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jabrana

Member Since: February 2020

Last online: July 2020

Open for read requests: Yes

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Who am I?

 

By definition I am a foreigner, irrespective of where I reside, even in Chile, my country of birth.  I come from a family of immigrants, from Spain and Italy and England to Chile, from Chile to Argentina, Mexico, Brazil, Canada, the US, Spain, France, Belgium, Germany.  I have citizenship from three countries, but I might as well have from a hundred.  I have wondered in the world without really wanting to, leaving pieces of self everywhere. My roots are in Chile, my childhood in Buenos Aires, my spirit in Montreal, my residence jumping from New York to Austin to Santiago to New Jersey, my kids everywhere, in Germany, in Chile, in the US. The folks I love are dispersed around the planet, to the point that getting my six kids together at any time is a miracle. Last time the miracle occurred in Chile, but who knows how long it will take to repeat, and how long before I take leave again.

As a child I had a virtue that would decide my fate: I was good in math. "When you grow up, you will be an engineer" - repeated my mom; but not just my mother: My grandparents, my uncles, my teachers, the principal of my school.  At twelve I knew without a doubt it was going to be that way, and if anybody had suggested something else, I would have looked at that person as if coming from Mars.  I also had a weakness: I was often with the head in the moon, trapped in some fantasy. This terrible vice was assiduously condemned by all adults around me, and I had to repress it under my father's threat to force me to join the Chilean Navy so they would put "your feet on the ground". Ironically, because of the political earthquakes in the country a few years later, the militia almost put my "neck in the rope." I was saved by Ionesco, the famous playwright, but that's a different story.

As an engineer, by force I landed, unconscious of a little problem: suppressing the fantasies was filling my soul with ghosts. At thirty-two, I had my first breakdown: I started vomiting ghosts. I quickly hid them in the bottom drawer of my old wooden desk, far from the eyes of onlookers. But after several breakdowns, they were sneaking out of my ears and pockets, and I had no option but to come to terms with them. Writing has been for years the way to reconcile with my world of fantasies, though I confess that, barring a few friends, I have done little to share them with the world.

The first time I wrote about me I started by saying I didn't know who I was. Every time I start again, I believe for a moment that I do, but only for a moment. The truth is, I am not sure whether I exist - even if I think - or if I am a character in one of the tales in Julio Cortázar's “Blow-Up and Other Stories”  – my all-time favorite short story book, whose real title in Spanish is “Ceremonias”, i.e., “Rituals”, which would have been a much more appropriate translation title for the English version (instead of using the one story that became a well-known movie). Or if I am an "ally" of Don Genaro, the cryptic and powerful character in Castañeda’s dreamful alternative reality books, summed up when he needs me. Or will I perhaps realize that I am somebody else’s dream, as the character in that unforgettable Borges' story?  Or maybe even the dream of a butterfly, like Zhuangzi, in the Chinese tale?

I suspect that when death comes to take me somewhere in time and space, I will still not know, and the last chess game will not be enough for me to find it out. Amadeu de Prado, the enigmatic doctor-writer in Pascal Mercier's brilliant “Night Train to Lisbon,” ponders: we carry inside us so many lives, so many destinies, and yet we live only one. What happens to the others, where do they go?

Oh well, we must continue to try to define ourselves, to search like warriors, without losing hope, even if we can only approximate the truth.

 

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