The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

EXPAT ART AS THERAPY: A new series based on Alain de Botton’s strange and wonderful notions

expat_art_as_therapy introGreetings, Displaced Nationers. While countries in Asia are celebrating harvest and moon festivals, we are marking the occasion with the start of a new series: EXPAT ART AS THERAPY. The series owes its provenance to the fertile and somewhat loony imagination of the young Swiss-English philosopher Alain de Botton. Today and over the next few months, we’ll cover some of the same ground as de Botton in his “Art as Therapy” lecture, in which he demonstrates how art can shed light on life’s big themes.

Except our topic will be the work of international creatives, a subset of artists more generally. Can the art people produce as a result of living among cultures in other parts of the world—and feeling, at times, displaced—shed light on life’s big questions?

Haven’t yet heard of de Botton? Here is (more than) you need to know:

  • Having grown up in both Switzerland and the UK, he’s an Adult Third Culture Kid who comes across as European, English, both and neither.
  • He’s a prolific pop philosopher, with a shelf-full of books and two very popular TED talks to his name.
  • He also has his critics, who call him a “high-brow self-help guru.”
  • Regardless, he hasn’t looked back since his 1997 essay titled How Proust Can Change Your Life became an unlikely blockbuster in the “self-help” category.
  • As explained in a recent Displaced Dispatch—what, not a subscriber yet? get on with it!—de Botton has set up a cultural enterprise in Bloomsbury, London, called The School of Life, which aims to “teach ideas to live by” and “inspire people to change their lives through culture.”

Returning to the aforementioned “art as therapy” lecture, De Botton lists six ways that art can respond to human needs, and in this series I’ll be attempting to apply this scheme to the works of international creatives. Does the art produced by expats, rexpats, TCKS, ATCKs repats, and other international creatives have something to contribute to the good of humanity at large and if so, in what ways?

It all sounds rather grand, doesn’t it—or would grandiose be more accurate? In any event, not to worry, you won’t remember any of this by the time the column starts up properly next month.

That said, perhaps it would help if I left you with a couple of examples of the kinds of questions we’ll be examining, enough to whet your appetite for more.

Here goes:

1) How does it benefit the world that Alan Parker has written a best-selling indie book about what it’s like to be a Brit man trying to raise alpacas in Spain? I’ll warrant that many of us, myself included, have no wish to live in Spain or raise alpacas—yet I did feel moved by the account of his adventures as reported on this blog, and presume that others have as well. What are we all getting out of it?

2) Likewise, are there pleasures for all to be reaped from long-term expat Kathleen Saville’s description of the acacia trees on the island in Zamalek, Gezira Island, where she lives in Cairo? (NOTE: Saville, who blogs at Water Meditations, is a contender for a September Alice Award, which you’d know if you read our most recent Dispatch.) Take me for example. The thought of living in Egypt scares me, and I’ve been avoiding most trees ever since Hurricane Sandy, but after reading Saville’s description of Egyptian acacias—

I see folds and twists in the trunks like nothing I have ever seen in another tree. Each tree looks like a long thin body or leg covered with support hose. It’s odd because the appearance is almost human like.

—I was blown away. Why, and would others with no special interest in Egypt feel the same?

* * *

At this point I hope I’ve said enough for you to make a mental note about checking out next month’s column!

In closing, please join me in a resounding chorus of “Shine on, shine on harvest moon/Up in the sky…” (Click here if you don’t know what I’m talking about or can’t remember the words.) Yes, I know it’s not high art; it’s a Tin Pan Alley stuff. But it’s seasonal and makes me smile—and our mentor, Alain de Botton, would give me a pat on the back for that!

STAY TUNED for Beth Green’s book review column.

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with Alice nominations, book giveaways, and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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LOCATION, LOCUTION: Catriona Troth, novelist – from Scotland to Canada to a long stay in the Chilterns

Kat

In this month’s “Location, Locution”, expat crime writer JJ Marsh interviews Catriona Troth, who was born in Scotland and grew up in Canada before coming back to the UK. She has now lived in the Chilterns longer than she has ever lived in anywhere, a fact that still comes as a surprise.

After more than twenty years spent writing technical reports at work and fiction on the commuter train, Catriona made the shift into freelance writing. Her writing explores themes of identity and childhood memory. Her novella, Gift of the Raven, is set against a backcloth of Canada from the suburbs of Montreal to the forests of the Haida Gwaii. Her novel, Ghost Town, is set in Coventry in 1981, when the city of Two Tone and Ska was riven with battles between skinheads and young Asians.

Which comes first, story or location?
In my case, it’s usually a collision between the two. I have a story in my mind, I look for a location, and when I find the right one, some sort of explosive reaction happens that produces something I never anticipated.

Ghost TownHow do you go about evoking the atmosphere of a place?
I think it’s always about the small, telling details. Readers get bored with long passages of description, so you focus on something striking. It’s important, too, that you appeal to all the readers senses – smell and taste and touch as well and seeing and hearing. It’s also important to see setting not as something static, but as it relates to your characters – how they interact with a place, how it looks through their eyes.

Which particular features create a sense of location? Landscape, culture, food?
It depends. In Gift of the Raven, I was mostly evoking wild places, so landscape was important, and the way colours change with light, and the sounds of wild birds. On the other hand, in my novel, Ghost Town, the setting was the Coventry at a very specific point in time. So I was looking for ways to evoke the contradictions of the city – the old medieval buildings, the post-War concrete monoliths, the grandeur of the new cathedral. But also the little things that mark out what it was like to live in the city at that particular time – like which groups of kids hung out where, how they dressed, what music they liked. One thing that was important to me in both cases was weather – a place can be very different in bright sunshine than it is in teeming rain or thick snow.

How well do you need to know the place before using it as a setting?
For me, knowing the location well allows me to give the story texture and depth. I’m terrible for worrying over whether I have got details right! The internet is great for being able to check things like that – but it can also be a terrible trap, hobbling you when you should be getting the bones of the story down.

Could you give a brief example from your work which you feel brings the location to life?
This is the description, from Gift of the Raven, of a lake in the Rocky Mountains, seen through the eyes of a young boy who is just discovering his own artistic talent.

