On Places

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.
- John Donne

At times people dwell in the past too much, not because they refuse to live in the present, so let’s not rush in our judgments. They are in search of something that only few would perhaps understand as positive, or understand at all. They seek for roots, for identity, spasm of chance, for some were born without one. For those who have no past, they can hardly afford a future.

And the past often times refers to places. Places that we know, a city we grow up in, streets we recognize like the back of our hands. Places some of us even have the courage to call home. We feel the clash between our own hearts and minds, agreeing upon what that place really means, or is. And no matter what we’ve been through, everywhere we’ve stayed, by the end of the day we whisper to ourselves: it’s just a god-damn place. True. A place is just a place. Could be more than just a place, only when we map the geographical being in our mind and relate it to our sense of identity. Whether it’s growing out of sentimentality or the lack of it, one can’t help to – at least once in his life – question his roots of identity and thus identify him/herself with the closest non-human substance, a place.

Let’s go to the road less taken. Shift the focus on Punk subculture, the illegitimate rootless group with no origins who question their own identity, for they are “predicated upon a denial of place” (Cavallaro). Trying to come close to the Blacks, the Punk associate themselves with reggae, contribute to the Rock against Racism campaign, develop hair-styles that approximate the “natty” or dreadlock styles and even wear Ethiopian colors. As their “closest” associates as a marginalized group, the Blacks (those who went on exile before slavery was officially abolished) are even envied by the punk since they (and their generations) are believed to be luckier for being able to situate themselves in relation to historical origins, identities and places such as the West Indies and Africa as the homeland. In this lowest status of being rootless with no relation to any place at all, the punk’s entity in terms of historical origin/place is described as “nameless housing estates, anonymous dole queues, slums-in-the-abstract”. Having no place among the whites, nor anywhere else, the punk subculture knows best what their rage is all about, that they – by conveying no title to any historical origin and place – could hardly afford a future.

For we ache for a place, a place has got to be more than just a place. A city more than just a city. May it be less than ideal or perfect. We don’t seem to move on before we fully grab it. Some struggle so hard to adapt to the current place, and once they grow used to it, they begin to assign it as “home”. It’s those 227 days on the lifeboat with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker in the middle of the vast ocean in the Life of Pi. It’s John Steinbeck’s hometown Salinas Valley, his source of inspiration that he kept mentioning in many of his books as the home setting of his characters. It’s Milton’s vision of Paradise Lost. It’s Woody Allen’s NYC. The Prague of Franz Kafka.  London to Virginia Woolf. It’s Jesus saying, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?”. It’s Jane Austen’s sensible protagonist Marianne Dashwood bidding farewell to the family’s house in Norland:

‘Dear, dear Norland!’ said Marianne, as she wandered alone before the house, on the last evening of their being there; ‘when shall I cease to regret you! – when learn to feel a home elsewhere! – Oh! happy house, could you know what I suffer in now viewing you from this spot, from whence perhaps I may view you no more! – And you, ye well-known trees! – but you will continue the same. — No leaf will decay because we are removed, nor any branch become motionless although we can observe you no longer! — No; you will continue the same; unconscious of the pleasure or the regret you occasion, and insensible of any change in those who walk under your shade! — But who will remain to enjoy you?’

It’s not about the “unconscious” place, maybe it’s part of ourselves. Does that explain all the agony, impossibility at times? And while we keep aching for the former “home”, we fail to realize that something is in labor, a new “home” is in the making. We’re guessing that maybe this is it. It shall be home. Maybe this one. It’ll work this time. Maybe a home is the one we’re about to find yet, not the one we leave behind. But then the pain will always be there. Here. The pang of homesick, no matter how far we’ve returned or gone. For we know that we’re rootless, we’re homeless, and this place we’re now in isn’t our own. And maybe the wisdom is found – once again – between the tunes.

Homesick, ’cause I no longer know where home is.

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