I’ve come back from Afghanistan about 3 weeks ago, and in another 3 weeks I am heading off to India for 8 months on a Fulbright grant. I’ll be returning to the country of my birth and the adopted homeland of my people. It will be strange to be back in a place that is so familiar but so alien. It’s like meeting a celebrity in person. You recognize her, you’ve seen so often. However being here, face to face, makes you realize that you have no idea who this person is and she knows nothing about you. So, what do you do now? Do you run right into her face and tell her you are her number one fan? Or do you linger around the edges, trying to catch her eye and give a slight wave?
How does one relate to a place with epic personal, familial, social and historical significance? I feel like if I am not immediately capable and comfortable I will have severed a connection to my heritage, never to be allowed to say I am an Indian (even though I carry an Overseas Citizen of India card). No wonder I’ve been stressed out these past few weeks. I’ve been feeling a bit frozen, suspended in air, slowly moving towards something.
This is a tremendous change and I am terrified. But I’m terrified in a most delightful way (Thank you Mary Poppins).
Terrified of leaving my home, my partner, my family, my friendship and support networks, my cat, the local shop clerks, randomly seeing friends on the subway; everything I am familiar with.
Delightful because the worst case scenarios I envision don’t involve me being destitute or having to give up my life’s work – which are the things that terrify me when I am home, living as an artist. Isn’t that interesting?
I’ve just realized that this is the first time I will be have the financial freedom to research and write, just do what an artist does. I’ve never been been able to only write, imagine, create – without thinking of bills, bills, bills. And usually that means having to supplement my income from creative work with income from other work. Now, with the support of the Fulbright award, my worst case scenarios have transformed from inhuman, spirit-crushing nightmares into manageable, not terrible alternatives – ones I can work with.
The imaginary things that might go wrong are:
- I get writer’s block;
- My research forces me to re-write my story entirely;
- I am drawn into a different subject which inspires me to write another work.
All of these will provide me with challenges within my field and will generate more work for me. Just like any job, as you move ahead you discover things to respond to. Except in an artist’s world, we have to deal with the things that come up in our work – while we figure out how to earn a living!
I might, only now, learn how an artist can live in a supportive society – without being anxiety ridden to compete, to hyper-monetize everything, to work all the hours of the day. If artists weren’t constantly marginalized and pushed to the brink what might we be able to come up with? What could our contribution to society look like?
I suppose very soon, I get to find out. Even if it’s for a short time, I’m grateful.
Wish me luck!