49560-copyofgiftoftheravencovermediumI was at one end of a narrow lake. The other end disappeared off into tomorrow. Below where I stood, the wind ruffled the edges of the water, but out there it could have been polished stone. A stone so blue you could lose yourself in the colour. At either side—like bold strokes of a palette knife from the sky to the lake—were mountains. Green-black pine over an ash-grey beach, peaks of dazzling white snow …

No. The snow wasn’t just white. In the sunshine it was a hundred different colours. Pink. Blue. Gold. You only saw white if you were too lazy to look.

Which writers do you admire for the way they use location?
A book I read earlier this year which I thought was extraordinary in terms of setting was Peter May’s Lewis Man. He managed to capture the way islands of Hebrides change, day by day, with the changing weather, and also the way the character of the different islands change with the character of their inhabitants. Masterly to achieve this while still creating a fast-paced thriller.

Joanne Harris creates a sense of place through tastes and smells – food is almost always a huge part of her books. Reading some of the passages in her books you can feel as if you have just enjoyed a banquet of tastes.

And for a book that evoked both a time and a place, I’d choose Michel Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White. The scene where the reader is enticed to follow Sugar into the sleaziest corners of Victorian London is spell-binding. I couldn’t put the book down after that.

* * *

Next month’s Location, Locution: Fran Pickering sets her Josie Clark series in Japan. East-West fusion murder mysteries with a cultural twist.

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JJ Marsh grew up in Wales, Africa and the Middle East, where her curiosity for culture took root and triggered an urge to write. After living in Hong Kong, Nigeria, Dubai, Portugal and France, JJ finally settled in Switzerland, where she is currently halfway through her European crime series, set in compelling locations all over the continent and featuring detective inspector Beatrice Stubbs.

STAY TUNED for our next post!

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And the August 2014 Alices go to … these 3 international creatives

 © Iamezan | Dreamstime.com Used under license

© Iamezan | Dreamstime.com
Used under license

If you are a subscriber to our weekly newsletter, the Displaced Dispatch, you’re already in the know. But if you’re not, listen up. (Hey, why aren’t you? Off with your head!)

Every week, when that esteemed publication comes out, we present contenders for a monthly “Alice Award,” most of whom are writers or other kinds of international creatives who appear to have a special handle on the curious and unreal aspects of being a global resident or voyager.

Not only that, but this person tries to use this state of befuddlement as a spur to greater creative heights.

Today’s post honours August’s three Alice recipients. They are (drumroll…):

1) JESSICA WRAY, overthinking Californian, serial expat (currently in Madrid), and blogger

For her post: Seven Reasons Why English Food Doesn’t Actually Suck on her blog, Curiosity Travels
Posted on: 13 August 2014
Snippet:

3. Yorkshire Pudding
Not the pudding we are used to, this version doesn’t come from a powdered Jello packet. Instead, the Yorkshire pudding is actually referring to the pastry-like cooked dough which holds an assortment of heart attack inducing savory foods.

This specific Yorkshire pudding came with mashed potatoes, sausage and smothered in gravy. Accompanied by an ale, it was great for my soul but horrible for my waistline.

Citation: Jessica, the title of your post goes down in the annals. If that isn’t damning with faint praise, we don’t know what is. Your British hosts would be impressed. And it’s rather too literally gutsy of you to champion the cause of as many as 10 stogy foods merely because of “having dated a Brit for an extended period of time” and after having visited the country only twice. And while we don’t wish to stop you from acquiring a taste for stodge (British victuals need all the support they can get!), we worry you’ve become too focused on the gravy that’s smothering the Yorkshire pud and what it’s doing to your waistline to take in the protocol surrounding the British Sunday roast tradition. Alice, too, forgot her manners after stepping through the looking glass. We refer to the faux pas she committed when attempting to carve the leg of mutton just after having been introduced to it—only to be informed by the Red Queen:

“It isn’t etiquette to cut any one you’ve been introduced to. Remove the joint!”

Should you be possessed by a similar urge to seize the carving knife, don’t be surprised if your hosts are less than appreciative. You may wish to say something cheeky just as Alice did, i.e.:

“I won’t be introduced to the pudding, please, or we shall get no dinner at all.”

Then again, you could always utter an Americanism like: “Don’t get your panties in a bunch.” After all, the Brits have a comparable expression about getting their knickers in a twist. (What’s the worst that can happen—you don’t get invited back and have to make do with the food in Madrid?)

2) KEN SEEROI, American expat in Japan and professional writer, photographer and blogger

For his post: How to Stop Learning Japanese on his blog, Japanese Rule of 7
Posted on: 2 August 2014
Snippet:

Who knew languages had so many components? It’s all those words—that’s the real problem. First, I only wanted to know enough Japanese to order a beer. I figured I’d be happy with one word. But then I wanted another beer, so I needed another word. See, I told you I don’t think about the future.

Citation: We can empathize, Ken. How beautiful life in Japan would be if we foreigners didn’t have to grapple with the “devil’s tongue”. One minute you’re ordering a beer, and the next you find you’ve been captured and hooked: condemned to the life of an eternal student. And the struggle to learn vocabulary that doesn’t resemble Latin in any way is only the half of it. You also have to get into the mode of thinking that what isn’t said is usually far more important than what is said—the (in)famous wa factor. Indeed, if you have wa going, then your listeners should be able to finish your sentences for you—which is great if you’ve forgotten the verb, but not so great if they fill in the blank in the wrong way and you find you’ve agreed to something like tutoring their child in English for the rest of his born days when you were actually trying to say you’re giving up tutoring because you’re writing a book. Another challenging aspect of wa is the tendency to allow emotion to take over in favor of clarity. After all, stating something clearly may mean that that the speaker commits to something and thus would get the blame if the situation goes awry. Should you become the victim of this, you could always do a Humpty Dumpty—we refer to the (in)famous exchange between Alice and Humpty Dumpty over semantics, in Through the Looking Glass:

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you CAN make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

All things considered, though, you may be better off floating in a sea of vagueness. You had the right instincts, Ken, when ordering that beer and realizing one might not be enough. Well done!

