The Arrow

There are no answers; only choices.

The State of In-Between

Posted by thearrow on May 23, 2008

If anything is clear for me by now, it’s that living in another country is an exercise in self-analysis. Or at least that’s what it should be, among other things, if you are to gain anything of character-building value from the experience. When you’re plunged in a different culture, you’re bound to ask yourself a lot more questions about who you are, how you are, which one of your personality traits are yours only, and which ones can be traced to your native country’s culture than you’ve ever imagined. I’m not saying you can’t wonder or rationalize about these things if you don’t immigrate; just that this experience forces these questions onto you whether you like it or not and to a more extensive degree; kind of puts a mirror in front of you.

And sometimes what you see is not pretty :). In every culture there are behaviors that are not acceptable in other cultures but when you’re trying to function as seamlessly as possible (which is my loose definition of becoming integrated in a society) you have to adjust some of those behaviors. Take, for instance, snapping. This is a survival tool in Bucharest, where almost everyone is in an angry mood all the time, ready to jump at someone’s throat if paths cross. And they cross fairly frequently. We, Romanians, have a very short fuse. I do have friends who are nice and calm as if they weren’t living in that total chaos, but they’re fewer than the fingers on one hand. For the most part, as soon as someone does something slightly inconvenient, tempers flare. The acidity of ironies spewed in such situations is hard to imagine for an American. I’m as guilty of this as the next person, but I’m happy that I managed to get that under control here, where you will never ever see someone utter more than a three-word understated sentence expressing discontent. People just don’t allow themselves to blow up. I’m a true believer now in keeping your temper to yourself; once you’ve given free rein to the horses, conflict is bound to escalate and nothing good can come out of it.

You acquire new behaviors anyway, whether you’re aware of it or not, until at some point you’re a hybrid. When that happens, you’ll never be 100 percent at home anywhere any more. The sooner you’re aware of this, the better; it will save you a lot of pain. At least I know for me things are easier to bear if I know what to expect.

From then on, you will always be in-between. It will inevitably mean more effort in communicating when/if you return home, but I think it makes you a stronger person because you become more aware of your circumstances and surroundings. You think more before you act. At least that’s how I’m trying to encourage myself when I panic at the thought that I might return :). I honestly think reintegration would be very difficult for me (I’m trying hard not to say “will” and to express this in most tentative words), even though by now I know enough to expect some culture shock. Things have changed dramatically since I left seven years ago. But I try to have faith that my experience, far from a walk in the park, would somehow enable me to navigate those choppy waters.

When I feel disconnected from people here I take comfort in thinking that the same kind of disconnect probably exists even between people who never left. Experiences and life trajectories can become so divergent that maybe the kind of idyllic connection that I used to have with my friends was probably not going to survive even if I stayed or not with all of them; now the only place where it exists is in my head :). I might have felt hurt, whereas now I think it’s inevitable because I left and we stopped sharing the same reality.

All this — the disconnect, the inevitable loneliness, the state of in-between — have taught me to make my happiness depend a lot less on others. Back in Arcadia it depended on my friends and they were always there to deliver. Now I live almost the life of a monk (I’ve seen three friends maybe twice this year, although we do talk on the phone every week) and I only hope that at some point it will be a bit less extreme than it is now, but I’m otherwise enjoying it. Although I like to have company, solitude has never really scared me.

And I think my in-betweenness will help me stay centered no matter what happens. I like to think that I’ll be anchored in two worlds for the rest of my life.

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13 Responses to “The State of In-Between”

  1. did said

    i really liked this post! 😀 [im only in between cities]

    good night.

    PS: ofc solitude doesnt really scare you. you’re too smart for such things. 😛

  2. k. said

    Yet again, touché, dear arrow. I go through almost the same experiences and ended up with the same conclusions. Always in between, there is no return. Except that I still believe that my friends (I still have friends from high-school) and I would have been less likely to part ways, should I have stayed in romania. I am still partly in Romania, evenings after 7 pm and weekends, and then I have my friends with me. I am happy about that, though I admit that sometimes I am scared this will fade in time, after all I’ve only been here for a year… Still, I want to find a mid-way between this independent woman – monk – organized person that I am slowly becoming and that sensitive friends-addict fun-loving girl that I used to be.

