Monday, November 10, 2008

'Proclaiming our allegiance, our faith, our love for you'

"When you look out at this, does it look like home?" Rachel asked a few weeks ago as the long dark blue First Great Western train sped across the rolling fields of Somerset toward London.

"What, England?" I asked.

"Britain," she said. "Does it look like home to you? It does to me. I look at it and I just get that excited feeling that I am home."

"Yeah, I guess it looks like home. It doesn't not look like home, " I said, looking out the window and remembering a scene in Geraint V. Jones' Zen, when the main character is being driven through southwestern Wales and he wonders to himself that he has never in his life seen anything like it. But the character is from England and had served in Northern Ireland -- bullshit he hadn't seen anything like it. I suppose it's possible to live in Britain and fail to have seen something exactly like southwest Wales but to not have seen anything like it is to have never opened your eyes. All across south Wales and southern England, at least, the landscape is vaguely similar; those "pleasant pastures seen" that they insist on singing about on the other side of the Severn stretch endless from one's train window -- interspersed by jumble towns doing that strange thing of trying to mimic American sprawl without really having any space for the sprawl to go.

But I'm not sure I feel a real connection to it. Not, at least, to that forgettable stretch between Bristol and Swindon. I feel far greater connection to Cardiff. Sometimes, sitting atop Y Garth and looking down on Wales' capital city, or striding through it with a pint or two in my belly, a feeling will come over me of wanting to shout out: "This is my town, you fuckers!"

I'm not sure who I'd be shouting at. Not my fellow Cardiffians, who are an organic part of it all; the drunks and chavs and wealthy and middle-class and moms and dads and kids who are of this place. They are mine as well. And I am theirs. Or want to be. Perhaps I am shouting at Welsh-language culture, which I feel is often too eager to disavow the capital. Perhaps I am shouting to the swirling thoughts in my head that tell me I will never belong to anything.

But this connection fails me sometimes. I feel lost and unwanted. Or I fear that I am abandoning what I have. I have put myself on a course to live in Wales permanently, to make it my home, to set my roots here, to become officially British. But there is that indoctrinated part of me that fears turning against what I am; what I was.

Many moons ago, I was baptised in the Mormon church in an attempt to placate my mother-in-law. This idea was an unmitigated failure, of course. Putting on an Elvis suit and going for a swim was never going to change her mind about me. And an un-guessed side-effect was an overwhelming sense of remorse and regret on my own part. I went into a full on panic. Even though I adhere to the Sikh philosophy that God does not have religion (and therefore it doesn't really matter what rules you impose on yourself in order to be a good person, just that you are a good person), some part of my soul burned at having "betrayed" my United Methodist (a) upbringing.

I'm not sure it's possible to "betray" a United Methodist upbringing without committing a crime. The United Methodists are a pretty relaxed folk. If you want to throw on some white polyester, jump in a pool and stop drinking tea they'll raise an eyebrow but probably won't condemn you to hell for it.

But this is what I felt. It was possibly the only time in my life I have ever felt any sense of religious fear, of having done something REALLY ETERNALLY WRONG.

I wasn't really fearing God, though, but the severing of that connection to my family and my history and my past. I felt a sick terrible guilt at having erased that Methodist baptism I was given as a wee baby, when my mother and father had held me close and a pastor sprinkled water on my ugly little head. I don't attend Methodist church (or any church), but my mom and dad do and it's especially important to Dad and I felt sick at having cut that connection.

In a fit of guilt-driven madness I drove up to Mt. Rose, and climbed to an area that I perceived to be the top where I had a very long mea culpa conversation with God. Effectively, I asked if he could, you know, not file the paper work on that most recent baptism. It was probably the most mad (i.e., insane, not angry) I have ever been. Which is a pretty big statement.

Anyway, you'll be happy to know that after a great deal of weeping at the sky and begging and pleading I walked away feeling that God was willing to let me off. Love makes you do very silly things sometimes. I had desperately wanted to make things easier on my future wife and hadn't considered my own feelings. It was agreed between me and The Creator Of The Universe that all would be forgiven and I would still be allowed to mark "Methodist" on the demographics survey that everyone has to fill out in the afterlife.

