Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The uncanny space in between



It is a fallacy to assume that we are here in search of stories of places and people. We barely reach the space between places. We map chasms separating humans and find barren in-between lands that no one lays claim to.

The space between neighbors’ houses is not just a no-man’s land where weeds grow in uncontrolled abandon. They are spaces that we have decided to disown, strips of land that we erased from our consciousness. Yet these leftover edges are what connect us to our neighbors. We share these spaces in common and these unclaimed slivers of real estate challenge our unquestioned acceptance of value-laden terms such as privacy, ownership and territory.  We are not islands–merely pieces of wayward landmasses connected by aqueous connective tissues.

The spaces in between tell us tales of sadness, abandonment, and unkept promises. We carry these stories within us because these plots remind us of what we yearn to forget. Sharing stories with unknown people, we are reminded of those close ones we have turned away from our lives, people we have wronged, and the familiar faces we banished into a land of apparitions. We resurrect ghosts buried deep down in our psyche – they bubble up uncontrollably into consciousness when the conditions are right. 

It all begins during the oral history week. When we speak to strangers, we are reminded of gaps and silences in our own lives. We stare helplessly at those chasms between us and our friends, family and neighbors. Nightmare etch-a-sketch memories return to us despite every attempt to obliterate them from our consciousness.  The in between appears in our speech too. We discover silences between our utterances. We feel the weight of unspoken words, forcefully silenced thoughts, mercilessly ignored regrets in our lives. We are reminded of goodbyes that we never uttered and greetings that remained unspoken. The silence between words that arise during an oral history interview with a stranger opens up these carefully covered crevices within us.

Fissures also appear when we encounter our interviewee’s past memories. Old stories from the past, narrated by complete strangers seem uncannily familiar. History returns with the viciousness of a summer thunderstorm sundering our placid present. The stories from the past that we hear are so familiar that it is as if the world has not moved an inch since the moment the stories were born. Instead, we are living in an unceasing spiral of déjà vu moments and we have never learnt from our mistakes.  

We dare not say that our goal at the field school is to study the world around us or to collect stories of communities we visit. We are too busy discovering ourselves and fathoming that unending spacious darkness within us. We are still trying to bridge that space in between.