3) DR. KATE EVANS, British zoologist, founder of Elephants for Africa (based in Botswana), and expat in Germany

For her remarks in an interview, The Expat that African Elephants Will Never Forget, with Claire Bolden McGill in Global Living Magazine (July/August 2014)
Posted on: 18 August 2014
Snippet:

The sounds we wake up to at night are very different. In Botswana my nights are disturbed by the roaring of a lion, the cackle of hyena or the rumble of an elephant, and I wake up to the sounds of the local franklin (a small chicken-like bird that is common throughout Southern Africa and very funny to watch running).

Citation: Dr. Kate, first of all we must congratulate you on heading up an organization that is doing one of the most noble deeds on the planet—attempting to save the African elephant from extinction. And although we know you have a list of degrees as long as an arm for doing such important work, we also suspect it’s your Alice-like curiosity that makes you so suited to the task. It is not at all surprising to us when you tell Claire (who btw was an Alice winner back in June and has also guest posted for our “New vs. Olde Worlds” series), that you feel more at home in the bush than you do in “hectic lifestyle of the West”. Your comfort level among African wildlife brings to mind this passage from Through the Looking-Glass:

…[Alice] found herself sitting quietly under a tree—while the Gnat (for that was the insect she had been talking to) was balancing itself on a twig just over her head, and fanning her with its wings.

It certainly was a VERY large Gnat: “about the size of a chicken,” Alice thought. Still, she couldn’t feel nervous with it, after they had been talking together so long.

You go on to tell Claire that your expat life owes to a promise you made to an elephant at the age of seven. Were you aware you were channeling Alice?!

*  *  *

So, readers, do you have a favorite from the above, or have you read any recent posts you think deserve an Alice Award? We’d love to hear your suggestions! And don’t miss out on the shortlist of Alice contenders we provide in each week’s Dispatch, which are sources of creative thought if nothing else! Get on our subscription list now!

STAY TUNED for more fab posts.

Writers and other international creatives: If you want to know in advance the contenders for our monthly Alice Award winners, sign up to receive The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with news of book giveaways, future posts, and of course, our weekly Alice Award!. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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A spoonful of imagination helps the expat life go down: In tribute to our 7 columnists

Sugar spoon by jppi (Morguefiles); jet painting by Prawny (Morguefiles).

Sugar spoon by jppi (Morguefiles); jet painting by Prawny (Morguefiles).

Here in the Northern Hemisphere, as summer draws to its inevitable close, I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge the talented individuals who write columns for us from an expat or otherwise displaced perspective.

Curiouser and curiouser! If it weren’t for them, we’d know a great deal less about the contours of the kind of creative life that is lived across two or more distinct cultures.

Fiction, fantasy, food, photos, theatre—oh my! Our columnists also serve as the Wizards who can help the rest of us transform our travels into a trip down the Yellow Brick Road.

(Yes, Dorothy has now joined Alice as a Displaced Nation heroine.)

Without further ado, they are, in alphabetical order:

1) Andrew Couch

COLUMN: Here Be Dragons
INTERESTING FACT ABOUT ANDREW: He spent this summer developing the Peanut Butter Bar WordPress app, which allows you to attach sticky bars to the roof of your site that stay visible no matter how far a user scrolls. (“Smooth” is free. “Chunky,” which has more features, costs $15.)
COLUMN PURPOSE: Andrew demonstrates, through snippets of his own writing, the possibility of collecting materials for a fantasy novel from a life of international travel.
MOST POPULAR POST: Andrew’s first, “The expat life as fuel for fantasy writing,” perhaps because his concept is a little fantastical.
WHY YOU SHOULD FOLLOW: You will never look at your displaced life in quite the same way again but will see yourself as the protagonist in your own Alice or Dorothy story, a story you’re not only living but could (should?) be writing…

2) Beth Green

COLUMN: Booklust, Wanderlust
INTERESTING FACT ABOUT BETH: She grew up on a sailboat and, though now a landlubber, still enjoys a peripatetic life.
COLUMN PURPOSE: Beth selects books with particular appeal to international creatives.
MOST POPULAR POST: Her first, about the Dublin Murder Squad series by ATCK writer Tana French, perhaps reflecting Beth’s own passion for mystery (she is also a member of the Sisters in Crime mystery writers’ association, another interesting fact about Beth).
WHY YOU SHOULD FOLLOW: The peripatetic Beth has a correspondingly eclectic taste in books, sampling everything from psychological mystery to journalistic memoirs of China to biographies of eccentric female travelers of the past century.

3) Elizabeth Liang

COLUMN: TCK Talent
INTERESTING FACT ABOUT LISA: Lisa spent part of the summer in Iceland, putting on her one-woman autobiographical show about growing up as a TCK, Citizen Alien.
COLUMN PURPOSE: Lisa profiles Adult Third Culture Kids with unusual talents. Perhaps not surprisingly, many of them find success as actors, just as Lisa has.
MOST POPULAR POST: Lisa’s interview with Laura Piquado, an actress in New York City who grew up all over the world and told Lisa she is now

dyak and atheist, Muslim, Christian, Bahá’í, Jain, Egyptian, Italian, Canadian—there is nowhere in the world that has ever felt foreign to me.

WHY YOU SHOULD FOLLOW: Because they weren’t originally expats by choice, adult TCKs can teach the rest of us a lot about the glories as well as the challenges of leading a displaced life. Plus Lisa’s gutsiness in developing her own TCK show gives her creds. She and the show are terrific! I know because I’ve met her and seen it.

4) Meagan Adele Lopez

COLUMN TITLE: The Lady Who Writes
INTERESTING FACT ABOUT MAL: Meagan Adele Lopez (nicknamed MAL) is both Anglophile and Francophile (she once lived in Paris). Talk about open-mindedness!
COLUMN PURPOSE: MAL writes about what she wished she’d known before setting out to write and self-publish her first novel, Three Questions, based on a romantic adventure that started at the end of her first expat stint in the UK (in Bristol).
MOST POPULAR POST: MAL’s first, suggesting that expats may easily be able to find a novel in their novel lives. Note: MAL has just wrapped up her six-post series for us.
WHY YOU SHOULD READ: Rather like Dickens, MAL calls on elements from her thespian background (she used to be an actor in Hollywood, no less) for writing a novel. Her characters are real: she imagines “dining out” with them!

