Reconciling Parts of Oneself
Someone once told me something that stuck deep: you can never go back. At the time, we were talking about returning to places that might have once felt like home, and how quickly that can shift. As you move, place to place or project to project, you change. And returning to a place you once were means trying to fit the version of you that you are now – the newer, fresher version – into a landscape that once housed the older model.
I had never felt this quite so strongly as when I returned to Edinburgh at the start of the summer. A city I’d lived in for six years, to work with a film festival I’d been at for nearly as many rounds, in a role I’d done before. It should have been like seamlessly slipping back into a role I’d played a hundred times over but I very quickly became aware of how out of step I felt. I retraced old routes of the beautiful winding city that is Edinburgh and felt like a stranger to the rhythms of the cobblestones. The only thing that felt in some way normal was the friends I saw in the time I was there, maybe because they were already expecting the slightly different version of Suzey. They were prepared and welcoming of any change – but the city was not so forgiving.
It felt strange, too, to feel so out of sync with a city that, in a sense, made me who I am. It was in Edinburgh that I became a writer. It was in Edinburgh that I made many of my lifelong friends. It was in Edinburgh that I grew into someone that would be capable of moving by themselves to a completely different continent.
It was also in Edinburgh that I took my first steps into what would become my career. It was in Edinburgh, and through the incredible guidance and mentorship of some of the people that I’ve had the pleasure to work with over the years, that I turned “well, I quite like films, I guess”, in 2014, into working nearly full-time in the industry, by 2019.
This disconnect from a city that was such an important part of my development also further confused my sense of self. If I took out the Edinburgh, having never felt quite at home in Aberdeen, where did that leave me? Never sure whether to describe myself as English, or Scottish, or British to start with, everything seemed that much more convoluted.
From Edinburgh, I again flew east, towards Finland. And there came the whole other part to the puzzle. Unlike my brothers, for one reason or another, I have always strongly identified with my Finnish side. When asked, I will pretty consistently describe myself as being half English/Scottish/British (chosen term typically depending on my mood, or the politics, on the day in question) and half Finnish. I have never lived there, never spending more than a few weeks out of the year in the country but I hold to my citizenship dearly and speak the language just as best as I can. Certainly, when people learn of my Finnish heritage, a look of understanding crosses their face.
“Ah,” they say. “That’s it.”
My accent may be hard to place, shifting and assimilating so much that I have gone from such extremes as being mistaken as being from the Highlands one month to the U.S. the next, but I do look incredibly Nordic. (This comes both from my English/Scottish/British side as it does my Finnish but that’s a story for another day).
Perhaps it is my relationship with my mother that roots me so deeply into my Finnish side. Being as close to her as I am, maybe that’s what makes it so important to me that I do not lose that. I said as much to her this summer, after attending my cousin’s wedding, the first Finnish family event I’ve been to in living memory. I was determined not to lose this link: not my language, not my citizenship, and, fundamentally, not the relationship with what relatives I have there.
I danced with my cousin at her wedding and a look crossed upon both of our faces at how surreal it was. We had not spent time together as adults, ever. The last time I’d seen her, I’d been an awkward pre-teen with a penchant for bright red skinny jeans. (God, I wish I could go back in time and burn those things, I really do).
There are parts of ourselves that we carry with us that are always present and there are parts that once were, and no longer are. At one time, Edinburgh was home, but now it is not. I once lived in Aberdeen but it was never really home. I am Finnish but I am also English/Scottish/British, or some combination of the lot.
We are all many things. I am a writer, and a film industry professional, and a very amateur tap dancer. I am a daughter, and a sister, and an aunt, and a friend. I am more than I was yesterday and less than I will be tomorrow, or next week, or next year.
We can’t go back. But would we really want to?