Lawrence Weiner – Here & There some swimming in a vast whirlpool, 2008
It has been one hell of a choppy week!
Waves crashing into rocks, making a racket in my head.
A very unsettling sort of a feeling, as if like walking on broken glass. Dodging shards of opinions and looking for space to land my own. To nest my own feeling of despair, uncertainty and unknown.
I think, two things have contributed to this.
One- saying No! Saying no to an outrageously bad deal and feeling guilty about saying no, recognising my powerless position, recognising how that can become quite the powerful position if I spoke about it and how by speaking about it I might then deal with the consequences!
Two! The Referendum! Everything about it. The in, the out, the unknown, the known, and where I sit amongst all this.
I am 34! I left Bulgaria when I was 17, precisely 17 year ago. I am in the middle. My childhood background defined by communism, by rules, by being from the provence, by poverty, by running wild on the streets, by going to school on my own changing buses and feeling totally safe, by my utterly brilliant young parents who instilled every sense that I can do whatever I want, by my dog Sara, by being other, the chubby one, the one with short dark hair, the one that was the first on the dance floor. The one unafraid to be looked at.
In November 1989, I was 7! Then, there was rebuilding! Of almost everything!
In August 1999, I landed at Heathrow Terminal 2. I remember queuing at The British Embassy in Sofia on a hot summers July day preceding that landing, well actually three days of being totally petrified – “what if they say no?” People: I had won a scholarship! A scholariship to study in the UK for a year, a full, all expenses paid sort of scholarship. A dream come true sort of a scholarship, one place sort of a scholarship with 200 others students fighting for that one place. And yet, what I remember most is queuing. Waiting. For another person to make the decision on my future. I got a yes!
A year later, I did some more queuing! A year later, more queuing, more queuing etc, etc, you get it. I became quite accustomed to being the other, to queuing, to waiting for others to make those decisions. Don’t get me wrong, in the meantime I was working my little socks off. I paid for my education almost entirely, I had no loans. In the first year, my parents helped me – and a very generous donor. I got a job and paid my way entirely from then onwards. Between my second and third year at college, I took a year out to work and make the money for the final year of my studies. I got a 1st Class Honours Degree, not that that fact counts for much in life, but it does look nice on paper.
In 2005, I married an Englishman. On my interview for a spouse visa, they asked me the most scrutinising questions about our relationship, they wanted to see photos of our wedding, they asked what food we had, who were the guests. They asked everything you can imagine and the things you probably can’t imagine. I got the visa.
In 2008, Bulgaria became part of the EU. I went home especially to join in the celebrations. I remember drinking cheap fizzy wine with my parents and my brother in the main square in Sofia. Dancing and feeling a great sense of jubilation. Not a great deal has changed since then but one defines all my parents dreamt they were able to do. To travel!
I remember the next time I returned to the UK using a different aisle on my way to passport control. I remember having the feeling that now I would like to travel a bit more and learn about other cultures and countries.
Since then I have done a bit of travelling, mainly in Europe. I have learned a bit about every country I have visited and I have loved being at each one. I absolutely love going online and being able to search for short holidays in Europe knowing I could visit if I wanted to. I absolutely love being free to do that without visa restrictions.
So, here I am, writing this from a small conservative village in Hampshire on the Sunday of the monarch’s birthday, hearing stories of English football fans embroiled in violence, the day after a visit to London seeing an exhibition of knickers at the V&A, after a night on which 50 or more people have been killed in Orlando, on the day when no doubt some boat somewhere is trying to reach Europe. Trying to reach Europe! Oh, Europe!
I write this as I feel so very totally unsettled by the provocations of the Out campaign, the scaremongering and wondering, really what would happen on June 23rd! Where would I be, not geographically but where would I end up being as a human, as a Bulgarian, as a European, as a person who knows Britishness so well, as a person who thinks and dreams in English, as a person whose identity and place will never be clearly defined. As a person who opposes definition. As a person who rebels to be defined. As a woman dating a Scotsman. As an artist?
I am an immigrant! I came from one place to another. I migrate between borders. At each place I change and return different. I am not just a woman, not just 34, not just a Bulgarian, not just European, not just an artist, not just heterosexual, not just into grapefruit in the morning, not just a resident of a small conservative village in Hampshire, not just….
And the crashing continues, the radio is full of debate, and imagining the ugly faces of some politicians keeps annoying me to no end. And the waves get higher and higher and my breathing is somehow slowed down, like slow motion horror movie, and I am poised and I just can not wait for the horror to finish. Then, I will deal with the consequences……then I will try and deal with whatever comes.