ripping off skin
March 24, 2009, 8:05 pm
Filed under: departure lounge | Tags: , , ,

[-, diane arbus, rachelle mozman]

Here is an excerpt from Jane Alison‘s beautiful, painful book The Sisters Antipodes.  The book is a memoir of what it takes to survive a betrayal – when she and her sister were little, her parents met another couple, also with two daughters, and swapped partners.

The book is also about transcience – her step father was a diplomat and they moved between Australia and the United States.  In this excerpt, she describes how personal achievement becomes critical when all you have in your life that is stable is yourself.

Moving a lot as a child means you keep starting over from nothing, proving yourself again and again.  It’s like being a thin sandy solution and, by fierce will, making that solution congeal around you.  And the more you move to alien places the more often you have to do this, like being dropped into acids that dissolve you each time.  Personal traits need to be asserted in each new place, which means contests must be waged and won.  If you’ve worked hard to become anything – fastest runner, best skater, funniest girl, anything – these terms have melted into your skin, become your skin, and must be preserved.  If you stay in one place, your standing and self are only threatened when a new, outside girl appears.  But if you keep being new; and your name is new and must be practiced, embarassing, on dotted lines; and your father is new, although it’s never clear whether you should write down both fathers or add the word step or just pretend he’s really yours; and your nationality is new, to be checked in the right box, not the wrong one, as if you had no clue what you were:  Then the attributes that are truly yours – fastest, best, smartest – are crucial.  To take them away is like ripping off skin.  So on top of the split and the jealousy it engendered, all the moving and remaking made us bitterly competitive as a matter of course.

Jane Alison, The Sisters Antipodes

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