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Among Strangers: A Recommended Read on Placelessness and Identity

A quick recommendation of a personal essay in Guernica magazine on place(lessness), identity, and citizenship.

Ever since I started blogging in 2002, I’ve been obsessed with writing about place: one’s relationship to a place, both in the present and over time, and the intersection of place and home, place and identity and belonging, and place and placelessness.

More recommended reading: I also enjoy Miranda Ward’s writing, as well as Placed, the column she curates at Vela.

In my search for great posts to feature on Discover, I love finding essays and memoir on place and identity. In many of these pieces, the writers plunge deep down into themselves to understand their connections to a physical place, or a country they were born, or a city they’ve adopted as their own, or a metaphorical place that exists somewhere between points A and B.

This week, I read a lovely essay in Guernica, “Among Strangers,” by author and journalist Atossa Araxia Abrahamian. In her research of buying and selling of passports, she reflects on arbitrary citizenship and placelessness and transience as experienced by expats, perpetual nomads, and people who belong to or identify with multiple countries (for whatever reasons).

My meeting with the first man on the plane stuck with me for years—not because of any romantic spark or sentimental notion (I fear I lack the capacity for such things) but because there is no good reason not to say hello, to have a conversation, to try to understand what, exactly, puts two people in the same subway, train, plane at the same time on the same day to arrive in the same destination, seconds apart. To travel with such ease between two places. To share not one, but two homes.

The idea of transience, of perpetual traveling, of having an A point and a B point that are interchangeable, has always felt intuitive to me. The mere fact of being from somewhere has become foreign. . . .

I could have hyphenated myself, I suppose—broken off pieces to fit in boxes, American-style. But I can’t shake the feeling that nothing entitles me to those pieces to begin with. I do not deserve them. And I don’t really want them, anyway.

She recalls an encounter with a man she met on a plane on the way to Madagascar, and later, their conversation over dinner — notably their shared opinions on Geneva, a city that always felt impermanent and never like home. In my browsing of blogs on WordPress.com, I know that many of you hail from all over the globe, and tell stories of where you’re from, where you’re going, and finding your own place within the world. Atossa eloquently touches on these ideas, so I thought to share it.

“Among Strangers” is a solid personal essay that explores what it means to be from somewhere else, and what it feels like to navigate here, there, and that hazy, complicated space in between. If you’re interested in these topics, I invite you to dive in.

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  1. “Among Strangers” echoes so many of my own feelings about the importance of place, the tenuousness of identity, and the powerful moments of connection we can forge with random strangers. Only I couldn’t have written about it so eloquently. 🙂 Thank you for sharing this *wonderful* piece, Cheri.

    Liked by 7 people

  2. Very interesting recommendation, I enjoyed the read as well. I think the
    internal struggle with location is something many of us face after every great move in our lives. I also think the internal struggle on major life choices is a great internal conflict as well. I just completed a piece on how the presence of choice isn’t necessarily the cause for hesitation in our lives… but more the fear of making an incorrect decision. Feel free to give it a read! http://youthsgonewonky.com/2015/12/29/too-fast-or-not-at-all/

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  3. Thank you for this wonderful post! Three years ago I s o-o ld everything and became a peripatic house sitter flying around Australia and overseas. Its a lifestyle that suits my love of an8mals and travel. But being unwanted and among strangers is a different experience. I feel for the refugees and asylum seekers.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You are brave! I moved to Australia two years ago. I have discovered that you don’t make new best friends. I am over seventy and agree that being unwanted and among strangers is … ‘different’. It has also increased my feelings for refugees and asylum seekers. Say hello in you visit Perth!

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      1. Hi Christine, I’m an Australian by birth . My husband and I were in Perth last July, compliments of my son Steve who paid for our trip..Looking forward to reading your blogs in the future.

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      2. This may be an aside? Your trepidation around writing posts, is only your own. Just start writing smaller ones that help understand how it works. Trial and error. Unless you drop your device on the floor? Nothing can be broken. That’s what Blogging 101 by WordPress, is about. Helping new bloggers learn. If you have not already come across it? I am doing it again, for fun.

        I too have moved to where few people know me and I them. Just this summer I would recommend joining in to various venues. Yo will soon find others who will become friends with. It may seem intimidating at first? Especially for a woman. Yet being a woman also opens some doors that are otherwise closed to older males. Really, It is all about perspective.

        I notice you made no mention of where you moved to Aus. from? Cheers Jamie.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Excellent “aside”, Jamie. I moved to Perth, West Australia. Bite-sized chunks, eh? But the technicalities – for instance, I wrote a whole long answer to you and then lost it! I assumed I could navigate away then come back. No such luck! Blogging 101 sounds good. I shall try it. Cheers!

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Hi @christinestanding — you can bookmark this page if you’re interested in registering for Blogging U in the future: https://dailypost.wordpress.com/blogging-university/

        The January Blogging 101 course has started and is closed now, and the February Blogging 101 course might also be full, but you can sign up for future/other courses on the page above in time. We also announce new/upcoming courses here on The Daily Post.

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  4. For 12 years living in a country where I will always be a foreigner because I am not fluent in their language, and going back to my “home country” which most of my friends have left for greener pastures and where old relatives are dying, I always feel I no longer have a place I can really call home. I’m a guest wherever I go.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Try and get as fluent as you can, it’ll make you feel a lot better/more accepted. I’m in a similar situation as you. I’m from a small town in a country across the continuent. My childhood friends have moved away, relatives and older acquaintances are getting on. I was lucky to have married in my adopted city and got to know the culture from within. I also made friends with locals and foreigners and people who are also originally from somewhere else. Now this feels as much my home as my home town did when I was growing up.

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  5. Oh, the beauty of being spiritually connected to a space! When a place feeds and sustains us on all levels, one cannot help but develop a profound connection to and affection for it. Thank you for this recommendation. Truly.

    Liked by 4 people

  6. Excellent post, and I got much good reading with the links you nicely incorporated, thanks! You have given me good pause for thought, as to my own connection to space and place and identity. Thanks for the inspiration! Happiest of New Years’ to you! Peace! ~MB

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  7. Thx for the reference link to Among Strangers.

    I think part of identity and citizenship is also exploring all facets of “privilege” in terms of unspoken/unwritten benefits as well as broad societal as well as institutional barriers for a person on how they integrate / mix with a broad range of locals across socio-economic classes. Part of all this is tied to linguistic fluency or non-fluency of a local language(s).

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  8. Thanks for crystalizing a topic like this. I just moved into an assisted living home and I’ve been feellng misplaced for along time now. Regaining ‘identity; self-worth. ys a task in such situations.

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