writing

Why Write?

IMG_2196

Somebody recently told me I am a terrible writer and I will never be good at it. So then I had a mini existential crisis. I couldn’t write anything. I thought maybe I should just stop. Why do I do it?

I never considered myself a literary genius and would never deem to compare myself to great writers. But what makes a great writer? In English class we learn that prose full of beautiful words and images is great writing. I spent years studying English and Spanish literature analyzing books and poems. What was the author saying? What did it all really mean? What did the images represent? The writing was beautiful and sometimes the stories were interesting. But I have to admit I did and still do skip over a lot of the wordy prose to get to the content.

When I was in the fourth grade I started reading biographies of famous musicians. I read about Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Hayden. I was intrigued by their lives, where they came from, how they became who they were. My fourth grade English teacher didn’t like it. She though I should be reading Little Women. She told me I could not check out any more books until I had finished reading Little Women. Of course I read it but it was boring. Who cared about a bunch of women looking for a husband? I was nine years old.

As I got older I grew to appreciate the classics and at one point I was a voracious reader of anything and everything. When I lived in Africa if there was a book lying around, I would read it. Didn’t matter what it was. But my first love was history. Books about real people and real places.

After I had my child I stopped reading. I tried to read for a while but I kept picking up books that did not hold my interest. I read picture books, books about fantastical explorers, Harry Potter but not much else.

The truth is a lot of writing is not very good. A lot of books aren’t worth reading. They are boring or don’t make sense. I used to think I had to finish a book I started. I don’t anymore. If it doesn’t hold my interest I don’t bother.

Don’t get me wrong, I have been wowed by great prose and beautiful images. One of the reasons I like Gertrude Stein so much is the way she plays around with words. I can’t sit down and read a whole book by her but it is fun to pick one up from time to time and read a paragraph or a chapter.

Writing, like any art, is subjective. People like different genres and styles. I used to be a painter and some people liked my art and some hated it. I never cared because I always did art for myself. I never aspired to fame or fortune in that area. I went from painting to drawing to needlework. I make art because I love the creative process.

The same has been for my writing. I started out writing poetry in the seventh grade. I wrote dark poems about death and the meaning of life and the futility of it all. The tumultuous teens. It was a release that helped me muddle through. Journaling also helped me maintain my sanity and keep things in perspective. I did it for myself.

Writing my book was a difficult emotional process for me. It brought out joy, fear, disappointment, grief, and love. It was never about great writing. I hoped to convey a message and tell a story and inform.

And that is why I do it. And I will continue to do it.

 

Trailing: A Memoir

51q6WF4cezL

 

 

 

 

 

There has been much discussion lately about the term “trailing spouse” and whether it is appropriate or even polite. It projects a sense of “other” rather than something that makes up a whole. I usually conger up a vision of a dog’s tail. Other terms being used are “accompanying partner”, “expat wife”, “support partner”. Expat Lingo says she had been called a ‘stakeholder at home’. I have used the term ‘world juggler’ before.

But in the end, whatever you call it, the trailing spouse is usually the support system, the glue that holds it all together. Sometimes the glue falls apart and life can be rough.

In Trailing: A Memoir by Kristin Louise Duncombe, things fall apart.  Kristin grew up all over the world so when she met her Argentine husband, the thought of moving overseas didn’t seem so strange. Although she did have her reservations about putting her career on hold, she didn’t have a passion about what she did and had not clearly defined what she wanted to do. Her husband, a doctor with Doctors Without Borders was passionate about what he did and had no questions about what he was going to do. She was in love. She married him and went to Kenya.

Being a TCK (Third Culture Kid) myself, I also thought following my husband overseas would be no problem. Even though you have lived in many places around the world, the child TCK and the Adult TCK have different experiences and challenges. I had no support system behind me as we just up and moved. Kristin had a small “family” of doctors but it did not help much since most of them were single and always on the road. Her husband was gone much of the time.

On the other hand, I think she showed remarkable resilience. She found herself some work at a Nairobi hospital helping teens and eventually found a position with USAID at the US Embassy. Unfortunately the Embassy was bombed and she lost her job but by that time her husband had taken a position in Uganda. After having a baby, she finds a job in a small village outside Kampala. She never sees her husband and the marriage starts to unravel.

