Hello and welcome to my second posting, which reaches you not from the exciting new surroundings promised by The Hague, but from the rather more familiar surroundings of my own sofa, which this morning I rather spectacularly failed to leave. Instead of dining with my fellow writers and translators and perhaps enjoying the special thrill of an unknown city at night, I am eating a pizza in my pyjamas and writing this report about all the things I haven’t done in a place I haven’t yet arrived at.
The sensation is strange, but not unpleasant. Today has felt like a day that never existed. Not only am I in the wrong place, but almost everyone I know thinks I am elsewhere, meaning that, at least for 24 hours, I don’t really exist either.
In our present, hyper-modern moment, non-existence is a difficult trick to pull off. Our existence is constantly reconfirmed to us; our presence continually announced and self-verified. The most noticeable thing about today, having slipped briefly out of time and place, was how reluctant I was to let anyone know. When I walked into town to buy food I hadn’t planned on needing, I felt as if I were doing so in secret. For one day only, my life had become illicit and unrecognised. I was nowhere, and no-one, and the idea made me surprisingly happy.
We are instructed, almost constantly, to define ourselves; to shape recognisable forms from the messy scribble of life as it is handed to us. The goal, we are told, is always to self-actualise, to ‘know who you are,’ and know what you want. Such certainty is reassuring, but it is also self-limiting. If I am always where I planned to be, I will always, effectively, be who I planned to be.
If attending Crossing Border is an opportunity to explore and interrogate the aesthetic and linguistic borders that demarcate our artistic practice (where, for example, does music end and writing begin; where do translation and expression meet?) then not attending it, even for a day, is an opportunity to recognise the invisible borders that separate who we are from who we are not, and where we are from where we are not; a reminder that, for all our planning and control and good sense and supposedly unshakeable grasp on reality, each of us, at every moment, has to negotiate the semi-permeable membrane that separates what we want to be from what is.
By the time this column is published, if all goes to plan, I will have caught the plane I was supposed to catch today and slotted myself back into the order of things as they were supposed to have been. Today, I imagine, will feel like it never happened. In many ways, it didn’t. But if this ever happens again (as it is bound to, one day), I hope that even as the irritation and stress that inevitably results from shattered plans takes hold, I’m able to remember what it was like to find myself erased from a moment that was waiting for me, and how bizarrely liberating it felt to take possession, instead, of a place and time that never should have contained me at all.