Wednesday, January 14, 2015

THE REVENGE OF GEOGRAPHY (and its minor gifts)

THE REVENGE OF GEOGRAPHY, a non-fiction book by Robert D.Kaplan, looks at the shaping of history by examining  the very contour and location of the lands in which it transpires, arguing that it's not only 'great men' or common folk that turn the tides of fate, but also the (mostly) accidental geographical placement of where they grow up. 'We are where we live', I guess you could say, and I wonder if it might be possible to take this macro-historical-endeavor and sharpen the lens of its focus onto our own lives.

For most of us, the first eighteen-or-so years doesn't give us much choice as to where we plant our feet. Family takes care of that. I got stuck with Canada. (Not a bad place to be moored.) Abroad, mention the word 'Canada' and the response is usually a variation of 'safe' or 'beautiful nature'. Can't hurt to have a reputation to life that. And probably pretty spot-on. Looking back on my own life, it is often this sense of 'nature' that informs my memories -- walking to the bus stop while fluffy snow flakes fall on a head still shower-wet; the first honey sunshine of spring cutting through the quad and into my dorm; my feet hot on the boards of a dock as I hurry to jump into the cool lake of summer; autumn cross-country trails, leaves falling over uneven ground that I quickly trod. Thinking this way, can I even begin to separate myself from the axis of that place?

Even now, when I think of where I've lived, whether it's St.Catharines or Toronto, Manotick or Yokohama, Baguio or Fujisawa, the aural-oddness of the names contrasted so closely with each other seems to represent not only their linguistic divisions, but also some crucial aspect of their physical selves. In my head is a bewildering collision of drizzling snow and typhoon-level rain, Mekong sunshine and mountain-night shadows, the dripping sweat of Japanese summer and Ontario winter's frozen snot. Did I become one with these places, or did they use and abuse me with indifferent natural glee?

Such a hostile title -- THE REVENGE OF GEOGRAPHY. Makes sense, though. At least for a book about the cruelty of historical trends,where people are just fragile pawns in the topography that traps them. Can it apply to us, though? Individuals, not nations? Are we basically fucked, depending on where we are born? I'm not talking in terms of family or jobs, friendship or love, because we can get those, earn those, but in both the broader and more linear sense.

The old saying says: "Wherever you go, there you are." Observably true. Yet wherever we land, something else holds us up. Weather and grass and concrete all amix. We usually pass through it, endure, snapshot it and post it. How the natural concoction of elements creeps into our cells and enlightens our aims is something I'd like to take more and more note of as I continue to arrive.