Wednesday, November 01, 2006

As promised

The aforementioned musings. We’re talking about Michael Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion this week. I love talking about novels, even if I didn’t particularly like them (bad Canadian, not overly keen on Ondaatje). Most people I know tend toward non-fiction so I rarely get the chance (sidenote: I got to live out a fantasy scenario on Friday: meeting a cute boy in a bookstore as we were both reaching for the same book by my favourite writer – I was picking up Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore as a present for a girlfriend. Next on the list is looking out my window to see where the Peter Gabriel’s coming from…). I love listening to the different ways fiction affects people, and aside from the expected comments of how this book completely changes the way a few students are going to think about the Bloor Street viaduct, I was intrigued by their perceptions of the book’s ideas about identity, or lack thereof. How very Canadian, they commented, that the protagonist has no clear sense of where he fits in. I don’t know if it’s a uniquely Canadian trait, this navel-gazing, though we’ve become very adept at marketing as such. On a more personal level, it seems to be going around – I had a thematically similar conversation a few weeks ago with someone traipsing from cultural world to cultural world and feeling foreign in each of them. A discomfiting experience. I'm sure we’ve all had them, especially in places that we think we’d feel most at home. There are times when I feel profoundly out of place in front of a classroom, just waiting to be exposed as a professorial poseur. Every time I go out for drinks in my hometown I listen to the stories of stag and does at the arena, of first and second children being born, of cashier shifts at the giant box stores, and wonder when I can politely leave. My old lives no longer fit, the new one is often lonely or uncomfortable. Not yet a prof but not only a student; sometimes a feminist just because it’s theoretically convenient; a dog person sans dog… we can’t expect one simple label to encompass everything we are and are not, particularly when we’re exposed to and made up of multiple and often contradictory experiences. Such is the fun and frustration, as my best friend is discovering in her experiments with online dating, of describing yourself in 200 words or less, catchy snippets that only offer a less-than-partial glimpse. And, tritely, that’s part of the allure of Halloween – trying other identities on for size, at least for a night (remember the Buffy episode when the Scooby Gang becomes their costumes, and learns in the process that cocksure masculinity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, that there’s a vixen under every white bedsheet, that being a simpering priss is even more frustrating then a self-assured young woman?). Judith Butler (Judy B! What can I say, I was holed up writing about sex and gender as problematic social constructions all day) talks about the inherent potential of identity construction and masquerade, convinced (and convincingly so) that these are sites of political possibility. That may be little consolation, even for theory nerds like myself, for how in the interim and on a daily level, this process of process opens cracks of self-doubt, that because it’s not static or sure it’s not good enough. But rather than get into the genuinely personal, I'll circle back out to Ondaatje, whose writing is full of thinly veiled versions of his own personal dramas – note the recurring love triangles with married or otherwise unavailable women, or the entirety of Secular Love. Just wait until my first novel. Or first sitcom.


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