Getting Lost

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Que voy a ser, je ne sais pas

I was first introduced to the French/Spanish singer Manu Chao in 2003. Or early 2004, I’m not sure. 2003-2005 were two years for me where time was measured more in feelings than in linear experiences. The Argentines and the Mexicans at my school decided that Indians should know what real music sounds like. So without being too offended, we gladly went along with them. And that night I heard one of Manu Chao’s most popular – and I didn’t know it yet but most profound – songs, Me Gustas Tu“. Yes, it was catchy, it had a beat, it made us 16 and 17 year olds sway to the beat of a Mediterranean reggae that hadn’t made its way over to the Indian subcontinent and felt strangely out of place on a hill in the middle of a valley under a midnight blue tent of a sky with holes pierced through by the stars. It was so out of place that it actually fit right in. And – this is the embarrassing part to admit – in my naiveté, until I actually got much better at my Spanish a few years later, I didn’t realize that his coro was Que voy hacer (what should I do). I kept hearing it as Que voy a ser (what will I be). So you see then why the chorus as per my interpretation really struck a chord with me – 
Que voy a ser / What will I be
Je ne sais pas / I don’t know
Que voy a ser / What will I be
Je ne sais plus / I don’t know anymore
Que voy a ser / What will I be
Je suis perdu / I’m lost
After I learnt the real lyrics, I decided to just go along with my interpretation because by that time, I’d been through a series of moments related to figuring out my identity, my place in this world, these cultures and I held on to these words like a security blanket. It was okay for me to not know who or what I would be, because how could I? After having begun Solnit’s book though, I found myself thinking increasingly about the last line – Je suis perdu. When I think about it as part of the song, there’s no sadness associated with the idea of being lost. The beat, the voice, the melody – they’re in complete contrast to the lyrics. I’d never heard of anyone so cheerful – for lack of a better word – singing about being lost. 
(Sidenote – it’s stuck with me so much that this bastardized phrase of mine is currently at the top of a very short list of what I’d like to get as my second tattoo.)
I talk about the song because I’m halfway through the chapter Abandon and it talks about a musician friend of Solnit’s, her journey and the various stops along the way, some of which may seem like the wanderings of a lost soul, but in reality are very much conscious choices. It’s interesting to try and really pick at the subtle differences between loss and being lost. In the way that they are used in speech and in language, loss almost ends up as something passive, something that happens to you, whereas being lost is an intentional act, a choice to loose certain elements, certain aspects of one’s life. Whether we do it consciously or subconsciously, I think we all discriminate a little bit against certain lifestyles and life choices that imply an intentional loss. 
I bring up this point to link back to the train of thought Solnit weaves through the latter half of the previous chapter, The Blue of Distance, when she talks about culture and boundaries and the repercussions of natives kidnapping many of the Puritan children and their resultant choices to stay with their captors/new communities. When I read that, i actually dug through my inbox to find an email thread dating back to August 2011 – a fervent online discussion with a few friends about reflections from working in the international development sector, and empathising with The Other, figuring out how to transition back to the world we came from. I think it was there that I first started playing with the imagery of boundaries and fences and imagined/defined borders for spaces that we inhabit, or look to enter, or have invariably found ourselves a part of without even realizing when or from where we entered. The more I think about it, the more I’ve reflected this imagery subconsciously during crucial moments in my life. I went to an international high school for two years, and remember always recollecting that experience in conversation or on paper as both a blessing and a curse – it was almost like i had been broken into a million little pieces during those two years there, and when I stopped to pick up the pieces and reassemble myself, I found that I was no longer myself but an amalgamation of everyone else around me. Pieces of them were deeply embedded in me, and have been ever since, and pieces of myself now live in other people. What did I lose/gain in the process? Can I really say that I’ve been the same person since then? What I didn’t realize is that the process of reassembling yourself and carrying on actually is almost an art. Not to sound presumptuous but many a person has broken down at the idea of losing the sense of comfort, of knowing who you are, what you think, what you want and where you’re going. Solnit rightly says that “the real difficulties, the real arts of survival seem to lie in more subtle realms. There, what’s called for is a kind of resilience of the psyche, a readiness to deal with what comes next.” I found another quote from The Pedagogy of Self, that I began reading when I was thinking about boundaries and fences and this situation of knowing the Other and consequently one’s own self better, that puts a very visual interpretation in front of me of what it is actually like to be that hybrid, that in-between who is crossing cultures, losing and finding oneself multiple times to the extent that loss and discovery are rarely distinguishable from each other….sometimes the presumed sadness of loss actually manifests itself on discovery of oneself or one’s purpose because that is where the journey supposedly ends, doesn’t it? The quote reads: 
The hard edges of the boundary between self and other become fuzzy. Where we end and the environment begins becomes a shared space. It is not so much that we become fuzzy as we become aware, through heightened self-awareness, that we already exist in a state of shared being with all of life: It’s less a change in reality than a change in perspective
I really can’t find a coherent way to end this because, as usual, I get lost in what I’m writing. But I’m leaving pondering about the curious nature of the universe, in making things make sense. With the song, with my tattoo, with these emails from two years ago and everything tying in to Solnit’s treatise on being lost. I guess that’s a commentary in itself, isn’t it? Have we ever lost something, or are we ever lost, or merely just waiting to find again?


