What is a Word
I wrote an essay the other week that was more like a story, and if you don’t know the difference between the two, then I would tell you I don’t really know either. I guess when it comes down to it, an essay is more like a story that you wish you could tell even though someone else already told it and you are just highlighting the parts that you like, or care to analyze for your own poetic sake. And in a story you can find the words you really want to tell in the perfect order you can imagine them in, and they were probably inspired by the book or story that you wrote the essay about. And if you are smart enough, you know that your story was inspired by an author’s words that you really admire. If you are wise, you read their work so that you can imitate their style and grow into your own hand and head that make you write down and organize your words in whatever order speaks to you the most. If you are like me, you do all of those things at once and never know where the beginning begins and where the end ends. But I have a theory that that the beginning and the end start at the same spot and are the same thing. Like midnight on a clock; the end of one day and the beginning of a new one are the same thing, and for that I don’t believe in any of it.
Chile has given to me less than it has forced into my hand, into my consciousness for all eternity. It has not asked, it has taken. It has not gently eased me into a life abroad, it has given me a mirror with answers that only lead to more questions. If I thought I came here to learn, what I really did was unlearn the things that I thought I knew. And if I ever thought about books in a certain way, the way that they give to me an imagination and the feel of language when perhaps everything else escapes us in the end, I only understand it more now that I am in a different place. But maybe it has taken away my fear of daring to think like a writer, to seriously think that maybe one day I could write something worthy of being read by others. And even more than that, that I could write and write and write without ever knowing if one day someone will will know my name on the street.
Can you call yourself a writer if you no one ever reads your stories? Can you call yourself a writer if you don’t have your name and picture on the jacket of a book or in a magazine? Can you call yourself a writer if luck or courage never found you? If you have three kids and one dies tragically, do you still tell people that you have three kids when they ask? If you were injured playing on your college basketball team and can’t play, do you tell the girl you like that you are a basketball player? If your dog runs away but you hope it comes back soon, do you still have a dog?
And I would say that it is a peculiar thing that in a country whose language escapes me in many moments can still give to me, more intensely and abruptly than I have felt before, a connection to the integrity of language. If I cling to my books, or the written word, or the idea that when we have nothing else left, we always have language, then I know that in Chile more than I did in any other place. And if I have never been to many places, perhaps it is because I have always waited to come here, to the south of the south, words unknown still ringing in my ears in moments of confusion and frustration. And still, I have language, the idea of it, its existence and the way it shapes and molds itself, and in the process, us. And if we bend and fold through the years always speaking and writing, then maybe that’s how we always remember who we are, or were, or wished we could be. But in this moment, maybe Chile hasn’t shown me who I am or will be or what I want except for an inconvenient love that will follow me back home. It has given me the guts to know myself through words in a perfect order; a courage that has timidly crept up on me the way a longing patiently waits to come to the surface of a restless person’s skin.
I am a foreigner, at home in a familiar place.