5) James King

COLUMN TITLE: A Picture Says…
INTERESTING FACT ABOUT JAMES: James now lives in Thailand but during his previous expat stint, in South Africa, he ended up settling in Capetown, where he still has a house he’s renting out but would like to sell. Anybody interested?!
COLUMN PURPOSE: James tries to coax expats and other displaced types for whom photography is a creative outlet to tell the stories behind their favorite photos.
MOST POPULAR POST: James’s interview with Irish “ruin hunter” and photographer Ed Mooney, which generated a whopping 32 comments.
WHY YOU SHOULD READ: Why people feel compelled to take photos and what their favorite subjects are turns out to be a great window into the displaced mindset. Kudos to James for developing the series in this new direction.

6) JJ Marsh

COLUMN TITLE: Location, Locution
INTERESTING FACT ABOUT JJ: She plans to attend the Chorleywood LitFest on November 16th, 2014, wearing a toga. Hey, carpe diem and all that!
COLUMN PURPOSE: JJ interviews well-known authors who are expats and/or set their books in far-off lands about the role of place (location) in their imagination and subsequent writings (locution).
MOST POPULAR POST: JJ’s interview with Amanda Hodgkinson, who finished her first two novels, 22 Britannia Road and Spilt Milk, after relocating with her family to southwest France.
WHY YOU SHOULD READ: JJ commands respect in the writing world for her own achievement in crafting a European crime series featuring detective inspector Beatrice Stubbs, in which place plays a major role (she thinks of it as a “character,” she says). This must be why so many other authors are willing to share with her the techniques they use to transport readers to other, more remote parts of the world. Her columns are invariably illuminating.

7) Joanna Masters-Maggs

COLUMN TITLE: Global Food Gossip
INTERESTING FACT ABOUT JOANNA: She is a school friend of Displaced Nation founder Kate Allison. Want another one? She is half Irish and half English, which surely qualifies her as a TCK?
COLUMN PURPOSE: Joanna provides the inside story on food that comes from having lived as a trailing spouse in eight very different countries for more than 16 years.
MOST POPULAR POST: “There’s no taste like home,” in which Joanna confesses that she’s been so busy trying to cook the local food for her four kids that she neglected to introduce them to traditional English dishes.
WHY YOU SHOULD READ: Her repeat expat life has turned her into a creative chef extraordinaire. She knows how to make her own clotted cream (and provides a recipe) should homesickness strike, but is equally adept at Texas Barbecue Brisket.

* * *

In other news…

Have you checked out our Pinterest pins lately? We’ve quite the collection of displaced reads, movies and people, eg:

We can take you on a trip out of this displaced world should you wish to be further displaced; or for those who prefer a fantasy metaphor for their escapist tendencies, check out our Alice in Wonderland and Follow the Yellow Brick Road boards.

IT’S FOOD! is one of our most popular boards (natch!), as is World Parties, Holidays & Celebrations (hooray!). We also have two boards that celebrate the spirit of two previous blogs by me and another Displaced Nation founder, Kate Allison:

Speaking of Kate, you may have noticed that after producing episodes of her novel Libby’s Life on a regular basis for a couple of years (90 episodes, can you imagine?!), she is now updating the story on her author blog and aggregating those posts every so often for the Displaced Nation audience.

Last but not least, if you haven’t caught up with our Displaced Dispatch lately, take another look. Besides links to the latest posts, we have ORIGINAL contents by yours truly, exclusive giveaways (there’s one on now!) and candidates for the monthly Alice Awards.

Yes, we are still doing our Alice Awards and have now added an occasional Wizard of Oz column about repatriation: “Emerald City to Kansas”. We’re a busy (dis)place!

STAY TUNED for the announcement of August Alices.

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with original contents, book giveaways, and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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BOOKLUST, WANDERLUST: Jane Fletcher Geniesse’s biography of the passionate nomad (but displaced expat) Freya Stark

Booklust Wanderlust Collage

Left: Oleh Slobodeniuk (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0); right: Beth Green (her own photo).

Attention displaced bookworms! Our book review columnist, Beth Green, is back. An American who lives in Prague, Beth mixes booklust with wanderlust in equal measures, which gives her just the right background for reviewing book releases on behalf of international creatives.

—ML Awanohara

Hello again, Displaced Nationers! Hasn’t the summer gone by fast? How’s your progress on that reading list you made back in the day when it seemed like the dog days would go on forever?

Well, if you abide by the rule that summer ends with the equinox, then you still have a few more weeks. And if you’re searching for one last read to feed your wanderlust, I would recommend the volume I just now finished: a biography of Dame Freya Stark, one of the most amazing travelers and travel writers of the last century. Called Passionate Nomad: The Life of Freya Stark, it’s by former New York Times journalist Jane Fletcher Geniesse.

Passionate_Nomad_coverDays after reading, I’m still in a daze (so to speak), transported by Geniesse’s tale of this intrepid British war-time adventurer.

Stark is one of those people—we’ve all met them on our travels, haven’t we?—who seems to have crammed many lives’ worth of living into one single walk on Earth.

Born to Anglo-Italian-German parents who made their living painting, growing flowers, and managing textile factories (among other pursuits) across Europe, Stark was the original Third Culture Kid. As she traipsed with her parents across Britain, France and Italy, she had no real place to call home. She was further burdened by her parents’ separation and an emotionally manipulative mother, along with numerous illnesses and financial troubles.

A late bloomer

Though she would eventually achieve renown as a witty speaker who could always be counted on to liven up a party, as a young woman Stark despaired of being able to have her own life. She did not make her first trip to the Orient (as it was known in those days) until age 33.

Perhaps because Stark herself told the stories of her travels in the 25 books she published, Geniesse gives most of her attention to the adventures Stark had before being lionized for her travel exploits and writings. (Geniesse covers the last 40 years of Stark’s life—Stark lived to age 100!—in just one chapter.)

