Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Seven-Year Itch

I arrived in Los Angeles yesterday on exactly the same date - and almost time - that I left it fifteen years ago.    The fact that I have come looking at the possibility of returning makes it all the more strange. It's often bandied about by ex-pats that the desire or opportunity to return 'home' comes in cycles of about seven years, so I am right on target I suppose.  As I sat through the flight, I wondered what living in the States again would mean practically. It's one thing to be nostalgic about 'home' when you are going for a visit, but quite another to be realistic about it when going with the possibility of actually returning.

Some of the thoughts that ran through my mind on the eleven hour plane ride seemed petty, and yet incredibly basic at that same time.  Perhaps surprisingly (or not so surprisingly), language figures large in my fears as I contemplate a move. For example (the glottal stop, notwithstanding), I have liked pronouncing my T's; so will I simply sink back to saying 'waded' for 'waited', and 'seeded' for 'seated'. Other pronunciations begged similar questions:  will 'I-say-ah' once again replace 'Isaiah' and 'shone' replace 'shawn'?  Still other questions loomed more profound.  In England there has always lingered for me the sense of being a stranger in a strange in a strange land.  Will that same feeling now continue (albeit in a different context) as I come back to the place where I was raised, but do not now fully understand.  For all my moaning about Britain (my friends there can witness to it), I recognise the extent to which Britain has shaped my present mind-set and world-view.  I recognise the extent to which I have become British.  In fact, my moaning itself is a sign of that (we Brits know it's one of our national pastimes).

The ex-pat 'seven year itch' is ultimately about nostalgia and about the fantasy that you can 'go back home'.  The truth is that going 'back home' is a physical and temporal impossibility.  Both you and home have changed, and 'going back home' in the way we usually think about it would not merely require air travel but time travel.  There is no going back home.  I am not the person I was fifteen years ago, and the US is not the country it was fifteen years - both for good and bad.  If I moved to the US now I would have to accept that it would not be substantially different than when I first moved to the UK.  It would simply begin the next chapter of my life, and I would have to begin that chapter from where I am right now: this odd conglomeration of cultures and pronunciations.  I would not be going back, I would be going on; and that is all that any of us can ever do.  Indeed, all we do is go on as life challenges and offers, and as we make our responses. Sometimes going on entails making responses with more dramatic repercussions; but whether dramatic or not, none of us can ever really stand still.  I find that an odd and exciting sort of comfort. 


ronan said...

How true, we are not the people we were fifteen years ago and countries we have lived in have moved on too.

What is interesting is the experience and insight periods living in different countries brings.

But I guess ones feeling for a country of your birth always remains special. Whether for family reasons, guiding others through times of transition or just a feeling that you want to make a real contribution to the country of your birth, the recurring call of home does sometimes beckon.

I agree that in no sense is a return home going back and neither is a decision to stay abroad opting for the status quo.

Anonymous said...

There is a universal irony somewhere that Geoff is considering moving from California to England at the same time you are contemplating the opposite.

Yours in irony,