  3. thearrow said

    When you find the middle ground, tell me how to get there, too, ok? 🙂 That’s where I’d love to be, but I’m afraid it’s just not possible; or maybe not for me.

  4. Ilinca said

    Arrow? Cauta ceva scris de Paul Carter. It’s all about it. 🙂

  5. Ilinca said

    Respectiv, aci: http://cat.lib.unimelb.edu.au/search/aCarter%2C+Paul&searchType=a&submit=Go/acarter+paul/1%2C5%2C31%2CB/exact&FF=acarter+paul+1951&1%2C15%2C

    Recomand “The Road to Botany Bay” si mai ales “Living in a New Country”. Your passport to middle ground 🙂

  6. thearrow said

    Oh, thank you. I’ll definitely try to borrow/buy those books. But, NOW you’re telling me? Maybe you could have spared me and K. some pain if we knew about them :). Sigh…

  7. Ilinca said

    Well, I read them back in 1998, I think. Sorry. I did tell you (or at least K) about the eternal in-betweenness, didn’t I? 🙂

  8. thearrow said

    Yes, you did; I remember the conversations. I think that’s why I wanted to write about it, too. I’m very curious about how Paul Carter looks at this.

  9. alt. L said

    tinerete fara batranete si viata fara de moarte? 🙂

    the truth is that even going back is not going to change the eternal melancholia of the in-betweenness. i feel it every time when i return. or rather when i go back and forth 🙂
    because nostalgia works both ways dammit!

    this one is for k:
    From Sventlana Boym, The Future of Nostalgia:

    “Nostalgia, the disease of an afflicted imagination, incapacitated the body. Hofer thought that the course of the disease was mysterious: the ailment spread “along uncommon routes through the untouched course of the channels of the brain to the body” arousing “an uncommon and everpresent idea of the recalled native land in the mind.” Longing for home exhausted the “vital spirits,” causing nausea, loss of appetite, pathological changes in the lungs, brain inflammation, cardiac arrests, high fever, as well as marasmus and propensity for suicide.

    […] On the other hand, the nostalgic had an amazing capacity for remembering sensations, tastes, sounds, smells, the minutiae and trivia of the lost paradise that those who remained home never noticed. […] In good old days* nostalgia was a curable disease, dangerous but not always lethal. Leeches, warm hypnotic emulsions, opium and a return to the Alps usually soothed symptoms. Purging of stomach was also recommended, but nothing compared to the return to the motherland believed to be the best remedy for nostalgia.”

    And while nostalgia was a “democratic disease” affecting mainly soldiers, sailors, domestic servants or people who moved from the country side to the city, melancholia “was an affect and an ailment of intellectuals, a Hamletian doubt, a side effect of critical reason; in melancholia, thinking and feeling, spirit and matter, soul and body were perpetually in conflict […] Melancholia “was regarded as an ailment of monks and philosophers.”

    *In the 17th century

    PS. Purging of stomach doesn’t actually work that well 🙂
    Even so, supposedly you can cure nostalgia (bless those leeches) but melancholia might be a condition of being… Beware.

  10. thearrow said

    It does work both ways. I wonder what happens when you live in three or more countries for a good chunk of time. You might get confused as to what you’re feeling nostalgic for exactly :).

  11. k. said

    perfect description of the 2. when combined, it’s so painful that’s almost unbearable.

  12. Laura said

    Well. I am pretty sure you will be just fine when you come back. These are issues I have often questioned myself upon too and experience has taught me that it’s better to let yourself flow with the context, while you being your own master (even though the age and the way you want to “appear” in front of the people you have not seen for a long time counts ). It is hard to be in-between. It is just an uncertainty of who you really are. I am not saying it’s a bad thing. Most of us don’t know who we really are. So *knowing* you’re in between is better than not knowing anything. You just gotta be able to face it. And it’s great to not be scared of solitude… however people understand it in particular.

  13. thearrow said

    Hehe. I’m pretty sure I won’t be just fine :). I don’t know if I’ll be able to get over/accept what I don’t like. At any rate, I prefer to say IF I come back, not WHEN. And IF I do, I hope it’s going to be for a very short time and then I’ll be off somewhere else. In my mind I’ll always be in between, for sure. But aren’t most of us in that state anyway, between where we are and some ideal world ? 🙂 It’s probably what keeps us sane.

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