For me, Geniesse’s portrait is most brilliant when recreating the straitened times that preceded the period when Stark became fluent in Arabic, gained a reputation for bravery abroad and published her first articles and books on her Middle Eastern travels.

Geniesse relies on her intuition as well as meticulous research to highlight the details of Stark’s upbringing that help to explain her transformation from a penny-pinching flower farmer in Italy to a voracious student of classical literature, a free-spirited wanderer (she was one of the first non-Arabians to travel through the southern Arabian Deserts), and an internationally respected author, speaker, ethnologist and political consultant.

A misfit in the expat community

In tracing Stark’s life journey, Geniesse provides some sense of her struggle to find a place in the expat communities of the interwar years. On the one hand, she had trouble relating to the other Europeans she encountered on her travels, writing in one of her letters:

[The British missionaries in Lebanon] suffer from stagnation of the brain, and that surely produces stagnation of the soul in time. To feel, and think, and learn—learn always: surely that is being alive and young and the real sense. And most people seem to want to stagnate when they reach middle age. I hope I shall not become so, resenting ideas that are not my ideas, and seeing the world with all its changes and growth as a series of congealed formulas.

But during the period she spent within the expat community in Baghdad while researching her next trip, it was clear her fellow expats weren’t clear what to make of her either. As Geniesse writes:

Freya, now 37, was feeling her earlier despair give way to expanding hope. She could change her life; she had watched herself do it—although precisely to what purpose remained as much a mystery to her as the question of what Miss Stark was doing in their midst intrigued the Baghdad community. Freya enjoyed being directionless, learning purely for learning’s sake—and adjusting, if that was her fate, to a spinster’s life.

Geniesse concludes it may have been easier for Stark to explain herself to the tribes and villagers she encountered during her travels as they had no expectations of how she should be behaving. As a European, Christian woman traveling in remote areas of Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, Persia, Iraq and Iran, she was accepted as a foreigner, while in the expatriate communities there was some expectation that she should conduct herself as a proper unmarried lady.

(In fact she did eventually marry, in her fifties, to a good friend—but the couple separated soon afterwards, when her husband told her he was gay.)

Warts and all

Like all good biographers, Geniesse also highlights Stark’s less flattering qualities. From Stark’s petty rivalry with archaeologist Gertrude Caton-Thompson, to her sharp attitude toward women she felt were prettier than herself, to her irresponsible attitude to money and certain friends, Geniesse shows us the other side of this larger-than-life character. I liked Stark all the more for this mix of traits.

As I got to the end of Genisse’s work, I felt a little bereft. I missed Freya. There is something irresistible about a woman who not only writes her own script for her life but also gives herself a series of challenging parts. As Geniesse says, at the end of her life

Freya had followed her own genius. She had imagined herself as the star in many roles over the years—explorer in Persia and Luristan, Mata Hari at the imam’s court, English plenipotentiary during the war, and humble pilgrim, wandering through Turkey’s ancient ruins.

Next up on my reading list will have to be one of Stark’s own stories, several of which are still in print.

And now, I’ll leave you with a quote from Freya Stark herself, excerpted from a letter to her mother, listing the “7 cardinal virtues for a traveller”:
1. To admit standards that are not one’s own standards and discriminate the values that are not one’s own values.
2. To know how to use stupid men and inadequate tools with equanimity.
3. To be able to disassociate oneself from one’s bodily sensations.
4. To be able to take rest and nourishment as and when they come.
5. To love not only nature but human nature also.
6. To have an unpreoccupied, observant and uncensorious mind—in other words, to be unselfish.
7. To be as calmly good-tempered at the end of the day as at the beginning.”

* * *

Thanks, Beth, for bringing Dame Freya Stark to our attention! And now I would like to offically nominate her for our Displaced Hall of Fame. Readers, had you heard of Freya Stark before reading Beth’s column? What do you make of her? Have you encountered an eccentric like her on your own travels, or does she seem like a product of a previous age?

Beth Green is an American writer and English teacher living in Prague, Czech Republic. She grew up on a sailboat and, though now a landlubber, continues to lead a peripatetic life, having lived in Asia as well as Europe. Her personal Web site is Beth Green Writes, and she is about to launch a new site called Everyday Travel Stories. To keep in touch with her in between columns, try following her on Facebook and Twitter. She’s a social media nut!

STAY TUNED for the next fab post!

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For this adult TCK writer with an ocean-loving soul and a passion for travel, a picture says…

Canon zoom lens; photo credit: Morguefiles. Rita Gardner at home in California.

Canon zoom lens; photo credit: Morguefiles. Rita Gardner at home in California.

Welcome to our monthly series “A picture says…”, created to celebrate expats and other global residents for whom photography is a creative outlet. The series host is English expat, blogger, writer, world traveler and photography enthusiast James King, who thinks of a camera as a mirror with memory. If you like what you see here, be sure to check out his blog, Jamoroki.

My guest this month is 67-year-old Rita Gardner, who grew up on her expatriate family’s coconut farm in a remote seaside village in the Dominican Republic. Her father declared them to be the luckiest people on earth. In reality, the family was in the path of hurricanes and in the grip of a brutal dictator, Rafael Trujillo.

But if life was far from the Eden her father had envisioned, Rita developed a set of childhood passions that sustains her to this day: writing, traveling, hiking—and photography.

TheCoconutLatitudes_cover_dropshadowShe may no longer live in the Dominican Republic but she continues to dream in Spanish, dance the merengue, and gather inspiration from nature and the ocean. Her favorite color is Caribbean blue.

And now Rita has written a memoir about her life as a Third Culture Kid in República Dominicana. Due out from She Writes Press in September, the book is evocatively titled The Coconut Latitudes: Secrets, Storms and Survival in the Caribbean.

Rita contacted me because she is enjoying “A Picture Says…” I am pleased that she can be this month’s featured guest.

