How strange it is that I spend my life in a perpetual state of missing-in-anticipation, holding fiercely on to fleeting moments with loved ones here while also wishing to be with loved ones in another part of the world, having roots in so many places that every day my joy at being ‘home’ for a short while in one place is tempered with the gnaw of homesickness for elsewhere.
I love this feeling of being rooted and yet I am always on the move, which of course I love too. This mode of being is both exhilarating and wrenching. And each time I leave a place I feel as though I need time and space to make sense of the flurry of feelings I felt so sharply this particular time, but if I indulged myself then I fear that I would not ever live in the present.
Being this way, feeling this sharply, oddly shapes my temporal sensibilities, because every day is simultaneously a first-time and a never-again. I think this is why I like to tightly circumscribe my everyday movements and fill them with as much familiar repetition as possible, temporarily thwarting the possibility of the never-again, and ritualising the mundane in ways that make them semi-sacred.
Even so, my line of work makes it difficult to ever live in a state of ‘now’, whatever that means. One part of my brain is always processing an archive of events from decades ago while the other plans potential future travel to access those archives. An anticipation for the past, that can’t be classified as nostalgia.
I think my sense of ‘now’ is therefore very much tied to a geography of a specific ‘here’. Recently my years have been divided into a well-defined ‘Sri Lanka now’ and a ‘Boston now’ and a ‘Bay Area now’ with their attendant bedrooms and closets and cutlery drawers. I get them all a little mixed up from time to time, which leads to a strange stockpile of detritus in each place as I forget whether I needed to bring some necessary item with me or not. Rubber slippers and craft knives, especially, seem to disappear at one end and accumulate at another.
What is especially curious is the way July seems to me to be somehow followed by December, because I tend to spend both months in Sri Lanka, while the months of September to November seem to be in the completely separate universe of Fall Term at MIT. May and August always seem swallowed up in some sort of transitional wormhole. When I returned to Sri Lanka in January instead of December, after having celebrated my first Christmas ever with new family in the UK, I was so disoriented that I could not place what month it was.
All of this makes me think about what a strange word ‘diaspora’ is in the twenty-first century. Today, it awkwardly clumps together a vast swath of incommensurate movements, and does so little to capture the sheer breadth of experiences that can be had by those who are dug out of familiar terrain and transplanted, especially now when so many more of us do it repeatedly.
I suppose, growing up in Sydney, that I was part of the Sri Lankan diaspora in Australia, until my family decided to return to Sri Lanka and further somewhat muddied the waters of my miscegenated identity. I switched out Allen’s lollies for Delta toffee, easily purchasable toys for easily accessible extended family, and being wary of moist dark spaces that might house a deadly funnel-web spider to being wary of suspicious-looking packages in the bus that might house a deadly bomb.
I might not like to admit it, and I may not ever live in Sydney again, but I guess I’m now part of an Aussie diaspora – if there is such a thing, and if there isn’t, why not? – and it still shows more than two decades later. I still conscientiously buckle my belt in the backseat of a car and am somewhat distressed when I find myself without one, unlike most Sri Lankans who display no such discomfort. Eucalyptus and bottlebrush and acacia still impart a sense of home, which is why I found the Bay Area familiar before it really was. And of course I like Vegemite better than Marmite. Of course I do.
Now, on the brink of moving from Massachusetts to California, what am I? Cambridge diaspora? I knew how that small northeastern American city worked and how to make a full life for myself in it, and I am most certainly filled with a sense of nostalgia for a life that is definitively no more. Meanwhile, I am looking forward so much to calling a new place home, while also filled with dread at the thought that one day, just as I have begun to embody certain Californian values and habits and quirks, I will transplant myself again, and it will constitute yet another place to miss.