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Where are you from? (thoughts from an itinerant artist)

Where are you from?

My shoulders creep up to my ears every time I hear that question, a common conversational gambit. It’s an opening salvo in most small-talk skirmishes, one that is mostly about figuring out one another’s places, one’s clan, and setting up parameters and expectations for subsequent cultural references. As casual as the question sounds, it is PACKED with significance, both for the person asking and the person being asked, so I rarely know how to answer, because I don’t know what the question really is.

Where is your accent from?

I don't really know. All over, I guess. They sure don’t talk like this where I was born and raised. They don’t talk like anything there. I’ve been told that the native Pacific Northwest accent is one of the least inflected accents in the US. Frankly, after traveling around North America and the UK, I find myself liking inflections. I want some for myself, which is good, because I tend to absorb surrounding speech patterns quickly.

I’ve lived on and left both coasts, but still carry traces of each. I speak too quickly for the West coast; they look at me funny. I absorbed a slight Bostonian drawl, can put on a hard, fast New York shtick that is convincing enough for everyone except New Yorkers, those suspicious fucks, they can tell I’m not from there. And then there are the pesky Canadianisms that have crept in, the question tone at the end of sentences, the “eh” (it’s a real thing).

Where is your home base?

Sometimes people ask me this question outright, and then it’s easy to answer: “my car.” Hopefully they’ll laugh and I’ll laugh and we’ll just forget this tangled branch of the conversation. Any other answer, the real answer, leaves me stumbling along through a geopolitical swamp.

I get my mail in Massachusetts; I have clothes and cookware still in Montreal, which is where I’ll be returning to at the beginning of December. I’m relocating my base of operations to Manchester at the end of the year. All of those places have legal ramifications and sometimes hardcore paperwork challenges for me to keep my connections there. You don’t want to hear the boring, stressful details, and I don’t want to relive them every time I hear the question.

Where is your fan base?

On Facebook.

Where is your community?

Whether that’s a performance community, a kink scene, or a city where I know the best place to buy produce, as long as I travel, I will never have this. I get over it; I have to. I join the groups on fetlife, stay in touch with locals as best as I can, but I will always be the carpetbagger. The one community I most consistently have had is itself composed of transient parts—Fringe artists touring Canada—and it disbands at the end of the summer, and I’m older and not up to or interested in all the late-night shenanigans, and I missed three summers before coming back this year and BOY can I feel that the divide has grown. Besides which, did I mention I’m moving to England?

You see why I don’t like to think about this question, and all the variants of it: The answers are there, but they are dissatisfactory in one way or another. They take too long to explain. They are something that I’m trying to change. They’re highly personal, inappropriately so for most conversational environments, in the same way that most people don’t really want to hear how you’re doing when they ask how you’re doing.

Where am I from? It’s just too messy and weird to get into sometimes. Besides, right now I’d much rather focus on where I’m going.

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