In Between-ness

Welcome to my blog, Ground One.

Ground Zero :  Function:  noun; Date:  1946 ~ 1: the point directly above, below, or at which a nuclear explosion occurs; 2: the center or origin of rapid, intense, or violent activity or change; 3: the very beginning .

Ground One:  Function: verb; Date: 2008 ~ 1: to create a new beginning from an ending, starting from the ground up; 2: to use one’s  life beliefs and values to break new ground; 3: to ground oneself; i.e., to become one with the earth or universal whole; 4: to journey within to find new solutions to ancient problems;  5:  to use one’s unique individual gifts to improve the whole; 6: to find common ground among a diversity of cultures, philosophies, and ideas.

While performing some final research for my novel Incongruent, I made a final flip through the pages of Transit Beirut, a collection of writing and images, which I picked up in the  Virgin book store at the edge of al Hamra District in Beirut. From what I hear the store’s closed now, the result of street demonstrations surrounding it. The store is closed, and most of the young people who were back in Beirut after spending their childhoods abroad, are now based in Qatar. I visited Beirut in May 2006, six weeks before the Israelis retaliated with war because of the Hezbollah seizure of Israeli soldiers, who had allegedly crossed over the Israeli/Lebanese border into southern Lebanon. You get the picture. The war goes on, in ever-expanding circles.

                In this final ride through Transit Beirut, I found a quote from one of my favorite writers, Anais Nin: “I could not live in any of the worlds offered to me . . . . I believe one writes because one has to create a world in which one can live . . . . I had to create a world of my own . . . in which I could breathe, reign, and recreate myself when destroyed by living.” Writer Rosanne Saad Khalaf uses the quote at the beginning of  “Living Between Two Worlds,” her study of students who left Beirut in the 1980s and returned in their late teens or twenties.

                One student describes herself as standing on the perimeter of a circle while everyone else mixes within it, “rarely joining the inner circle, just watching.”  Another  expresses resentment at being repeatedly asked where he was during the war, as though his opinion doesn’t count.  The writer describes these returned exiles as living in a state of “extended betweeness,”  “of juggling multiple identities,” of constantly losing and reinventing themselves.

                I began my novel  first as a non-fiction study of war and global multicultural communication. I thought no other war of our era portrayed the plight of the disenfranchised as much as the Lebanese Civil War, and so I placed my focus there. In time, I realized Lebanon’s story could be much better told in fictional form, because it might resonate more with the heart than the mind.  . . that if I told one person’s story, it might speak more to the macrocosm. That more people might understand.

                I may have gotten it right, I think, as I read Khalaf’s study. I may have gotten it right, because even though the only American-based  war I’ve experienced has been one that never escalated, never came to fruition, I feel I am the product of times that are full of war or the threat of war: The Cold War, the Civil Rights conflicts, Vietnam, Bosnia, Somalia, and of course, 9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq. Sadly, this is only to name the embattled highlights that have defined our times. I’m a product of America’s own civil war. My grandmother sat weeping at Stonewall Jackson’s grave as late as 1968. Beyond this, I feel my own personal imbalance, my world is one that is more like Nin’s or Khalaf’s than it is perhaps of my suburban neighbors. Or perhaps we all have a bit of a personalized war raging within that we never  fully expose.  At times, I feel as  though I live on my own private island, not one of my own choosing.

                Although the war was supposed to have been long over when I arrived in Beirut, the city still felt surreal to me.  While I was there, a  friend called me to tell me there were Israeli bombing incursions just a few kilometers south of Beirut . Ghosts of kidnapped Americans followed me around the AUB campus. People without limbs still begged on street corners, and I wondered if they were part of the 350,000 civil war-wounded. Banks were suspicious of exchanging travelers’ checks with a blonde foreigner on her own.  As I disembarked  on Beirut’s airport tarmac, I thought about the photographs in which it had been just a bombed shell.  And talk about incongruities:  A McDonald’s with valet parking overlooked the famous Corniche that looked down upon the Mediterranean.  Bullet pock marks still masked what were once beautiful buildings along the city’s Green Line, in spite of every street also hoisting a crane above an emerging new , ever-taller skyscraper.  Checkpoints lined the streets that led to some of the world’s most famous archaeological digs. Most hotels had their own personal body guard, and anyone who was anyone hesitated a split second before they disengaged their car alarms to get behind the steering wheel.    And that preceded Lebanon’s last two wars.

                Hard to tell how the people living there feel now.  Maybe that will be a future book, but I hope not.

                I hope that my portrayal of one man’s war, and his resulting “extended betweeness”– of alienation, perfectionism, and search for love amid a war within–reflect these times, my times, and in the end, my own world, in which I can “breathe, reign, and recreate myself” when life and its conflicts become too much for my one soul to carry.  It has been my honor to know each and every Lebanese person my path has crossed, and it is my prayer that their wars will cease, within and without.

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