I found myself identifying with this book on several levels. I had a difficult adjustment when I moved to Russia. My husband was a freelancer. There were no benefits or perks. As soon as I landed I was expected to find a job and help with financial support. If found jobs mainly doing clerical administrative work but I also fell into a writing position for the American Women’s Club and was able to improve my writing skills and help other expat women at the same time. I edited and produced a newsletter that helped to build a community.

Everybody has a different experience when they live overseas. I knew couples who were both professionals in their own right. I knew women who moved around the globe on their own and met their husband along the way. One woman was a very successful diplomat and her husband did his own thing in another country but was able to work remotely. Some people take the time to write books. There is always something to do. I found my way and started writing and wrote a memoir.

The current challenge for international organizations is to find the balance and provide options for accompanying partners. With today’s technology, there are much more possibilities available.

Kristin’s happy ending was her husband accepted a position in Paris and she managed to set up a successful counseling practice working with expat families who are trying to cope with life overseas. After having gone through the worst of it, she now had all the tools necessary to help others in similar situations.Trailing: A Memoir is well written and engaging. It makes me want to know more about her. It is available on Amazon.com.

 

 

Blogging and Chocolate Cake

matterhorn

 

 

 

 

 

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

I have been blogging for two years now. Seems like just yesterday. I started my blog to promote my book, Expat Alien. I didn’t know what I was doing or if anybody would even read it. What I found was a whole new world. There are millions of bloggers out there. I had no idea. People blog about everything. Some blog a lot, some not so much.

IMG_0490

To mark the occasion I though I might find one of Julia Child’s cake recipes. It seemed appropriate since she was an expat. However her recipes tend to be three and four pages long and that is a lot of work. So here is my favorite chocolate cake recipe that I have made a million times. It comes from the Joy of Cooking 1975 edition.

And keep on blogging!

IMG_0491

Cocoa Devil’s Food Cake

Two 9-inch round pans

Pre heat oven to 375 degrees F

Combine, beat until well blended, and set aside:

1 cup sugar

½ cup cocoa

½ cup buttermilk or yogurt

Beat until soft

½ cup butter

Add gradually and cream until light:

1 cup sifted sugar

Beat in, one at a time:

2 eggs

Beat in cocoa mixture.

Sift before measuring:

2 cups cake flour

Resift with:

1 tsp baking soda

½ tsp salt

Add the flour in 3 parts to the butter mixture, alternately with:

½ cup buttermilk or yogurt

1 tsp vanilla

Beat batter after each addition just until smooth.

Grease the pans and cook for 35 minutes in a 375 degree F oven.

When cooled, spread the cake with your favorite icing.

 

 

Expat Gertrude Stein

Gertrude Stein-996e11046cc60620a5e89c3a4491d5222249be35-s6-c30

 

 

 

 

 

I discovered Gertrude Stein my senior year in high school when I was taking an Art History class. I was told to write a paper on something to do with art and I couldn’t think of anything so my teacher gave me a book called “Matisse, Picasso and Gertrude Stein with Two Shorter Stories” by Gertrude Stein. I think I wrote my paper on Picasso but what grabbed my interest was Gertrude. I was hooked. I had never read anything like it. I asked my teacher why they didn’t tell us about her in English class. I was informed not everybody appreciated Gertrude.

DP220028

Pablo Picasso, Portrait of Gertrude Stein, 1906, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. When someone commented that Stein didn’t look like her portrait, Picasso replied, “She will.” Stein wrote “If I Told Him: A Completed Portrait of Picasso” in response to the painting.

Gertrude was born 140 years ago on February 3, in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. Her father and her uncle owned a textile business with stores in Pittsburgh and Baltimore, Maryland. The brothers did not get along so in 1875 her father took the family to live in Vienna, Austria. Thus began Gertrude’s travels. Three years later they moved to Paris and lived there for five years. They spent 1879 with relatives in Baltimore where Gertrude learned English after speaking first German and then French.

