I'd met him once before at a party for foreigners living in the area. He speaks French, of course, as that's a part of Africa the French colonized. On the hour walk back to our cars, he and I walked together and I spoke to him in French as best as possible. I spent two years in high school studying it, and two years in college. He was really happy to speak even the simple French I had to offer him. It made me want to study French again, only in a French speaking culture. He told me I knew all the grammar and that if I spent a year in a place that speaks French, he knows I'd be fluent, because I have good pronounciation already. This is funny because many Japanese people say I have excellent pronounciation of Japanese as well. Maybe I just have an ear for sounds. I think I do, because sounds are important to me in my fiction, and also when I'm reading other people's stories. Maybe it isn't apparent in my own stories. It's hard for me to tell how they read to other people. It's easier to tell someone else how their stories read. For me, reading your sentences is like riding a rollercoaster. Thrilling and slippery and fast and sometimes slow, but they quickly curve round into a hard bend, and then you're suddenly onto some new and exciting descent or uplift. I'm not sure how my own writing sounds though. Sometimes I think it's probably staccato.

I was sitting in the middle of a rice field tonight, drinking beer and eating a bunch of really good Japanese food, and I was watching the flower fire above, and thinking, I feel very much adrift and not at home, yet calm about it. I had these same feelings in America, but I wasn't calm about it at all. I think when you feel different and alienated to some extent in your own culture, it's harder. But once you place yourself into a culture where you're expected to be different and alien, you don't worry about your differences. I have mixed feelings about this. Part of me is enjoying feeling calm about my differences, whether they're real or imagined, and another part of me is resentful that I couldn't find a way to have that sort of peace back in the states. I keep trying to think of ways that I could transplant the attitude I have here when I return. To figure out how to take being okay with being foreign back home with me. I don't think I've come up with any surefire way, but I'm working on it.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I feel like something of that attitude does linger, after the expatriate returns home. Home is never quite as natural or obvious as it once was, ever again; this is both comforting and unsettling.

Some of the things that seemed like such huge immovable hateful Ways Things Are turn out to be American peculiarities, and almost cute in their way. Other things that never bothered you before drive you nuts. Still other things that you bitched about, you remember having been nostalgic for, when they were far away...


3:05 PM  

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