Thoughts on Self

Attachment, translocation, and cappuccino foam

The sky has been gray since I woke up this morning, a looming presence unyielding to the sun’s intensity. Sitting in an unfamiliar chair, the wood table round, my flesh cold, I try to place words on pages once again. Over the course of a few months, I traded one island for another, one life for another, one collection of intimacies for another. There is no cat watching me type, at least for the time being. There is no deep blue sea outside the windows. There are no routines dictating my everyday. There are no attachments. Gazing outside I notice a tall-ship making its way back to the marina against the river currents. “Neither a river or a transitory hour is able to stand still.” Gum trees, suburban silence, round parks, ornamental plants.

Translocation is the process of ‘moving from one place to another’ or, in biochemistry, ‘transporting a substance within an organism, especially in plants.’ Just as nutrients move through phloem with the help of vascular bundles called xylem, my own translocation from a small tropical island to a much larger much colder one required dissolving fully and passing through cell membranes. But like a pontoon floating near the sea, I’m full of the unfamiliar, seemingly drifted away from my previous relational Self. Islands within islands within a bizarre collection of playful gestures cast by spectral hands. Undergoing a ‘mystical process of unselving’, I’m forced to contend with past attachments vying for present attention.

Does your heart yearn for what once was despite the clarity of present jovialness? Attachment is like that. I packed up everything, said my farewells, wandered the familiar one last time, and watched three-years of reality vanish in the distance. From the air, I jostled with my attachments to the place I called home, to the version of myself I dearly loved, to the potentiality of a particular life that really wouldn’t be that bad once you get past all the pressing loneliness. I don’t know this place. I’m still jostling for Self. The potentialities seem wildly endless, with the oft-repeated daydreams of future possible worlds. I haven’t quite reached the roots, who are in desperate need of nutrients. Uncanny landscapes, dry rivulets, departing ship horns, borrowed quilts.

I’m not afraid of translocation, of moving my entire life somewhere else, of forming new memories, familiarities, and intimacies. In fact, there is always a feeling, restless and relentless, murmuring the need to pack my things and move on. Not yet, not here. Absence is efficacious. However, there are fears related to attachment, knowing that one day everything changes, that everything “struts and frets [their] hour upon the stage,/And then is heard no more.” I cried on the flight away from the last island. I prayed for months before leaving for some greener grass. I loved how the sounds of ocean waves mixed with starling chimes and rustling fronds. ‘Non-attachment’ is considered a wise virtue in Buddhism.

Jane Bennett speaking of the encounters of human and nonhuman bodies defines an ‘onto-sympathy’ “as a process of attraction, distraction, and responsiveness in which all kinds of things, some capable of speech, some not, are caught up.” The cell phone vibrates to the sound of incoming messages. A lone pademelon distracts me from beyond the glass window. My heart-mind flutters at your presence, both near and far. A slice of banana bread gathers recollections of high school rowing, family recipes, drastic dietary changes, and life on a small tropical island. Coconut yogurt and tahini caramel are spread in equal measures atop a bitesize morsel. In a moment of silence, we both seem entirely caught up in an innocuous pontoon full of life and separate from the world around us.

Moving with precision and focus, the spoon slides quietly into the foam, leaving behind memories of cinnamon and frothed milk. ‘Every moment’s occasion is a renewal’ and every sip of coffee leaves me feeling less and less remote. My cheeks are sore from smiling an incredible amount. The hours seem to slip away, like a lavender sprig caught in a strong gust. An awkward handshake turns into an extended embrace that turns into an invitation that turns into an entire weekend. Is that attachment I feel? The Mountain, the River, the Bridge, the Casino. I look outside the window as the gray clouds turn dark with the setting sun and feel a sense of relief. Margarita pizza, conversations about love, impromptu picnics, cappuccino foam.

Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Tasmania, studying climate change adaptation, risk perspectives, and coastalscape values.

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