Jorge Braña
¿Who am I?

 

By definition I am a foreigner, irrespective of where I am (even in Chile, my country of birth). I have wondered in the world without really wanting to, leaving pieces of self everywhere. My roots are in Chile, my childhood in Buenos Aires, my spirit in Montreal, my residence in Austin, after too many years in New Jersey. The folks I love are dispersed around the planet, to the point that getting my six kids together at any time would be a miracle. Who knows how long before I take leave again.

As a child I had a virtue that would decide my fate: I was good in math. "When you grow up, you will be an engineer" - repeated my mom; but not just my mother: also my grandparents, my uncles, my teachers, the principal of my school.  At twelve I knew without a doubt it was going to be that way, and if anybody had suggested something else I would have looked at that person as if coming from Mars.  I also had a weakness: I was often with the head in the moon, trapped in some fantasy. This terrible vice was  assiduously condemned by all adults around me, and I had to repress it under my father's threat to force me to join the Chilean Navy so they would put "your feet on the ground". Ironically, because of the political earthquakes in the country a few years later, the militia almost put my "neck in the rope." I was saved by Ionesco (the famous playwright), but that's a different story (which I will tell some day).

As an engineer, by force I landed, unconscious of a little problem: suppressing the fantasies was filling my soul with ghosts. At thirty two, I had my first breakdown: I started vomiting ghosts. I quickly hid them in the bottom drawer of my old wooden desk, far from the eyes of onlookers. But after several breakdowns, they were sneaking out of my ears and pockets, and I had no option but to come to terms with them. Writing has been for years the way to reconcile with my world of fantasies, though I confess that, barring a few friends, I have done little to share them with the world.

The first time I wrote about me I started by saying I didn't know who I was. Every time I start again I believe for a moment that I do, but only for a moment. The truth is, I am not sure whether I exist - even if I think - or I am a character in one of the tales in Julio Cortazar's Blow-Up and Other Stories (my all time favorite book), or an "ally" of Don Genaro, summed up when he needs me, or I am dreaming myself, as the character in Borges' story, or perhaps the dream of a butterfly, like Zhuangzi, in the Chinese tale. I suspect that when death comes to take me somewhere in time and space, I will still not know. Amadeu de Prado, the mysterious doctor-writer in Pascal Mercier's brilliant Night Train to Lisbon, ponders: we carry inside so many lives, so many destinies, and yet we live only one. What happens to the others, where do they go?

Oh well, we must continue to define ourselves, to search like warriors, without losing hope, even if we can only approximate the truth.