I often find myself stepping off the path, and going in another direction. I am referring to this metaphorically, and quite literally. Sometimes, I will have an impulse to turn down a road, because I have never been down that street before. After I reach the end of the street, I turn down another, then another, then another. Once I have tired with the circumstances of being lost and immersed in new encounters of the lay of the land, I find ways to reestablish my location; return to familiar terrain. If, for example, when exiting my apartment I turn left instead of right, how might my habitual patterns change and allow me to view something from another perspective; take me elsewhere?
“Living in a state of psychic unrest, in a Borderland,” writes Gloria Anzaldúa, “is what makes poets write and artists create. It is like a cactus needle embedded in the flesh. It worries itself deeper and deeper, and I keep aggravating it by poking at it. When it begins to fester I have to do something to put an end to the aggravation and figure out why I have it. I get deep down in the place where it’s rooted in my skin and pluck away at it, playing it like a musical instrument—the figures pressing, making the pain worse before it can get better. Then out it comes. No more discomfort, no more ambivalence. Until another needle pierces the skin.”9
The late Anzaldúa writes these words as a queer, 6th generation Chicana and daughter of farmworkers who grew up living in extreme poverty, twenty-five miles from the U.S.- Mexican border. The identity that she inhabits is a turbulent one: her Chicana / Mestiza self—Anglo-Mexican-Indian—contains multiple perspectives, customs, languages, and types of reasoning within the same body. She exists within numerous linguistic and cultural contexts. Neither here nor there, she is never fully accepted by—nor fully satisfied with—a single, fixed identity nor way of being in the world. Living between two languages, cultures, and social systems—yet never fully accepted by either one—Anzaldúa uses this conflictual psychological state of moving between the two sides of the border to develop a Borderland theory that encompasses all types of border crossings: geopolitical boundaries, sexual transgressions, economic, political and social dislocations, etc. The experiences of individuals living between the borders enable them to develop a tolerance for contradictions, for ambiguity; to not remain at the surface level and try to see the deeper structure below the surface. She attributes “those who have been pushed out of the tribe for being different”—for being outcasts, marginalized, and foreign—as those who might develop La Facultad10 (the faculty), of being more sensitized to what is happening around them; giving them the skill to probe at and challenge neatly packed narratives and homogenous readings of body, identity, and place.
As an artist, woman, daughter of a Mexican, 1st generation Chicana, growing up in Canada, and who has lived outside of the country of my birth for much of my adult life, I find myself aligned with Anzaldúa’s claim for inhabiting various social worlds, that challenge “monocultural and monolingual conceptions of social reality.” But this is, perhaps, not so surprising; that I might want to reach out to those that speak back to me in ways that are comforting or inspiring, or make me feel that I am not alone. Anzaldúa's words have this particular effect on me. We all are in need of belonging, even if it is a 'not-belonging' kind of belonging. I am never 'from' the places in which I live; I have lived and worked in seven countries and counting. There is, for me, a feeling of always being out-of-place; never quite catching on to what others really expect from you. Yet it is perhaps this position of the perpetual 'outsider' that gives me La Facultad of being able to do the kind of work that I do.
This 'state of psychic unrest', of being out of one's element, until you no longer are (the needle is out) is something that perhaps we, as artists, as researchers, all have to go through. It is a persistent and incessant drive towards something that starts to take form the deeper one goes into an artistic process; yet one which involves a necessary stage of stepping off the road map, or losing the map entirely. If I don't have the sensation of being deeply uncomfortable in the moment, aggravated and lost at certain moments, then I don't feel that there are sufficient risks being taken. If nothing festers, there is nothing to expel.