The hyphen condition



No use denying: the hyphen in Arizona-me is here to stay.

The hyphen is not a mere punctuation mark. It signals both a proximity and a distance. The hyphen brings Arizona close to me but it also separates Arizona from me.

This hyphen-condition is there everyday: when I wake up until I fall asleep. It also inhabits my dreams as if to punctuate the gap. The hyphen is a fracture deep within my soul.  It signifies that there was another me before Arizona. It reveals that this me in Arizona is still a very unstable condition.

Arizona is relentless, cold and scary. It is raw, brute and pretty much like its desert, it can dry you out like a raisin.

I lost my country for you, Arizona. I lost my family. I lost my friends. What do you give  me in return? An unwanted ticket to an unwanted version of myself? The equation does not seem fair.


Lock, stock and barrel.

She called it the adventure of her life. With a glint in her. Little did she know that it would be nothing short of a revolution. How it would unscrupulously penetrate her pores, melt the walls of her entrails, corrode the established life.

No leaf would be left unturned.

He knew it and he was afraid for her. She was so fragile. Brave, granted. But emotionally flimsy, like the wing of a butterfly. Maybe her intelligence would compensate. Fill the void.

What he didn’t know is how much her sadness would sadden him.

You know we are doing it lock, stock and barrel, right? She smiled her disarming smile, waved her hand and dismissed the question, transfixed by the attraction.

Oxford, thirty years later.

My visit to Oxford after living there so many years ago had a distinct smell. It did not only smell of the three years my twenty-year old self lived there. It was beyond a familiar smell of a place I used to know so well. I took deep breaths there: it was that and much more.

I struggle to put into words what happened to me that day. Going back to Oxford brought back such vivid memories of the place and of what I used to be. My care free days as an English student, the friends I made, the routine at my school, my house at Bardwell Road, the river from which we would go panting on weekends, and, above all, how much that place shaped what I would later become.

I remember I used to skip the drab dinners at school and bike to Christ Church to watch the even songs. The magic of that chapel never failed to transport me to a different dimension.

I consent that I might have been too young for all the tradition.  For the Gothic buildings of the colleges and their vine laced walls. For the way the light transformed everything into a golden world.  There is something sacred about Oxford.

“Oxford still remains the most beautiful thing in England, and nowhere else are life and art so exquisitely blended, so perfectly made one”, said Oscar Wilde. And yet Oxford does not enjoy ostentations or celebrations. It has an elegance that requires you to “tell the truth slant” so maybe I am not yet fit to describe it.

Oxford is built on layers of tradition and learning. It silences you in a rather humble way.


Many years ago when I was studying language acquisition, I learned Krashen’s theory of second language learning. It consists of five main hypotheses.  One of them is the “affective filter hypothesis”, which suggests that learner’s ability is affected negatively when they are experiencing emotions such as fear or embarrassment.

Sometimes I have the impression that my language skills are deteriorating rather than improving.  It is not a matter of aging, but rather the so-called affective filter hypothesis. I still recall that, as a child, I used to stutter when my mom scolded me. I am a grown adult but I still stutter, especially when I feel unfairly challenged. I also speak more slowly and tend to pause at the end of the sentence, as if waiting for the last word.

For me, language is deeply connected to the maternal self. The mother tongue, the mother country. How ironical that I keep wanting to go back to my mother tongue, when I used to be a foreign language teacher.