The "Q"

By Rhea Côté Robbins

 Back from the Québec vacation.  For me, Québec always represents a coming-of age-experience.  It is also important for me to be at peace with who I am.  Or, to know yourself well enough so that it cannot be so shaken by someone who does not know you so well. 
 My life in relation to Québec (the "Q") is this:  The "Q" is a quotient, a question, and a quest place.  As a quotient, it equals my being to begin with.  In that, one human being is divided by its own self to create many subdivisions of self.  My relationship to Québec is complex.  I am only partially aware of its cultural tides which wash over me.  The "Q" tells me not to be anything less than I am.  I have difficulty maintaining that impossible equation without the community overload of support which I need in order to maintain a "Q" self. 
 A "Q" self has unconscious self-empowerment to be.  The American "Q" person--a person of French, North American first, European in origin, second, with the "Q" in the middle, descent is too self-conscious to be empowered.  Self-consciousness reduces the ability to move freely.  Self-consciousness provides a platform for flattery--self and otherwise--and a place where ridicule can roost.  Flattery in the form of the "other" asking speak French for us, do a little dance, play a little music, cook us a nice ethnic dish.  Pose pretty, now.  And no real question about who we really are inside.  Ridicule as a means of over-noticing.  You talk with your hands.  Boy, you like bright colors.  An unself-conscious person manage to paint their walls or houses any color they wish.  Making or allowing oneself to become self-conscious is submitting to a subtle form of control.  Flattery--not genuine compliment--is a cheap form of buy-off.  Ridicule reduces expression.
 The quotient requires a landscape.  The question of our being this side of the "Q" is difficult to respond with sufficient landscape when YANKEE is the myth of the land.  And myth it is.  Maine, among the other New England states, is the mythical landscape of Yankee.  Somehow, no matter which direction the winds blow, we are all downeast and yankee.  Of yankee descent.  North American of Yankeeland originally.  It is all so ridiculous in reality.
 Yankee as what?  A substitute for a cauldron of mixed messages about ethnicities which do exist for real.  With percentages.  Just because Washington, D.C. is too busy to count the regional populations, doesn't mean they don't exist.  The majority, the ethnicity, here, being French, weigh in at some healthy common denominator in the quotients.
 The quest is to create our own "Q" place.  I say "Q" because the "Q" for me is the closest at hand for me to relate to in terms of a place where being North American and French is supported.  The "Q" being Québec.  But I talk of the "Q" that is within me.  I'm sure I would be contested on this because some have come so far from the "Q" that they hold no memory of the relationship to the "Q."  In order to know who we are and where we are going, we need to know our "Q." 
 The "Q" as a landscape which, like France of the 1600s, couldn't support or hold all of us.  So we moved on.  And I, for one, historically was moved to the "frontière" as the border signs in Québec indicate.  I was not consulted because I was not born, yet. 
 But I know my "Q" now more than I did.  Notice I said my "Q."  Not someone else's idea or shape of "Q," but mine.  However, much I have.  Alas, it is a self-conscious, deliberate "Q."  My discoveries are not entirely accidental, but neither are they all planned.  I stumble on proof of myself in bookshops in the back of churches on the Ile d'Orléans.  And of my husband's.  He has more printed proof on some counts--he's more Acadian than I am.  I am secretly jealous, I won't speak to him and I go to bed angry at him that night.  It aggravates me that he has more "Q" for the moment.
 Our quest is for a landscape--a landscape which will support our "Q."  Our way of being.  One which is not preceeded by the "Y" of Yankee.  Or the "A" of anonymous.  Our task is formindable.  The first of many steps we need to take is to learn self-love.  Love of our person, of those who are with us in the "Q" place--unplace.  Love of the women and men who visit too much psychological violences on each other because they are misunderstood in a landscape too strange.  A clearer, cleaner jolt of realization of who the usurpers of our "Q" are and who is sleeping with the enemy and why.  More Judiths, less Holofernes.
 The hate, as an enemy within and without, the daily psychological strain of attempting a "Q" self in an "A" or "Y" place is something we need to know of ourselves and of our surroundings.  How is there a clipping of wings?  Muted flight because the plummage is different.  Those who remain true to the "Q" self should be rewarded.  There are many who would bleach our strain from the genus.  Even though nature insists on its varieties.  The survival of the whole depends on its varieties. 
 The quest of creating a landscape can be overwhelming.  Thought and care is given to create a landscape that represents the whole.  I look for balances.  Gender balances, inclusions, recognitions.  And not a pathetic attempt of making oneself visible.  Or a breach of believing in oneself.  An empty promise to be present to oneself. 
 The quotient, question, and quest leave me somewhat outside the landscape of "Q."  I am not alone.  In order to create a way of being we need to understand ourselves better as a group.  Only, we all come from different places, different families and we have different philosophies.  We all need a Bethlehem.  To return to birthplaces, especially of our ancestors so we can know those deep silent unknown places within ourselves.  To go as far back as we can until the lands resounds in hymn on your being there.  I'd heard that song before when I was on the banks of the St. Lawrence, but I did not know that the land was singing to me.  The land and the water blended voices. --1993

The "Q" Place 

The horror of our severed ties--
a knife dulled beyond itself--
the communal voices rising in song--
the one on whose shoulders
 rest the burden of proof
memory, keeping of the ages--
 Our hostage-keeping in a strange
 A language belonging
 land singing no more
  silent waves lapping
 the earth gone quiet
   from lack of understanding
 or translation.
 A foreigner even to self--
  A knife whose blade has
      worn out its usefulness.
  A memory alone without
   its person.
  No owner (in the store)
  is complete without
  believing in oneself.



  Exhiler Truth

I am an exhile from my own self.
 I sojourn in another man's body
 Woman, that I am
  Ethnic woman
 I pretend men
  men as foreign country
 As myself I am woman
  Woman--divided on her own
  of living or life-giving.

It can be plainer said
 less convolutions
  less degree of depression
 less grade to the hill.
It's Monday morning
 7:00 A.M.
Before the mill shift begins
 Before the day grows old
 with its own weight and heat
 Before you slap the meat 
 in the bread
 cheese on that.

Only as my dream
  will allow
 only as my workday
  does not interfere
Only until the daylight
 of my life will
The truth lies in me
 like a turtle 
  sighing for land
  open market
 devoured without
 thought or consideration.

It can be plainer said.

The myth of goodness
 and holy truth.
The ugliness in all--
 the non-aggression
but private devotions
 of hatred
 of greed and misuse.
Crazy, as they come.
  Loving in the next same

the lop-sided, the uneven
picket fences remain fences
 and are not metaphors
 for a life that does 
 not exist for any.
  or for all.
Fences, with variations on a theme
 and fires, grass fires run
wild or loose
  over the neighbor's
fence long in disrepair.
  Chicken wire, telephone posts
 crushed and aged into the earth
ground, crying
 the others.

I feel as if I live with a bunch 
of zombies.  A whole ethnic race
oblivious, and happy only to oblige
to do so--to erase themselves and
their culture.  Backbone missing
creatures.  Closet dwellers.
Permanent skeletons in their own

By Rhea Côté Robbins
First published in Le FORUM, "The 'Q'," Vol. 22, No. 1, 1994

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