The family moved to Oakland, California in 1880. Gertrude’s mother, Amelia died eight years later of cancer. Gertrude was 14. Two years later her father died and she returned to Baltimore to live with an aunt. She went on to study philosophy and English at Radcliff College and ended up back in Baltimore studying medicine at Johns Hopkins. She spent her summers traveling around Europe with her brother, Leo. By 1903, she was failing her classes and her scandalous lesbian love affair ended badly. She moved to Paris and did not return to America for 30 years.

Gertrude and Leo collected art and became friends with many artists of the day. Leo started to paint and Gertrude wrote. They held Saturday night salons in their home to meet and promote artists and writers. In 1906 Picasso painted her portrait and gave it to her. Her portrait of Picasso was published about twenty years later.

Picasso

She wrote The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas in 1933. This was her first “mainstream” piece and it was a bestseller. She was fifty-nine years old. Enjoying her new-found fame, she embarked on a lecture series across America, her first time back since moving to France.

“When I was in America for the first time travelled pretty much all the time in an airplane and when I looked at the earth I saw all the lines of cubism made at a time when not any painter had ever gone up in an airplane. I saw there on the earth the mingling lines of Picasso, coming and going, developing and destroying themselves. I saw the simple solution of Braque, I saw the wandering lines of Masson, yes I saw and once more I knew that a creator is contemporary, he understands what is contemporary when the contemporaries do not yet know it…” –Picasso

I admit it can be difficult to read some of her work. She writes long sentences without any punctuation and repeats herself endlessly. In Lectures in America she writes:

I began to get enormously interested in hearing how everybody said the same thing over and over again with infinite variations but over and over again until finally if you listened with great intensity you could hear it rise and fall and tell all that there was inside them, not so much by the actual words they said or the thoughts they had but the movement of their thoughts and words endlessly the same and endlessly different.  – Lectures in America

She returned to France and moved to the country during World War II living a low profile simple life. In 1946 she was diagnosed with colon cancer and died on the operating table. She left her writings to Yale University, her Picasso portrait to the New York Metropolitan Museum, and everything else to her lifelong companion, Alice B Toklas. She was buried at Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris with a tombstone designed by Francis Rose. Her birthplace was misspelled “Allfghany” and her date of death was two days off.

I think her writings are wonderful pieces of art and I enjoy reading them albeit in short bursts. She had a wonderful sense of humor, said what she thought and lived life to the fullest.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In an essay for Life Magazine in 1945 she wrote:

When General Osborne came to see me just after the victory, he asked me what I thought should be done to educate the Germans. I said there is only one thing to be done and that is to teach them disobedience, as long as they are obedient so long sooner or later they will be ordered about by a bad man and there will be trouble. Teach them disobedience, I said, make every German child know that it is its duty at least once a day to do its good deed and not believe something its father or its teacher tells them, confuse their minds, get their minds confused and perhaps then they will be disobedient and the world will be at peace. The obedient peoples go to war, disobedient people like peace, that is the reason that Italy did not really become a good Axis, the people were not obedient enough, …

General Osborn shook his head sadly, you’ll never make the heads of an army understand that.

– Off We All Went to See Germany

You can listen to Gertrude Stein reading from her work online.

 

- Original post at: Baltimore Post Examiner

TCK Resilience

Photo on 11-26-12 at 8.32 AM

Resilience is defined as the ability to bounce back quickly, to cope with stress and adversity.  According to some people Third Culture Kids are very resilient.  I never thought of myself that way.  I just dealt with things as they came up and moved on.  It was like being on auto pilot.

When I landed in a country I had never been to before and there was nobody to meet me at the airport, I didn’t hesitate at all.  I changed money and went looking for some kind of transportation.  I wasn’t going to sit around worrying about it.  Although, had I sat around for a while, I might have seen my father come looking for me instead of missing him as we crossed paths.

When I went to boarding school at 13 and people thought I was weird I did whine about it a little.  But I moved on.  I slowly figured out that I needed to adapt and try to fit in.  I was young for my age and had lived overseas all my life.  I landed in the USA in the middle of a cultural revolution I knew very little about.   I absorbed all the information I could and not only did I adapt to it all but I embraced it.