  1. hector says:

    so many things to say – so many things you bring up, so many things to wonder about … When you spoke about being a hybrid, I was taken to Antonio Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks and his ideas about “taking” from a dominant culture and making what I take my own – leaving other things aside. I think that you’re talking about this selectivity. Which took me immediately to Homi Bhabha and his The Location of Culture: “Our existence today is marked by a tenebrous sense of survival, living on the borderlines of the ‘present’… The ‘beyond’ is neither a new horizon, nor a leaving behind of the past …”

    In all this, what’s also interesting to me is how cultural artifacts, objects, bring us back and into a moment of contemplation – even if initially (the first hearing Me Gustas Tú) it’s not clear what it is a person is experiencing. The cultural artifacts we drag along – and that takes us along, too – are vital, alive; they breathe into us something we can’t quite ever articulate though we know it’s there.

    • Ria says:

      I thought about The Location Of Culture as well while writing this, but didn’t want to delve too much into that yet. I’m still trying to figure out how move away from a stream-of-consciousness type of narrative (which is what I think comes through in the post above) or if that’s what’s bringing out the best of my musings. I’ve also been thinking a lot about your comment on cultural artifacts and how those also contribute to our understanding of being static/dynamic/lost/wandering, because they form the dominant narrative of our lives today. A common pet peeve of mine used to be (and still is) listening to people talk about going off to India or another country in the Indian subcontinent to “find themselves”. I feel like that should be left alone for a separate series of posts, but I’m now starting to wonder where that urge really comes from – when is that exact moment when you realise that you’re lost so much that you want to go back / go forward and “reclaim” yourself, almost? I wouldn’t use the word “find” per se here, but I need to think more about this, and what it means in terms of the ideal that we’ve constructed for ourselves.

      • hector says:

        I think that how writing you’re writing what you’re writing – if you’re happy with it – works absolutely fine because there is an urgency, an immediacy to your work that enables the reader – me or anyone – to be right there with you, as if we too are experiencing what you’re experiencing. I do love how you’re thinking about this (writing), though.

        As for running off to “find themselves,” an interesting conundrum. I guess that one of the interesting things about this blog experiment is that I’m not twenty something – you and others that have agreed, so far, to collaborate are. It’s a different looking at this question from the vantage of 60 years on the planet – less to go before I go. When I was young, say 18 + to your twenties, going to India and Afghanistan (yes, Afghanistan), Morocco, too, was something people spoke about. It was culturally influenced by the sixties, the Beatles, meditation and the likes of Ravi Shanker. If that failed, then there was the obligatory pilgrimage to the West Coast – go west young man and you’ll find yourself.

        In all this, using the cultural artifact of the book, I’ve learned from the Bhagavad Gita and Emerson that “find one’s self” requires a very powerful and willful rejection of the culture itself so that a person can determine the place s/he has been given, the space s/he occupies – one’s birth, socio-economic condition(ing), education, geography and so on, are all influences that must be faced; this is a daunting task. But I’ve always found solace in knowing – or thinking I know – that no one gave us a street map to life. It’s up to each individual to make the move. And, yes, there are forces that work to disrupt that journey; there’s always the force working to make us soldiers to this cause and to that one, In the end, I’ve come to realize, being forceful about being creative is central and for me, this force compels me to try and examine the gray areas – Solnit’s material and spiritual places where one finds himself/herself lost.

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