Eli Clare’s “Exile and Pride,” delves into Clare’s struggle to leave his home in pursuit of his authentic self. He strives to communicate the way his personhood is still defined by his upbringing despite the pain and exclusion he endured throughout it. He says:
“For years I have wanted to write this story, have tried poems, diatribes, and theories. I’ve failed mostly because I haven’t been able to bridge the chasm between my homesickness for a place thousands of miles away in the middle of logging country and my urban-created politics that have me raging at environmental destruction. I have felt lonely and frustrated. Without the words for this story, I lose part of myself into the chasm.”
Another notable element of this excerpt is Clare’s longing for effective artistic expression. This feeling is all too familiar for me. For introspective individuals like Clare, memories and experiences are crucial to maintaining a sense of identity, and often the complications of the emotions that come with that are difficult to replicate through any art form. It takes us back to the most simplistic questions of “who am I?” and “where do I belong?” How can you articulate your own life experience, your personhood and all of its nuances? Through his explanation of this phenomena, Clare actually achieves the task at hand; he creates art. His words resonate. Clare’s writing style plays a significant role in this task. He is poetic, descriptive, rambling. His words evoke emotion, pull out familiar human experiences like homesickness, loneliness, frustration. Any individual reading this passage can feel a sense of commiseration, even if they do not share the same experiences.
In losing his childhood home, Eli Clare is forced to find a new home. He finds it, not literally, but within himself and those he surrounds himself with– a queer community filled with others who have often experienced the same rejection and ostracism.
“Only later did I understand what I lost by leaving. Loss of a daily sustaining connection to a landscape that I still carry with me as home. Loss of a rural, white, working-class culture that values neighbors rather than anonymity…” (p.38)
Clare’s loss of his home and complicated upbringing reminded me of a book I read this past year, called “Disobedience.” The novel tells the story of Ronit, an Orthadox Jewish woman returning home for her father’s funeral. Ronit had left her family years prior to pursue a career in New York, though her departure was undoubtedly also related to her romantic relationship with another teenage girl. Years later, both Ronit and her lover, Esti, grapple with the disjointment of their love for one another, and their love for the traditions and community they grew up with. It is unspoken that the two can not coexist.
Both Clare and Ronit express this complicated love and hatred for the worlds they grew up in, knowing they can not exist authentically within homophobic spaces, but also longing for the brighter, familiar semblances of home.