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the hellraiser and the softer sell



Growing pains. When your way of life, your view of the world, your relationships with others, and many of your long-held beliefs are questioned, you feel: angry, betrayed, uncertain, awkward.


Random stranger at an Urban Outfitters in Greenwich Village a few months ago. “How do I look?” he asked me.

It was interesting living in a country going through such obvious growing pains. Though I grew tired of blogs and magazines that take for granted that the universe does not revolve around the ism-spattered dichotomy of the American presidential race, I was grateful for the growing pains. Grateful to be in the mix. Things my peers and I have talked about for years finally began making front-page news: ideas of blackness, ideas of whiteness, self-identification, multiple selves, multiple worlds. Beautiful and painful to watch it awkwardly bubble to the surface on Fox News headlines and CSPAN call-in shows.

These days I’ve been thinking hard about the summer of 2004. About this time four years ago, I had just graduated from undergrad, felt burnt out from working so hard, and was pretty unsure about where I fit. I moved back to Toronto to freelance full time, and my first week back happened to coincide with bell hooks’ first visit in years. She had a major talk scheduled, open to the public, but I got a special invite to a much smaller, intimate lunch with the petite legend earlier the same day. I was exhausted from having just moved across the country again, so I didn’t come with questions. I came to be in her presence. To be among other active thinkers, doers, fighters. To somehow feel connected to Toronto again.

There was no connection. The fighters were too busy fighting amongst themselves — over who was most oppressed, the most fierce in their activism, the most righteous. bell was uncomfortable, and I walked away from the session feeling even more alienated and uncertain.

There’s something about being a perpetual outsider that has made me unsure of what it’s like to be inside, and unsure especially whether or not I want to be there. It’s not the insider status I dread — it’s the borders that divide the two that make me weary.

5 Comments

  1. JJ JJ August 21, 2008

    I often wonder if being on the inside of even my own little world will make me happy.

    I often relate to what you feel… And it’s usually in the circles you expect more from. The groups, the insiders, the ones with unfettered access to the revolutionaries, the thinkers and doers. It’s those ones you expect so much from, and they often disappoint.

    I think for me, it was a realization that every person is indeed an island, and most folks are building half-assed un-sturdy bridges to each other to feel sure that what they are doing is right.

  2. JJ JJ August 21, 2008

    I realized, that every sentence begins with
    I.

    I’m sorry!

  3. Sarah Sarah August 22, 2008

    Something Edward Said wrote in the intro to his book “Culture and Imperialism” has always stuck with me. It sort of struck a chord. I was reminded again when I read your post.

    …”Yet when I say ‘exile’ I do not mean something sad and deprived. On the contrary belonging, as it where, on both sides of the […] divide enables you to understand them more easily.”

    I dunno, perhaps it is pompous of me to even identify with that. But I try to keep this in mind whenever I feel misanthropic and homeless in the world.

  4. Susana Susana August 23, 2008

    José Martí and Paulo Freire talk a great deal about exile too, though I can’t remember any direct citations… For Freire, the concept of “home” is/was a political one, tied with power, representation, ownership, privilege, etc. I think it was Martí who went deep into the benefits of exile — about how you can’t really come to know home, and can’t see your homeland/roots/history/present properly until you’ve been expelled from it for a time.

    I have that Said book, and I bought it especially for that quote. (Well, and for other reasons, but standing there with a copy in hand at the bookstore, it was that line from the intro that pushed me toward the cashier.)

    Sarah, I don’t think you’re pompous at all (EVER!), and I appreciate your sense of homelessness.

    I guess that’s why I identify so strongly with the idea of being a nowherian — being from no-where, but also having pieces of every-where within grasp. It’s kind of an inescapable, overarching theme.

  5. Susana Susana August 23, 2008

    “I think for me, it was a realization that every person is indeed an island, and most folks are building half-assed un-sturdy bridges to each other to feel sure that what they are doing is right.”

    J-MAUL, SO PESSIMISTIC!

    Srrsly, I don’t think we’re islands at all. I think we need eachother more than we can comprehend sometimes… which is scary in itself.

    I guess things go to shit when those inter-connecting links get mucked up with jealousy or resentment or whatever. I had a long conversation with someone today about crabbucket mentalities, how others can often be so petty and negative in reaction to whatever positive things are happening in your life. Will feeling ill will toward a friend or acquaintance somehow transfer their fortune to you? Will if diminish their worth while heightening your own? While those activist groups were cutting eachother apart for not being oppressed enough, were they helping their chances in the oppression lottery? It’s kind of fucking preposterous…

    So I guess what I’m saying is that we are all connected, we’re not islands, except that sometimes build those bridges with rocks and steel beams, and other times they built them with discarded AOL cd-roms and dirty pieces of chewed-up gum. This metaphor sucks.

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