When we moved to Africa a few years later and I went off to boarding school in Switzerland, I was prepared to live away from home and up on world topics.  I was ahead of the curve.

Once again it all broke down when I went to college in the USA.  I was too international now.  I had to rein it in and become more local.  I had to adapt to another culture.  I was so used to discussing travel, European art, and world politics with my peers that I didn’t think before I opened my mouth and blabbed about my high school experiences.  My new peers could not relate and thought I was bragging.

My new persona emerged and I was quiet inside my shell for a long time.  No more story telling here.  But I managed to eventually adapt to that as well.  I made friends and existed on a different level.  I became one of them.

So who was I?  How could I find myself and figure out what I should be doing?  All I wanted to do was get out of town.  To move on.  That’s what I had always done, wasn’t it?  Just dealt with the immediate problem and moved on.  I didn’t know why.  I never really thought about it that much.  I just knew I was not comfortable.  I was searching for something but didn’t know what it was.  I was living between cultures.  I didn’t feel American but I didn’t feel Mexican or Colombian or Nigerian, or Swiss.  I was unique, I was different.

Years later I learned I was a Third Culture Kid  - somebody who grew up in a culture not their own.  I discovered  I was not the only one who felt this way. Norma McCaig of Global Nomads wrote:

The benefits of this upbringing need to be underscored:  In an era when global vision is an imperative, when skills in intercultural communication, linguistic ability, mediation, diplomacy, and the management of diversity are critical, global nomads are better equipped in these areas by the age of eighteen than are many adults… These intercultural and linguistic skills  are the markings of the cultural chameleon — the young participant-observer who takes note of verbal and nonverbal cues and readjusts accordingly, taking enough of the coloration of the social surroundings to gain acceptance while maintaining some vestige of identity as a different animal, an “other.”

I wish I had read that when I was eighteen!  :)

Does knowing all of this solve my restlessness, make me more comfortable?  No, it doesn’t solve it but it helps me understand it.  I know what it is and why I am the way I am.  It isn’t a bad thing.  But as I grow older, I think I have become less tolerant of ignorant people.  If somebody doesn’t know where France is or hates Muslims, or thinks Berlusconi is a type of pasta, I just don’t really bother to put any effort out.  I let it go.  When I was younger, I would try to educate or sometimes I would just brush it aside and try to make myself acceptable to them.  I don’t do that anymore.  I move on.

I recently published a book about all my trials and tribulations, joys and challenges and adventures growing up all over the world.  But it was not easy.  I spent a lot of time writing with tears streaming down my face.  I suppose I need deep psycho therapy to figure that out.  But when it was all done.  I felt better.  Something had been resolved.  I had accomplished what I set out to do and I felt positive.  I still do.  Although I am now facing another hurdle.  Being single for the first time in many years.  Not sure if that is a good thing or a bad one.    Oh, well.  I guess I will just have to deal with it and move on….

I’m feeling resilient.

 

 

Blog of the Year Thanksgiving

 

 

 

 

It is almost Thanksgiving Day in the USA.  I think it is the most important holiday we have.  It has nothing to do with religion or ethnicity.  It is the one day a year this big melting pot comes together on common ground and takes a moment to reflect on all the things they have and should be thankful for.  They don’t all eat Turkey, they don’t all watch Football, they don’t all have big families surrounding them, but they all have something to be thankful for, even if it is something small.  And this day should remind them of that.

One thing I am thankful for is this blog and all the fellow bloggers I have come in contact with over the past 8 months.  I love writing little stories and reading other people’s pieces.  I am only sorry I don’t have time to read as much as  I would like.  There is so much interesting stuff out there!!

Maggie at Fly Away Home was one of my first followers and she has been very supportive all the way through.  I have enjoyed reading about her life in Norway and growing up on the New Jersey shore.  Her book, Fly Away Home, is great! Check it out.

Maggie has now bestowed the Blog of the Year 2012 Award on me. Thank you, Maggie!

Well, it has been an interesting year.

I started my blog with my new Mantra:  “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

I have written 109 posts about growing up TCK, travel, genealogy, my current life, and various other miscellaneous things that popped into my head.  I started a Food Friday blog that brought me back to my love of cooking.  And, I published my memoir, Expat Alien.

