Sunday, March 25, 2007

The following exerpts startled me as I rode the train home from Brussels on Saturday. Startled because of how close they came to capturing something of the feeling of a person caught between countries ... whether as a trailing spouse, partner or as an immigrant in process and unable to work.

Something I struggled with as I went through the process of being allowed to live and work here in Belgium, was this loss of relevance, loss of place, loss of money and the associated freedoms that money and career give a person.

And that is so difficult to talk of when living in Europe ... people who can't imagine it were surprised by the lack of gratitude and appreciation for the place I was in. And I've noticed the way it becomes something of a shameful secret you keep, whispering of it only to others in the same situation.

I look around and see so many talented people, hamstrung by the laws that apply to people traveling with their life partner - they're making the best of it ... it's the oddest feeling and so difficult to describe.

It's not a precise rendering of the condition of a non-working expat/immigrant by any means, this was written by an Iranian English professor who was expelled from the University of Tehran for refusing to wear the veil back in the 80s. But it was enough to surprise me into noting sections of it here.

This was when I went around repeating to myself, and to anyone who cared to listen, that people like myself had become irrelevant. This pathological disorder was not limited to me; many others felt they had lost their place in the world.

What do people who are made irrelevant do? They will sometimes escape, I mean physically, and if that is not possible, they will try to make a comeback, to become part of the game by assimilating the characteristics of their conquerors. Or they will escape inwardly and, like Claire in The American, turn their small corner into a sanctuary: the essential part of their life goes underground.

My growing irrelevance, this void I felt within me, made me resent my husband's peace and happiness, his apparent disregard for what I, as a woman and an academic, was going through. At the same time, I depended on him for the sense of security he created for all of us ...

He felt creative, he felt wanted, and, in the very best sense of the term, he felt he was of some service to his country. He was of the opinion that we had to serve our country, regardless of who ruled it. The problem for me was that I had lost all concept in terms such as home, service and country.

Azar Nafisi,
from Reading Lolita in Tehran


V-Grrrl said...

Being here and not working or functioning in the same way I did in the U.S. has made me defensive. My husband will make an innocent, neutral comment, and I'll immediately feel it as criticism. I'm not overly domestic but part of me feels that if I were, it would somehow justify my life style. I would be "earning" my place. Normally in social situations, I'll simply identify myself as a writer and leave it at that. Sometimes if I tell people I'm a blogger, I feel they're suppressing a smirk. But perhaps that's the insecurity coloring the situation again? Hard to say.

woman wandering said...

I know what you mean about defensive...

I have fought domesticity as a form of absolution for not being able to work and earn an income ... but then how do you define yourself in this 21st century, make yourself feel relevant.

Its an interesting dilemma, one that I wasnt conscious of until moving here for Gert.

Maybe its time to post Erica Jong poetry again. (Excuse the puncuation issues ... whenever I use the apostrophe, it takes me to a weird search thing ...)

Mlle said...

Di, it's amazing how you read these excerpts and found something that someone wrote about their life that has nothing to do with the trailing spouse directly, and yet it appears as a mirror image. This woman speaks of a time where she felt completely oppressed and lost, even in her own country.. and somehow, while reading her words.. I felt that she were writing them about me.

In reference to what v-grrrl wrote, I too had said so many times that if I were a mother, then at least staying at home would have had some meaning or purpose. People couldn't judge me as much if I was staying home to be a good mother. But, we didn't want children, and I couldn't find many other ways to express what I was doing with my life without feeling pained the moment the words left my mouth.

Partnership is hard.

woman wandering said...

I think a lot of trailing spouses would understand what she's talking about ...

I see so much talent in people like you and Carrie and Cindy and V-grrrl and Alison and the fight to use it, to be an active part of this new society we find ourselves in because of our partners, is enormous.

Redtape, paperwork paperwork, more paperwork and rules, huge amounts of money and always the threat of being thrown out like Cindy.

But hey, we live in Europe ... isn't that what comes just before the 'suck it up' ;)