* * *

Hi, Rita, and welcome to the Displaced Nation. I’m delighted to hear you’re enjoying “A Picture Says…” and to have the opportunity to do this interview. Before we get down to the nitty gritty, can you tell me a little more about how your family ended up living in the Caribbean?
My father was an electrical engineer and traveled all over the world installing hydro-electric dams. I think my travel wings must have sprouted in the womb since my parents were in Uruguay on a job site when my mother got pregnant. They flew back to the U.S. so I could be born, and six weeks later we were on another plane, this time to an engineering job in the Dominican Republic. My parents fell in love with that Caribbean island nation, and my father quit his engineering job and “went off the grid” to become a coconut farmer on an isolated beach on the country’s northern coast. It became our permanent home for the next 19 years, and, as you already mentioned, our Caribbean life is the subject of my forthcoming memoir, The Coconut Latitudes.

I guess that being born into an expat family was a passport, so to speak, to a life of travel?
That’s true. It influenced me in other ways as well. I tend to travel “close to the ground,” getting to know the people where I’m visiting. I also travel light as I want to be free to immerse myself (to the extent possible) in other cultures, exploring commonalities as well as differences. Most of my travels have been within Latin America, where I’ve been able to put my Spanish-language skills to use.

And I gather that growing up where you did, on a Caribbean island, you sometimes encountered real adventurers? Did they inspire you as well?
Yes. Those who made it as far as our isolated coconut farm were pretty intrepid and would have stories to tell. Because they were so rare, these visitors made a big impression on me, and their stories made me thirst for the day when I could venture out into the wider world myself. In my new memoir I chronicle one such encounter with a group of strangers who shipwrecked near our farm, and turned out to be not who they appeared to be. Someone else who inspired me was my older sister. By the time she was in her fifties, she’d traveled to over seventy countries.

Wow, she does sound adventuresome. How about you—which countries have you visited?
Most of the islands in the Caribbean, several of them by sailboat, plus Mexico, Costa Rica, Argentina, and Uruguay. In Europe I’ve been to Italy (where I attempted to speak Italian but it came out Spanish), France, and Greece (island-hopping by small boat plus a side trip to Athens).

A day at the beach restores the soul…

South America is a part of the world I have never been but the three weeks I spent in Trinidad more than thirty years ago gave me an idea of what it may be like. I’m sure you have some wonderful memories and I look forward to reading them soon in The Coconut Latitudes. I see you now live in North America. Can you tell us where?
I’m in northern California, right on San Francisco Bay. I found my way here a few decades ago. I’ve always chosen to live near the ocean. Like most people, I had to earn a living, so travel was only an option during vacations. Luckily, I’ve recently retired so have more to time to travel, take pictures, and write.

RG1 Smoking Bride

The smoking bride; photo credit: Rita M. Gardner.


Photo credit: Rita M. Gardner.

Wading chairs; photo credit: Rita M. Gardner.


Photo credit: Rita M. Gardner.

A sitting duck; photo credit: Rita M. Gardner.

Speaking of taking pictures, let’s have a look at a few in your collection that capture favorite memories. Can you describe the story behind each one and what makes them so special?
I visited France for the first time last year with a dear friend, and one of our favorite things to do was meander about. We saw this bridal couple in Monmartre. The bride’s leg-baring gown and the cigarette struck me as being improper yet fun.

She obviously stepped out of the part for a while, which makes for a lovely scene—almost like an actor taking a break on a film set. What else do you have for us?
The next one is from Boca Chica Beach, in the Dominican Republic, whose pastel turquoise waters I had loved since the time I was a small child. I recently went back to the Dominican Republic to attend a friend’s mother’s 100th birthday party. A group of us decided to pay a visit to this beach. I liked the whimsy of the chairs in the shallows, as if they were bathing.

So you didn’t put the chairs there yourself?
No—it was un-staged! The third photo won “Best of Show” earlier this year in a camera club I belong to. If you look closely, you’ll see a small duck in the foreground, which I didn’t notice when I got the shot. The ship itself is one of the last Liberty ships that had been built for action in World War II by the Kaiser Shipyards, near where I now live. At the peak of the war, ships were being turned out at the rate of one almost every week! It’s now “mothballed”, and volunteers, some of whom saw action in that war, maintain it. They’re getting pretty old…

“Seas” the day!

That may not be such a small duck but it certainly is a big ship. And now can you share some examples of your favorite places to take photographs? What is it about these places that inspires you?
It’s a bit of a mixture really. One of my favorite subjects is nature. Growing up on a Caribbean island, I saw the entire range, from watching in awe as thundering waves destroyed our pier and pitch-poled fishing boats, to contemplating sunsets that painted calm seas with exuberant color, to enjoying the deep chorus of frogs announcing rain. To this day, I love to take pictures out of doors. I enjoy finding unusual patterns in nature and looking for images that are “hidden in plain sight.” My other favorite subject is people: I am endlessly curious. Sometimes I plunge into crowds in hopes of getting opportunities for candid people shots.

This photo was taken in the midst of a parade in Santo Domingo, where the child’s attention was riveted to the action beyond the scene.

Photo credit: Rita M. Gardner.

Out of this displaced world; photo credit: Rita M. Gardner.

I took the next photo, of leaf patterns, at nearby Phoenix Lake during a hike with friends. I love the variety of colors and shapes.

Photo credit: Rita M. Gardner.

Leaf patterns; photo credit: Rita M. Gardner.

This third photo, taking in Mykonos, combines my love of nature and people. It feels meditative to me; clearly the fisherman is at one with his environment.

Photo credit: Rita M. Gardner.

Fishing for serenity of mind; photo credit: Rita M. Gardner.

I particularly love the fisherman shot because I have had many wonderful holidays in Mykonos, where I’ve taken photos—but never witnessed a scene like this one. In fact it is one that most people would not associate with Mykonos. Moving on, I know some people feel reserved about taking photos of people, particularly when they are conscious that they are doing so. What’s your feeling about this?
I feel respect more than reserve, and if it seems that taking pictures would not be a welcome experience, I back away from doing it.

In that case, do you ask permission before taking people’s photographs? And how do you get around any problem of language?
I’m a pretty friendly person, so if I’ve caught someone’s eye,I might engage them in a brief conversation and ask if it’s OK if I take their picture. I find smiles break through a lot of language barriers. Also, most people I meet like to practice their English, so language is not usually a problem. That said, some of the best photos are candid ones. Sometimes I try to capture a shot without the subject being aware—I don’t engage in conversation in those instances.

