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
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
A language belonging
land singing no more
silent waves lapping
the earth gone quiet
from lack of understanding
A foreigner even to self--
A knife whose blade has
worn out its usefulness.
A memory alone without
No owner (in the store)
is complete without
believing in oneself.
I am an exhile from my own self.
I sojourn in another man's
Woman, that I am
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 degree of depression
less grade to the hill.
It's Monday morning
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
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
thought or consideration.
It can be plainer said.
The myth of goodness
and holy truth.
The ugliness in all--
but private devotions
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
crushed and aged into the
I feel as if I live with a bunch
of zombies. A whole ethnic
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