Plus I had my gallbladder removed!!   (Thank you all for your comments and best wishes!)

I have a lot to be thankful for.

I am passing this award to:

Wanderlust Gene – because her beautiful photos are other-worldly and transport me to far away places

ExpatLingo – because she makes me laugh

Dounia – because she is a fellow TCK who “gets” it

Moonbeam McQueen– because she persevered and published her book, Peculiar Rhymes and Intimate Observations: A Book of Light Verse

Award Rules:

  • Select the blogs you think deserve the ‘Blog of the Year 2012 Award’.
  • Write a post and tell about the blogs you have chosen and present them with their award.
  • Please include a link back to this page Blog of the 2012 Year Award and include these rules (do not alter the rules or the badges).
  • Let the blogs you have chosen know that you have given them this award and share the rules with them.
  • You can now also join our Facebook page – click the link here Blog of the Year 2012 Award and then you can share your blog with an even wider audience.

As a winner of the award please add a link back to the blog that presented you with the award. Proudly display the award on your side bar and start collecting stars.

She Wore White Linen

 

 

 

 

 

 

November is National Novel Writing Month.  The goal is to write a 50,000 word novel between November 1, and November 30.  Well, a first draft, anyway.  I don’t know if it is possible but I figure, why not give it a try?  Motivation!!!!!

 

Chapter 1

Stepping off the airplane the air was thick enough to cut with a knife.  She choked on her first breath, faltering for a moment, the second one came easier.  She was dressed in white linen, fitting for the tropics.   Or so she thought.  She had not taken the dirt and grime of an African city into consideration.  She was not going to a vacation resort but one of the bustling capitals of the Dark Continent.  Having never been in this part of the world before, she had no idea what she was getting herself into.  She was to find a completely alien world.

As she saw everybody pushing and shoving to get through immigration, she began to realize it would be some time before she arrived at her destination.  Passports were being waved in the air and the rank smell of people who were obviously unaware of soap filled her nostrils.  She tried to keep her composure but decided she must stand her ground if she ever wanted to get out of the airport.

Finally the immigration man took her passport.  She smiled at him using all her charm hoping it would speed up the process.  It did not.  He tediously filed out the necessary forms and stamped everything several times and then he leaned down and gruffly said,  “Make your way to the Health Counter”.

There being no through passage, she had to fight her way back through the crowd and around to the next stop.  Her vaccinations were in order and again she fought her way to the luggage area.  There, young boys descended on her asking to carry her bags.  Being laden down with a coat, a carry-on bag, and her purse, she agreed to let them.  They had to dig through the pile but finally all her luggage was accounted for.

As she approached the gate, an official asked if she had anything to declare.  She couldn’t think what he meant and said “No”.

On the other side of the gate, a mob was stretching to see the people inside, looking for a familiar face or an easy mark.  Several men asked her if she wanted a taxi but she paid no attention as she was also stretching to see a familiar face.

Her dark brown eyes relaxed as a man in khaki shorts and sandals came up to her.  He kissed her on the cheek and asked about her trip.

“Long and crowded” she answered, “I’m exhausted.  And I can’t believe this stifling heat!  How do you stand it?”

“You will get used to it.”

“And the smell?”

“You will get used to that, too”,  he said, laughing.

Chapter 2

She hadn’t seen her brother in two years.  He looked well.  Tan and thin.  He was a little taller than she was but not much.  They shared the same brown eyes but he had lighter hair.  Maybe from the sun.

Ned was living in the bush, working on some contract related to the US Embassy.  He was probably some kind of spy.  She didn’t really know what he was doing.  But he seemed to like it.

They piled into his rugged white Peugeot sedan and headed off into nightmare traffic.  It took them five hours to reach their destination, a large village north of the city.  It was crowded and dirty and smelly but she was glad to finally arrive and unwind with a glass of wine on the porch.  Her time was so messed up she couldn’t really think.  She just went with the flow.

“Sorry but I’ve accepted an invitation for us to go out tonight.”

“What?”

“It’s the Christmas Pantomime and then a light supper at a friend’s house.  It will be fun.  You can sleep through the pantomime.”

