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November 3, 2011 / Lee Skallerup Bessette

Finding Where I Fit In

The essays have been collected. I have Laferrière’s email address. I’m formulating the questions. I’m trying to figure out how to write a ten-page introduction to this whole collection and how I am going to adapt my two essays on Éroshima into one essay for the collection. I am currently trying to write one final essay from my list from the summer for submission (once again, because of an extension that I didn’t even ask for but was offered to me).

This past weekend, however, I was at a conference back in Toronto. Unlike my experience in Sherbrooke (by the way, the paper that I presented there has been accepted for publication!), I felt really disconnected, awkward, and like I just didn’t fit in the same way I felt when I was in Sherbrooke. It got to the point where I was feeling dispondant: these were ostensively my people, people who did Canadian literature, who were doing digital humanities, challenging how we do research, share research, work in higher education. And yet. I was so moved (and not in a good way) I wrote the following on my iPhone:

I’m starting to feel insecure. Academics of Canadian literature wearing the uniform of the Canadian academic: floovog shoes, locally designed, eclectic dresses, funky but tasteful jewelry, probably also locally made. I’m in my mass produced jeans, sweater and scarf. And, I feel like I did years ago as a grad student: out of place, awkward, over-enthusiastic, verbose. It’s a feeling I didn’t have in Sherbrooke, in French. In English, in Canada, in academia, I don’t fit and my rough edges scratch and repel. So many of the people here know me (and seem to admire/respect me) online, and I can’t help but feel like I’ve disappointed then in real life. And while I long to connect to their work and community, I wonder if it would work, because I am so out of place.

I don’t think I would be doing what I do, both academically and in my blogging, had I stayed (or returned) to Canada. Being isolated in a place where one expects to be isolated is hard but for me empowering; I was free to do what I wanted to do. To be isolated in a place where one should and could fit wounds and warps; here, I would have been too wrapped up in either trying to fit or, like right now, lamenting and obsessing that I don’t. I become too self-conscious, too self-aware, and it paralyses me.

It had been so long since I’ve been back to Canada for an English-Canadian conference, that I forgot these feelings, these incongruities, this reality. Or at least my perception of it. In English, growing up and during my PhD, I was spoken over, spoken for, and when I tried to speak, often punished. I want to speak the way I speak when I’m in French, or when I’m in the States. I want this place to be home. It has never been nor will never be home.

So I read about home, by authors from home. The fiction I consume and create obscure and replace the reality. It makes me sad. I don’t know what else to do. I’ll leave, the negative feelings will recede, life will go on. But I will miss a place, an opportunity, a imaginary that I’ve always longed to be a part of.

But then on the last day, the day of my presentation, Lori St. Martin gave a keynote presentation. She talked about growing up and not fitting in and finding herself in French. She ended her talk stating that here she was, herself and happy. I almost burst into tears. Lori was animated, excited, enthusiastic, full of asides, digressions, and giggles. In a strange, circular coincidence, Lori was also the keynote speaker in Sherbrooke. Suddenly, it didn’t matter that I didn’t feel like I fit in there. I do my own thing. If I fit, then I fit; if I don’t, well, that’s ok, too.

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