The familiar exotic
“Make the familiar exotic; the exotic familiar.” — Bharati Mukherjee
I’m pretty good at making the exotic familiar, or at least trying. When Jeff and I travel, we tend to avoid the tourist routes and go to places where the locals are: public transportation, grocery stores, municipal libraries. The more intriguing a city is, the more I am determined to walk through it enough times to get a feel for the neighborhoods and the pulse of daily activity. It can be daunting at times, especially when one doesn’t know the language, but it’s also comforting to be where the people are, going about lives that are strikingly similar to our own despite the varied contexts.
I’m not quite as good at seeing the exotic in the familiar. Yet I know it’s there, hiding in plain sight. When Drew was in first grade, his teacher assigned the students to write to their grandmothers (and great-grandmothers, if they were lucky enough to have them) with questions about daily life when they were children. It was one of the most memorable school experiences I know of, because the letters we received in answer to Drew’s inquiries were fascinating to the point of seeming exotic.
These were women I thought I knew well, but I learned things about them I had never known. We also realized that their school experiences, so different from those of today’s children, were scarcely mentioned in the history texts. I came away with the understanding of how little of our past is ever documented, and how much it comes to life when told in everyday details that historians often leave out.
The popularity of scrapbooks, journals and blogs is adding exponentially to the everyday history that is being recorded, and I’m so glad! When I read posts from Bindu or Z or Sydney Fong, or look at the beautiful photos from Cindy Knoke, Michael Lai, or another Julia who loves to take photos, to name just a few of the many people all over the world whose work I enjoy, I feel a bit more familiar with the exotic. And I am inspired to discover the exotic in my own familiar life, things that are unique to my particular world that I am happy to share with others.
I invite you to join in the worldwide conversation by reading, commenting, or starting your own blog or online journal to introduce other people to your corner of the world. I think you’ll find, as I did, that the blogging community is a friendly and supportive group, where newcomers are always welcome. It’s a wonderful antidote to the news media stories about conflict, hostility and fear. There’s a lot of good news out here in the blogosphere – welcome to our world!