“Fine.”

 

HaHa… I’ve got a long way to go… where will it take me?

 

 

 

 

 

Inspiring Blogs

So, not TOO long ago I was awarded an award….  the Inspiring Blog Award.

This came from Expatially Mexico, a German woman, married to a hotel manager, living on a beach in Mexico.  Can you imagine a better life?  She has a great sense of humor and appreciates her new surroundings.  You should check out her blog for sure.

I like awards for two reasons.  One, it brings out a more creative element where pretty much anything goes.  And Two, you meet the most interesting people!!

I back-tracked this award to see what “rules” there were and found all kinds of interesting people who don’t follow any rules.  Awesome!!

Check them out too…

Inspiring is the word of the this blog….  What inspires me, what inspires you.

I like this definition:   to exert a stimulating or beneficial effect upon (a person); animate or invigorate

Animate.  What Animates me?

Good wine

Heated conversation

Getting lost in any city

A good joke

And of course, Gertrude Stein, my personal word god.  From Patriarchal Poetry:

Let her be to be to be to be let her be to be to be let her to be let her to be let her be to be when it is that they are shy

Very well to try

Let her be that is to be let her be that is to be let her be let her try

Let her try

Let her be let her be let her be let her be to be to be let her be let her try

To be shy

Let her be

Let her try

Cheers to all of you.  And here are a few you I will pass the baton to in case they feel inspired:

Dounia

Valerie Davies

A Chip Off the Old Blog

A Moving Story

Clearing Customs

Ha!  That should keep you busy for a while!

Happy Inspirations!

My First Review!

 

 

 

 

A huge thank you to Linda at Adventures in Expat Land for taking the time to read and review my book Expat Alien.

Riveting Expat Reading: Expat Alien

August 17, 2012 by LAJ

Last week I was away spending some well deserved time alone with Husband, Son and Daughter. After the hectic and emotionally draining summer we’ve had, it was nice to enjoy the sun, surf and sand on Captiva Island in southern Florida.

It was good for us to reconnect as a family, relaxing individually and collectively as one day slipped into the next. We also made sure to store up the sunlight for colder, darker days ahead back home in Nederland, but we needn’t address that at the moment.

One thing I did do while relaxing was to catch up on some expat reading.

Continue reading…

The Book

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alone, I am nothing.  I am made up of little pieces of the world.  Bits of many people and places.

When I was very little I lived in Burma and there was a small bridge not far from my house where I used to go play.  The whole world lived under that bridge and I controlled it.  I observed and reigned.  I never dared step in to that world, though.  It was too dangerous. I stayed on the outside with my nanny protecting me.

Writing a book is a gargantuan task.  It is one of the scariest things in the world.  Not only is there the fear of failure  –  “even if I do finish it, will anybody want to read it?”…. but, there is also the fear of losing a part of yourself.  Every writer must give a piece of themselves, a part of their soul.

Will it be enough?  Is it noteworthy?  Why is it necessary?  Somebody I know once told me it is a form of immortality.  All humans strive for immortality and writing is the way to achieve it.  Maybe.  But is that why we do it?   Really?

It might be a way to sort out all the things that get jumbled up in your brain.  People imagine stories and can’t stop thinking about them, or they have very intense experiences that need to be defused.  Maybe it is a form of therapy.  Maybe it is just a whim.

The only thing I ever really wanted to do was to write a book.  But I thought I would never be able to do it.  I was not a good writer.  I didn’t have any writing training.  I was sure to fail.  And yet, I started writing a journal just for myself.  I kept all my stories in my journal.  I rewrote them.  I expanded on them.  I wrote them again.  I read more books.  And then I decided, I would write my book.

Eighteen years ago I wrote my first draft.  Ha!  I read an article recently on how the more revisions you have the more you are apt to succeed.  I think I must have the most revisions ever.  This book and I have grown up together.  I have made peace with many things.  I have cried over many things.  I have been touched by many things.  I have learned many things.  And I have let go of many things.  It has grown and shrunk.  And I could probably go on revising it for many years to come.  But I will not.  It is done.

I am a Leo and August is my month.  Watch this space.