Friday, January 7, 2011

Language > Place: "A Place where I felt I really belonged"

When I read the theme for this month’s language/place blog carnival – “a place where I felt I really belonged” – my first thought was: I have nothing to say about this. I’ve lived my entire life in my home country and have never left it for longer than a month. Yes, I write in English rather than my mother tongue and I also study at an Australian university where all my assignments, communication with classmates and professors, even thinking is done in English. Despite this, I have never lived outside my mother tongue environment, so to speak. So my initial response was that the only place I could think of where I felt I really belonged was my home country.

After a few moments, though, I began to think of another place that has become like a home to me, that has offered me the first opportunities to publish my work, where I found my first writing friends, helpful critics, resources etc. A place that essentially makes my studies in Australia possible. It’s not exactly a place, it certainly defies the three dimensions (in certain ways even the fourth one) that usually describe our environment, sometimes it resembles more a journey, a way to discovery rather than a place where one can exist. I’m talking about cyberspace (‘kiber prostor’ in Slovenian), of course.

Because I write in a foreign language, it was clear to me from the very beginning that I will not be able to get published in Slovenia. On the other hand, I was also physically removed from my target audience, from potential publishers, from my market. I suppose I should be more than grateful for having been born into this brave new world where signals comprised of zeroes and ones can flash across the entire planet in nanoseconds, cross boundaries, cultures, languages, even bad weather (well, not always). The web was the solution to all my problems. I could suddenly contact editors and co-writers and receive replies within minutes or hours; I can now discuss creative writing with professors living thousands of kilometers away in a different time zone. I have a perfect outlet for my work that has previously been sort of lost and pointless without an audience that would accept and – more importantly – understand it.

Of course, I’m still physically distant from my readers and perhaps I can’t establish such an amicable and close rapport with them as I would have had I the chance to meet them in person, but there are other advantage to ‘existing’ online that are not negligible. The first one I experienced early on was that rejection hurt less because it was less personal when done via the e-mail and when there was practically no chance for the editor who rejected me to know me personally.

I am a shy person and I don’t feel comfortable revealing myself to other people, writing, however, is inevitably very intimate, revealing, and deeply personal. So it was easier for me to publish at a venue that few of my friends and acquaintances visited; I felt less of a pressure to impress them and seek their approval. On the other hand, I also believe that publishing online where, at least in the beginning, I knew no one, the assessment of my work is far more objective and just. Perhaps I’m mistaken in this and editors rejected my work simply because they didn’t recognize my name, but at least I can say I never pulled any strings to get published because I had no strings to pull.

In short, cyber space is the place, the technology that made it possible for me to get published at all. It has made writing an exciting experience, a journey of constant learning, meeting new people, new cultures; it is a place where my choice to write in a foreign language is not a hurdle, and where my introducing of new, sometimes exotic concepts from my home culture into English is not only accepted, but welcomed. It’s place where everyone can belong.

To finish this off on a humorous note, here’s my poem about how cyber world has changed our l(i/o)ves:

Virtually in love
Lovesick, we’re terrified of losing connection –
a stroke of lightning might burn the relay
when our gushing romance winds its way

through optical fibers that overheat
from our passion, throbbing through cables
in zeros and ones and not the kisses of fables.

Is the affection any more meaningless
if expressed through binary arithmetic
instead of the gestures of the pathetic?

Is the heat less warm and authentic
if produced by the friction of electrons
instead of the kisses, caresses bygone?

Love in real time, perhaps, is more real
but break-ups are easier and hurt less
when it’s enough to unplug the wireless.


  1. Brigita, Everything you just wrote, I feel also, except I speak only one language, the same language I write in, the language I grew up with. It is strange how one can still feel alienated, even so. I have several close friends that have no internet presence. My family treads onto the internet very carefully and delicately, not at all the way I plunge into the writing community online, so that same sense that you have of "less pressure" holds true for me. Thanks for writing this.

  2. Christine, it's interesting to hear that you share a similar experience although you write in your mother tongue. I thought my alienation and isolation was mainly due to my choice of the language I write in, but it seems I was wrong.

  3. Hi, Brigita,
    I've found so many wonderful friends (and lost a few) on the internet, so I know exactly what you mean. Well said.

  4. @DCAllen Thanks, I think many people agree about the internet. It's a place of opportunity, especially if you're geographically isolated.