My Orientalism

I am beguiled and attracted by the remote, the unfamiliar, the different. I yearn for the places I have not been, not as a fickle tourist or outsider but as someone who inhabits them, not as a dilettante sampling or an occupier oppressing, but as a seeker of the sources of my being, of paths to truth, of the multiple tongues of my heart. I fear sometimes that the allure of exoticism pulls me with its simultaneous fantasy of escape and the smack of Western privilege. The bitter aftertaste of this truth quick kills any imagined shared beauty, and my brain composes eloquent defenses of my pure intentions. But the moment is strangled. Rapacious intolerance and self-judgment bind my feet and blind my childish imaginings.

Still, I savor other languages in my mouth as my clumsy tongue struggles against my brain’s ill-stored vocabulary. Awkward efforts at translating half-forgotten words form artless ideas until I allow the language to wash over me and cease my analytical decoding. Only then do I hear the distinct rhythms and melodies, and my tongue imitates. To speak and be understood, I must abandon the books, the tortures of grammar and knowing and definitions and play like a child with words that seek always to see and to touch and to taste and to be. Like a child I will dance yesterday and look back on my death, drink fish and watch rocks walk. Like a child my tongue will know no boundaries and speak home in a foreign tongue and look forward to yesterday’s joys yet to be.

Photo by Jordan Wozniak on Unsplash

May 9, 2009

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