My sixteen year old daughter made a rare and very much appreciated appearance at the dinner table on Sunday. I love the way her curious and engaged young mind can elevate mealtime chatter, seemingly without effort and often, it seems to me, without even awareness. There was some music playing in the background and I saw how an instrumental bridge in the song that was playing caused her antennae to raise. I think she was levitating slightly above her chair, straining to put the notes into context. She identified the song, or so she thought, and then realized that what she'd identified was a sample from a song that she knew that had been embedded in a different song. As she recalled the sample, she started to remember the context that had made it meaningful to her and how this original context had shape-shifted for her the meaning of the music we were listening to. I haven't always understood the use of sampling in music and I confess that I'd even been guilty once or twice of claiming in the manner of curmudgeonly old farts everywhere that the practice was evidence that young people making music were falling short of good ideas and so were borrowing ideas from the classics. I know better now, but the few words that my daughter uttered at the dinner table made me think of all of this in a somewhat different way. So I sat for a few minutes, a bit slackjawed, thinking about Salman Rushdie.
By utter coincidence, earlier on the same day I'd been re-reading an old essay by Rushdie entitled "Imaginary Homelands". When I first read this essay, sometime in the early 1990s, I'd resonated to its content mostly because I found validation of my own feelings of displacement from a homeland that I was raised to think of as my place of origin, but about which I had only the most fleeting of memories. I'd almost completely forgotten about this essay until my more recent ruminations on ideas about Home, and on Sunday afternoon, sitting on the deck of the 24th place that I've come to think of as the place I live with a capital H, I squinted my way through an online copy of the essay using my tiny phone screen. The irony of that was not completely lost to me. To suppose that Rushdie's essay is about simple feelings of alienation from homeland would not really do it any justice at all, but on re-reading it in the context of my current self-experiment, the part that jumped out at me was his description of his own recollections of Home in India, which he said mostly consisted of the quotidian: "a shaky edifice we build out of scraps, dogmas, childhood injuries, newspaper articles, chance remarks, old films, small victories, people hated, people loved…." It reminded me in so many ways of my own recent trip Home in which I'd been struck by how the most powerfully evocative memories were of the smallest and seemingly insignificant details: the view down an alleyway that ran behind my house, a lampshade hanging in a living room looking exactly as it had almost a half-century ago when I left that room on a frosty cold morning to fly to Canada, a filled-in pass-through from kitchen to dining room that I'd watched my young and brawny father bash open with a sledge hammer. I may not be able to put all of those fragmentary recollections into any kind of Grand, Unified Theory of Me any more than my kid can find any deep, secret meaning in the chain of associations that ripple through her mind when she listens to some music she vaguely recalls. I'm not sure yet. I'm finding it both sad and liberating to think that no matter how hard I stare into that shattered mirror of my early days, there might not be anything else to see.