Would you say that photography and the ability to be able to capture something unique which will never be seen again is a powerful force for you and has changed the way you look at life?
I consider myself extremely lucky when I’ve managed to capture an image that is unusual and unlikely to be photographed again. I don’t think the experience changes me. My chief emotion is to feel grateful that I have an eye for images that others may lack.

Sea-ing the light

Photographers never tire of discussing cameras and lenses. What kind of equipment do you use?
I gave up my SLR and its array of lenses for the convenience of a small digital camera. I use a Canon PowerShot and my i-Phone. Both fit in pockets, so I can travel light. Also, I prefer to shoot in natural light rather than use a flash (unless it’s absolutely necessary). So I guess I could say I travel light, and I shoot “light.” How’s that for a quick summary of my style?

Well said! I see nothing wrong with using smaller cameras. Their power and versatility is improving all the time, so unless you need big images for printing they do a great job, sufficient for posting on websites and social media. What is your take on post-processing?
I don’t manipulate my photos other than with the standard tools for cropping, adjusting exposure, etc. I don’t use Photoshop or any the other software products available. Okay, I have to confess I just discovered some apps for the i-Phone camera which I’m having fun with, but mostly “what I see is what I get.” That said, I’m not a purist; I may get into photo software at some point in the future.

The results are good so don’t tell anyone!!! Finally, do you have any advice from your experiences for wannabe photographers who are traveling or living abroad?
Given the ability to erase unwanted images on digital cameras, just shoot away, assuming you get a photo card with enough memory that it doesn’t fill up quickly. Always carry an extra battery and extra film card, because it does you no good to have those items tucked away in your suitcase, or wherever you are lodging! Oh, and do have a battery charger if you are on a long trip so you don’t have to worry about running out of juice. So to speak.

Thanks so much for all these practical tips and for sharing these photos, Rita, and may I take this opportunity to wish you the very best when you launch The Coconut Latitudes this coming month.

* * *

Readers, what do you make of Rita’s experiences and her photography advice? And do you have any questions for her on her photos and/or travels? Please leave them in the comments!

And if you want to know more about Rita, don’t forget to visit her author site and like her author page on Facebook. You can also follow her on Twitter and Pinterest.

Last but not least, I would highly recommend that you pre-order a copy of Rita’s Dominican memoir, The Coconut Latitudes, from Amazon.

(If you are a photographer and would like to be interviewed by James for this series, please send your information to ml@thedisplacednation.com.)

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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LOCATION, LOCUTION: Jessica Bell – Australian contemporary fiction author in Ithaca, Greece

black and white_Jessica BellIn this month’s “Location, Locution”, expat crime writer JJ Marsh interviews Jessica Bell, a thirty-something Australian-native contemporary fiction author, poet and singer/songwriter/ guitarist. Jessica is the Publishing Editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal and the director of the Homeric Writers’ Retreat & Workshop on the Greek island of Ithaca. She makes a living as a writer/editor for English Language Teaching Publishers worldwide, such as Pearson Education, HarperCollins, MacMillan Education, Education First and Cengage Learning.

Which came first, story or location?

Neither. My characters always start off a story. But if I had to choose, I would say location comes before story as I think the location of the story would have a lot of impact on how it’s told.

What’s your technique for evoking the atmosphere of a place?

I try to incorporate as many of the senses as possible. Utilizing the six senses (see, hear, smell, taste, touch, and instinct) can really bring your writing to life. To do this successfully, you need to “show, not tell.” Otherwise, these senses will not really be senses. The reader won’t actually experience them, they will only “read about” them. And the whole point of reading a great book is to feel like you aren’t actually reading. Right? Right. Using the six senses in an effective way will accomplish this.

The key to using sense in your writing, however, is to limit your use of the words, see, feel, hear, smell and taste. That’s not to say you shouldn’t ever use these words, but just be aware you don’t overuse them.

The most ideal way to incorporate senses is to employ language in which sense is already a part of. For example, instead of saying the kitchen smelled sweet with melted chocolate, show the reader what’s cooking, and consequently that taste and scent will be present in the narrative without you having to point it out.

Using the six senses well is also not only about having your characters sense things, it’s about making your readers sense things—even elements that your characters aren’t feeling, i.e., if the reader knows more than your character(s) do, or if you’re showing something that you might react to differently than the characters in the book.

If you’d like more of my advice on writing craft, take a gander at Writing in a Nutshell.

Which particular features create a sense of location? Landscape, culture, food?

Oh, everything!

Can you give a brief example of your work which illustrates place?

Sure! This excerpt is from String Bridge:

String Bridge paperback coverThe island’s windy mountainous roads are framed with olive groves and air so crisp you could snap it like celery. The houses are stained with whitewash and embedded with old-style wooden shutters, tailored by the locals to keep the summer swelter out. They are painted blue, red, or green, but occasionally you may come across the odd pink or orange shutters, which are more often than not inhabited by the eccentric barmy type who are colour-blind, or the young and loaded foreigner who believes an island revolution should be in order.

Goats meander about the streets, butting each other’s heads senselessly as they try to escape oncoming cars and motorcycles. The roosters, chickens, and geese fire up the locals at the first sign of sunrise. Birds chirp, cicadas “jijiga” in the olive trees, and dogs bark as the bread truck, a red beat-up Ute, delivers fresh hot loaves to each residence, and slips the required amount of bread into handmade cloth bags hanging from wire fencing.

Summer on this island engraves your skin with a longing to spend sunrise to sunset lying on a small, empty, white-pebbled beach in a secluded cove at the end of a private dirt track. At midday, it gets so hot you need to wade through the heat waves rising from the uneven tarred road like kindred spirits before you can wade in the Ionian Sea to cool off—a flat, motionless oil bath which glows with an infinite turquoise glint. It may seem you are stepping into velvet, however, you emerge covered in a thin salty crust you can brush off like sand when it dries.

How well do you need to know the place before using it as a setting?

For the above example, I knew the setting extremely well as I have spent at least a quarter of my life on this Greek island. However, I don’t think you necessarily need to know a place to write about it well. For example, if you want to write about a Greek beach, just think of another beach you’ve been to, imagine it smaller, imagine pebbles instead of sand, how would that setting change affect your senses? Just use knowledge gleaned from other places you’ve been to and be smart about incorporating the differences. You’d be surprised what you can find on the Internet to help you.

