October 11, 2013

Observing transference

Courtesy of Grace Park

On the last full day I am to spend in the United States until December 19, 2013, I am a god. I have had two cups of coffee and am the lord of every pile of shit in my bedroom. I have raided my parents’ CD rack. I am experiencing a Shawn Colvin renaissance. A sickness has buried itself in my gut.

I am writing my last “Summer Musings” installation for the Viewpoints blog, but the time is getting away, and I don’t feel ready to promise much. There are peculiar positions in space that are harder to peer out of than others. Though I am still around to rustle around in it, the world is very quiet now that the poetry’s been had—now that the good-byes have been carried out and waved off on the train. The world went even quieter since the year began for all of you who might soon be holding an article like this one in a print version of the Maroon. Your pocket of the world is humming itself awake; mine is settling in to hibernate—although it strikes me suddenly that the opposite, for all I know, may also be true.

When I turned 20 a few days ago, I remarked only one thing: a visceral satisfaction at the symbolic stability of a decade for each leg. You can stand on 20 years. It is a childish way to think about growing up, and September is already a selfish month; it is the time when we all split again. It doesn’t help that it is also when I was born.

Two days later—or is it one?—my plane is 36,998 feet over Berlin. The flight is to Mumbai, and it is nearly empty. The Shawn Colvin renaissance has become a retrospective. One foot dancing, one foot nailed to the floor. 

Travel is the experience of successive, transient brotherhoods. The old couple on the bus from Terminal 3 to Terminal 5 at Heathrow missed its connection to Kiev. The stylishly bored security personnel in Lane 16 are still flirting. The exasperated businessman who made frantic calls off the tarmac back at O’Hare has found his way to wherever it is he needs to be by now. He sat across from me, at the window, and he definitely missed his nine o’clock bus, but I’m sure he made the 9:45. He wasn’t very close to whomever he was talking to on the phone. He tried to chuckle good-naturedly after he said, “Glad to be on British soil!” but his voice sounded brittle, wrung dry.

I was worried I’d miss my connection, but I made it, and there are no more variables now. What has settled in during this 11th airborne hour is relief that the musing is over, and the little selfish circles run into the ground. The woman in my row has three daughters, and one of them is a history teacher at the same school she attended her entire life, a little school in a little Texas town. When I turned 20 a few days ago I remarked only one thing: a visceral satisfaction at the symbolic stability of a decade for each leg. When you are able to stand, you are able to walk. There is an intoxicating, numbing sense of immortality that sleeps at the heart of age, and even at the heart of obligation. There are no insecurities to be had about the passage into adulthood, or rather there is only one, and it is a false one. It happens when you forget to remember what it felt like to be powerless.

It is now the day after Gandhi’s birthday, and so the storefronts on Fergusson College Road have fanned out their racks of wares again. They are also closed for lunch, so it is easy to miss them. It is difficult here to find anything unadorned to buy—you might think that price and complexity would be positively correlated, but the cheapest items are always the marked ones, the distinctive ones. Though there are lots of stalls selling school supplies and books, finding a notebook along this road without a brightly colored image of a world landmark on the front is not easy, and I think I will start looking elsewhere tomorrow.

It is also not easy, when you have flown forward in time, to follow a straight trajectory back through the weeks of transit, to be able to trace to the moment when the change happened, or when the border was crossed into Afghanistan. There wasn’t much drama to the whole thing—it was gentle, a solid landing on two solid feet. Maybe I’ll understand better when I settle in some more. In the meantime, it’s all right. There are peculiar positions in space that are harder to peer out of than others. If you aren’t paying attention, you may not even notice that the city you saw half an hour before landing was Mumbai after all, and that the pilot, in order to come from the right direction, first went too far and then turned around.

Emma Thurber Stone is a third-year in the College majoring in anthropology and gender and sexuality studies.