A search. Exile. A Manifesto.

When owlspotting launched in the summer of 2005 it had little definition (which didn’t make it less funny). Over the past 16 months I often considered writing a blogging manifesto, partly because I wanted to find something to use the word “manifesto” in, partly because I believe any outlet needs a definition, even if that definition is: “This blog has no purpose.”

Looking back at this blog I have come to understand a few things:

1. This blog was always about something and that something is a search.

2. One of those searches is a search for identity, which is really a pretentious way of saying that through this blog I tried to write about the things that excite me: Romania, snapshots of today’s world, indie pop, putting people through tables etc. I love journalism and my blood races every time I talk about it, but I can’t say I have found my place in it yet. Writing about the things that make me who I am is a process of self-revelation. dbrom, which I edited for five years, gave me a similar feeling of riding the wave of the moment and jotting down as much of it as possible.

3. The other search is search for meaning. Not the meaning of life–that’s something better suited for a South Park episode or a European flick clocking in at 347 minutes. I’m more modest. One’s identity as a writer is one thing. The meaning of their work (for themselves and those around them) smells like another blend of coffee altogether. I couldn’t write solely for myself, so I am trying to balance my interests with my naïve beliefs that good journalism and storytelling can change lives or at the very least enrich them. I know that This American Life, Ira Glass’ wonderful concoction broadcast on public radio has changed mine numerous times. At this point in my career, I feel that my blog is the only platform where I can evaluate the meaning of what I write (and sometimes I like what I see).

4. Speaking of what writing means. owlspotting also taught me people care more about Coca Cola C2 than I ever believed they would. Stay tuned for a breakthrough post next week.

5. Ultimately, this blog is (or became) a search for a place. I didn’t expect Romania to play such a large role in the identity of this blog. owlspotting started in a small room in Brooklyn, NY, far from Romania and far from everything Romania meant to me. I was riding the “L” train into Manhattan every day, walking the streets of Greenpoint and gazing at the hipster zoo that is Williamsburg. But Romania seeped into my writing like caramel and after dedicating three months to it during this summer, I can’t just drain it. Today, I am in Boston, riding the “T”, seeping bitter house blends in wireless-infused coffee-shops, but my country is sitting next to me, like a Rain Man I can’t let go off.

I put the blog on hiatus last month because of this realization. A horoscope said last week that my 2007 will be a decisive year. Probably what it meant is that I have to decide for a physical space: America or Romania. Not for forever but for at least a couple of years. With the exception of plastic bags, nothing is forever. And it’s not a dramatic choice. But the idea of “home,” the realization that I’ve been a nomad for more or less seven years, the pull of language and the need for more professional responsibility (read “succeed or fail on the basis of my ideas alone”) is making this choice necessary.

Bradut tagged me recently asking to recommend a book. Without much hesitation I thought of Norman Manea’s “The Hooligan’s Return” (Intoarcearea huliganului). I have used the tagging excuse to pen the words above and to come clean with my intentions. This blog, much like Manea’s book, is a chronicle of a decision and probably its aftermath.

The difference is that Manea’s book is pretty much awesome.

Manea is a Romanian writer who left the country in 1986 at the age of 50 after going through the motions of the communist regime and refusing to believe there could be a better life away from his country and more importantly, away from his language. Manea saw very well the destruction and emptiness of the communism, but wasn’t convinced exile was the choice. A Jew, he had gone through exile once before when his family was marched to the Transnistria camps by the Nazis and the Romanian soldiers during the war.

The book is a chronicle of that first return, of the communist years and of Manea’s dilemma surrounding a planned second return, in the mid-nineties, to a post-communist Romania. Manea never believed in the transformational power of exile and he never really felt at home away from the country that made him who he was. He writes (in my crude translation from Romanian):

“Exile, a rescuing disease? A to and fro towards and away from myself: trying to find myself, trying to replace myself and lose myself, and do it all over again from the beginning.”

Manea is not only weary of what he will find in post-communist Romania. There are other ghosts haunting him, not the least of which is his dead mother, who he couldn’t be there for as she closed her eyes. There are his artist friends, some of whom also died. And there is the racism and the right-leaning nature of the Romanian people. Manea is a critic of some of Romania’s most prominent intellectual figures (such as Mircea Eliade and Emil Cioran) and their support of the Romanian fascism in the 1930s. Soon after the 1989 revolution, some of Manea’s essays were branded “anti-nationalistic” and newspapers labeled him an enemy of Romania.

But he knows he has to make this 10 day trip home, and this conflict between his new life in New York and his past in Romania, is gut wrenching. He writes of his arrival in Bucharest: “I am here and I am there, neither here nor there, a passenger disputed among time zones and not just them.”

What resonated so powerfully with me is that Manea doesn’t find the answer. He doesn’t decide on which time zone is better, he doesn’t decide his friends in New York (Saul Bellow and Philip Roth among them) are better than the ones he left back home, but he throws himself in the torrent of the search. The book is a battle with the demons of the past and the present and in the end Manea seems to have made peace with them, accepting the torment of living in between two worlds.

“If you miss your homeland, you will find in exile more and more moments to miss it; but if you succeed to forget it and begin to love your new place you will be sent home, where, uprooted, you will begin a new exile.”

My search has just begun and I am not looking for a definitive answer on what “home” is. Adi cautioned me before I left Romania in October that “home” is not necessarily a place. He is, in his grumpy way, right. What I know today is that I don’t want to accumulate too many demons before launching this search. The ones I have are enough for now.

I guess I did end up writing a manifesto. owlspotting: a search. It almost makes me want to come back to this blog. Doesn’t it make you want to do the same?

5 Responses to “A search. Exile. A Manifesto.”

  1. All I want for you is not to lose the Romania you have inside. Wherever your search takes you.

  2. I always come back to this blog anyway 😛 I like your manifesto 🙂

  3. Wonderful book.

  4. I’m back.

  5. A triumphant return… too bad you didn’t get my domain name, though, as I think it pretty much sums up your manifesto 😉 Manea’s book is indeed a masterpiece and I hope that as you continue your life, for now in my hometown of Boston, you will find many more people and do many more things in order to bring yourself closer to at least a satisfactory definition of yourself.

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