All of this loops back to a First Great Western train in southern England because it was there that I got thinking about that eventual day when I will promise to "be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, her Heirs and Successors, according to law" (b). Will I suddenly wake up that night in panic, feeling that I have betrayed the United States of America?

I worry about this. Stupidly. I feel an untraceable guilt at the idea of not being American. More specifically, at not being Texan.

"Texas is a state of mind," wrote John Steinbeck. "Texas is an obsession. Above all, Texas is a nation in every sense of the word."

It is my nation. I am of Texas. Its air and water and soil are in me; they were used to form me. That water trickled on my little baby head came from Texas taps. When I lived in Minnesota I was still Texan; it says so on my dark blue U.S. passport. But I am worried about what, if anything, I will feel in that future I am working toward, hoping for, in which I get to carry around a maroon-coloured passport.

(a) I'm kind of picking up that the Methodists in Britain are different than the Methodists I grew up surrounded by, hence the use of "United Methodist." But I don't actually know if there's a difference. Shawn or Dad, if you are reading please clue me in.

(b) Actually, one is allowed to do the citizenship ceremony in Welsh, so my actual words will be something along the lines of: "Yr wyf i'n tyngu i Dduw Hollalluog y byddaf i, ar ôl dod yn ddinesydd Prydeinig, yn ffyddlon ac yn wir deyrngar i'w Mawrhydi y Frenhines Elisabeth yr Ail, ei Hetifeddion a'i Holynwyr, yn unol âr gyfraith."


Unknown said...

I always imagine the point where you say, "I've had enough of this Welsh business, now that I finished University I'm moving back to Minnesota."
You've left but I've always assumed you were going to come back some day. I miss hanging out with you, having a pint or eight, watching football (you know, the American kind) and it saddens me to think that the someday I'm thinking about may not happen.
It's been a while since you've been back here, and perhaps you miss the people here as well as the land or the idea of who you are. I know some of us miss you an awful lot.

Anonymous said...

You're trying way too hard Chris.

Chris Cope said...

Eric, I haven't exactly ruled out that option. For all my nonsense about Texas the oddity is that I would want to live in St. Paul. On a side note, I am planning to be in the United States for at least a month next summer.

Anonymous said...

Wierd. Drunk last night so I don't remember actually reading this post, yet I've left a comment, so I must have. Not sure what I was commenting on though. Ah well.

Anonymous said...

How long can you stay in the UK without citizenship? Do you get booted out after university, or can you stay because Rachel is a totally useful NHS professional?

Also, when I think of you getting UK citizenship, I imagine you having an Eastenders, cockney-style knees up, with a big VE Day table of trifles and jellied eels and stuff. Clearly I'm just projecting my own deep-seated identity issues in a mad, forties way.

Pip pip!

Anonymous said...

What is that feeling when you want to get blinding drunk and listen to Van Morrison?

I call it 'summer'

Zoe said... feel guilty about not be a Texan, yet you'd live in Minnesota if you came back to the States? Yep, the Texas brainwashers got to you.

This line says it all: "That water trickled on my little baby head came from Texas taps." That tap water was actually a serum that inculcates the "I wuz born in Texas, I'm gun' die in Texas, tain't no reason ta ever leave Texas' brand of Texas patriotism into wee babies.

I am immune you see, for I was born in Missouri. Despite living in Texas from the ages of 2 to 18, I got out and have never felt any sense of guilt for it. But I have seen it in all of my family and friends, none of whom have gotten out for longer than a few years, and most of whom have never felt any reason to leave in the first place.

Fight it, Cope! Don't let the Texans suck you back in!

Chris Cope said...

You are a traitor, Zoe.

Zoe said...

Yup. And proud of it!

Rhys Wynne said...

I've had a flick through one of the Citizenship Test text books in WH Smith - it's hilarious (or scary if you to know the bullshit it contains is the decider in wether you get citizenship or not).

I read in Golwg (or somehwere) that an American who wanted to take her citizenship test (or ceremony) in Welsh, but was refused. But she lived in the north and had to go to Chester to do it. Can you do it in Cardiff?