Thursday, 30 October 2008

Feeling at home

I like going abroad but I’m even fonder of coming home again.
I like home.

France is a fascinating, beautiful, rich country but I couldn’t live there; I have known for years that I couldn’t live, permanently, anywhere non-Anglophone. Though I’m a competent linguist and pick up languages quickly, I know that I would never reach the stage where I would simply be able to open my mouth and speak my thoughts in the way that I can in English. I can say this with certainty because I was brought up as bilingual as it is possible for a person to be who does not have parents who speak different native languages and I was always aware that I thought in English, never in Welsh. However easily Welsh came to me, it never came with quite the fluency of English, there was never the sensation that language formed no barrier to thought.

And, quite simply, communication is so important to me that I couldn’t possibly forgo the ability to communicate effortlessly with the people around me.

I know I’d get by. I’m fairly confident I’d be able to do more than get by after a while but it wouldn’t be enough.

The sunshine wouldn’t be enough either. I know I’m sufficiently contrary that I would begin to miss clouds and rain and frost and drizzle after a while.

Quite apart from the language thing, there’s another barrier to living somewhere other than Britain. Like lots of writers, I’ve always felt that I exist on the edge of things, always an onlooker, an observer, never quite a full, self-forgetful participant. There’s always a part of me which is standing aside, watching myself doing things. I’m never more than an unwary step away from a feeling of alienation, a feeling that I don’t belong, that I’m not quite part of things in the way that other people are.
If I feel that in my own country, imagine how much of an outsider I’d feel elsewhere.

What do other writers reading this feel? Is alienation a common affliction for those of us whose default setting is ‘observe’? Is easy, thought-to-speech communication a fundamental need for you, too, or is that a foible of mine?

Such are the thoughts generated by a holiday….


David Isaak said...

I think some writers find living abroad comforting because they continue to feel alienated, but there appears to be a reasonable excuse for it.

Best of all is if you can live abroad but have a bunch of simpatico expatriate weirdos around you. That's probably as close to normal (but still, of course, special) as a writer can feel. Hence Paris between the wars.

What do you call it when you're nostalgic for something you never experienced? (Aside from daft, I mean.)

Alis said...

Hi David. Yes, interesting... I've personally never felt the need to excuse my feeling of otherness or alienation, it just seems to be the way I am. I have a suspicion that if I had an excuse for it it might just become useless to me as a writer.

Martin Edwards said...

I've had two recent contrasting breaks, in Baltimore and Barcelona, and I do agree with you about the attraction of returning home.
And I agree that most writers, even those who are apparently extrovert, are essentially observers of life, rather than laid-back participants.

Alis said...

Baltimore and Barcelona - I envy you, Martin, never having been to either city...