Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Past Haunts

I left Indiana and Purdue University in 2008, once I finished my PhD. I was 30 years old, and I was so happy to be going home to California after five years in the shadow of cornfields, tornadoes, and loves lost, begun, and discarded. Earlier this week, after seven years, I returned to Indiana for the first time for a conference on the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas--an annual conference that my friends and I began here at Purdue ten years ago, and which has flourished ever since. We came home for our tenth anniversary.

Nostalgia always brings us home.

Coming "home" is such a complex thing. We come happily, expectant, but we also cannot help but remember the conflicts and violences that spattered themselves across our lives. This afternoon I attended a talk by a friend and colleague who referenced the work of Edward Casey--particularly his work that deals with memory and its connection to place. I couldn't help but think of this place, where I sit now. I was 26 when I first left California to start graduate school--young, unaware, mistakenly married. There were others like me--those who had married young, before we had become who we were meant to be. The rate at which we--poets, writers, thinkers, teachers--all transformed into our selves was staggering. Many of us left someone behind in that transformation. The ones left behind lost their place in our new world. It was liberating, yes, but it was also not without the infinite sadness that always accompanies such a moving on, such a splintering. I'm so sorry. Splitting at the root aches indefinitely, even when it is necessary in order for growth to begin.

I left and found love in this place. Here, I discovered that some love is little more than obsession--intoxicating, often, but toxic always. In this place, I learned that you can love and hate someone simultaneously. Then I found love again while anchored to this place, only to uncover duplicity and betrayal.

Of course I've never forgotten any of this. It's not as if I'm remembering it for the first time, now that I'm back here briefly. But there's something about place, and how it affects the way memory materializes, the way it touches us. We leave a place, and put down roots elsewhere--we become skinned of memory. And then if we are wise or foolish enough to return to that place, to the site of trauma, it burns as the memories materialize.

But I've never minded the fire. The loves found and lost while I was here were all part of being in transit. Looking back on those years from this point in time, from a position of authentic love and happiness, is uncanny, though. It's hard to reconcile my many lives, the many drafts of myself. My impulse is to find meaning in the current shape of my memories, but it always drowns in meaningless and transgressive cliche: it all happened for a reason, it made me who I am, I am full of regret, I have no regrets, it allowed me to appreciate who I am and what I have now.

There is no meaning in these memories; I simply bear witness to them.

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