Which writers do you admire for the way they use location?

Definitely Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, and Marilynne Robinson.

 

 

Writing in a Nutshell_Jessica BellSign up to Jessica’s newsletter and receive Book #1 of the Writing in a Nutshell Series, Show & Tell in a Nutshell, or Muted: A Short Story in Verse, for free.

Connect with Jessica online:

Website | Retreat & workshop | Blog | Vine Leaves Literary Journal | Facebook | Twitter

 

* * *

Next month’s Location, Locution: Scottish-born/Canadian-raised Catriona Troth, whose books Gift of the Raven and Ghost Town encompass 1970s Canada through the eyes of a young boy, and Britain’s 1980s race riots respectively. .

_(75_of_75)

 

JJ Marsh grew up in Wales, Africa and the Middle East, where her curiosity for culture took root and triggered an urge to write. After living in Hong Kong, Nigeria, Dubai, Portugal and France, JJ finally settled in Switzerland, where she is currently halfway through her European crime series, set in compelling locations all over the continent and featuring detective inspector Beatrice Stubbs.

STAY TUNED for our next post!

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THE LADY WHO WRITES: Get over yourself, and start promoting that novel!

LadyWhoWrites_brandThe Lady Who Writes, Meagan Adele Lopez, is back today: we’ve missed her! Once again, she’ll be doling out practical advice based on her own experience for expats and other international creatives who are engaged in writing novels using some of the material gathered from their novel, shall we say, life stories. Meagan is a repeat expat in the UK (last time Bristol, this time London). Besides writing, her talents include acting, blogging, and crafting ads for social media.

—ML Awanohara

So—you’ve written the book, you’ve got the editor, your friends and family love it, you’ve done the Kickstarter to raise the money and your blog has a steady readership.

(Even if you have just written the book and don’t have the rest in that list, you’re a million times ahead of anyone who has just spoken about writing a book. You’ve DONE something.)

Don’t you think you deserve—no, the WORLD deserves—to get a chance to know it exists?

The fact is, most of us writers are a little afraid of self-promotion. But by the time you finish reading today’s column, I hope you will have gotten over that fear and are full of determination to plug your Great Work like crazy.

Excuses, excuses

You don’t have a manager? You don’t have a PR team? You don’t know a graphic designer?

All good! Even if you had all those things, you’d still be expected to do as much, if not more than, the promotional team, who are working on other books as well as yours. Obviously, having a group of PR professionals around you wouldn’t hurt. But c’mon! You’ve been preparing for this your entire life. You got this!

To quote Eminem—just because the song Lose Yourself never fails to get me pumped up to do really GREAT things:

Look, if you had, one shot, or one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted, one moment
Would you capture it?
Or just let it slip, yo

Facebook’s (literal) wall

Now I want to tell you about the time when I took a walk through Facebook headquarters to pitch to Walmart and Facebook about why my team was worth their investment of millions of dollars. I noticed many inspiring quotes on their (literal!) walls, one of which really lept out at me:

"Done is better then..." on Facebook's literal wall, by Meagan Adele Lopez

“Done is better then…” on Facebook’s literal wall. Photo credit: Meagan Adele Lopez

Notice the misspelling and the comma in a weird place? It certainly makes a statement, doesn’t it?

Don’t get me wrong: it’s a great idea to comb through the final manuscript, edit the spelling mistakes and make sure your character arcs are outlined appropriately.

But how long have you been working on this novel? One year? Two years? Ten?!

Get it out there. Done is better than perfect. Done is even better than good—or as Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love fame says:

I want to make as many things as I can, taking on as many projects as I can possibly tackle. Each one exciting. Each one good enough. Each one DONE, to make room for the next, and the next, and the next…

Wouldn’t that be a wonderful way to live?

Take me, for instance…

This article is a perfect example, actually. I have written and re-written it about five times. Twice because my computer crashed, and three times in my head because I didn’t feel like I had anything relevant to add to this topic.

Wait, did I just say I have nothing to add? I work in ADVERTISING and MARKETING for God’s sake. How could I not have something to say?

All of our heads get in the way sometimes, and that’s OK as long as you don’t let it run you. I know this article is supposed to be about promoting your novel, but I think the most useful thing I can tell you is to get over yourself and realize that you are damn good enough to have other people read your book, now that it’s finished.

Regardless of what other writers on writing would have you believe, there are no secret tips to marketing and promoting your novel. Yes, there are the basics—advertising campaigns, blogs, newsletters, etc. But the most important thing is to refuel that passion you had when you were dining with your characters, when you were rehearsing your book trailer and reading every other author’s done works, and use it to drive your promotional efforts.

Set some goals

Thus I’m not going to give you step-by-step instructions on how to promote your novel. There are plenty of other google-able articles out there—for example:

But I will tell you to have goals. Do you want to sell 50 copies or tens of thousands? Do you want to make the New York Times Bestseller list, or do you just want your entire family to read it? Do you want to write articles or be interviewed for great sites like The Displaced Nation?

Once you’ve set some goals, how you go about achieving them becomes a lot easier.

What I can also say is that everything you write after you finish your book will be a promotion for that book. For example, at the end of this article is a little blurb about who I am and what I’ve written. Same for this interview I did in 2011 about publishing on Kindle, this article I wrote about taking the time to make change happen, and this article I wrote just recently for BBC America about combining British and American weddings (a version of which appeared two years ago on the Displaced Nation).

And now, without further ado, here’s Novel Writing Tip No 6 for International Creatives:

Once you write a book—everything you do will help promote it. So finish with the finishing touches, get out there and start talking about it!

* * *

Readers, what do you make of this final piece of advice of Meagan’s, which I take to be a kind of a kick in the pants (or trousers, if you prefer)? And do you have any further questions for Meagan, THE LADY WHO WRITES, before she leaves us? Please share in the comments…

Meagan Adele Lopez grew up in the U.S. with a Cuban-born father and American mother, and at one time enjoyed an acting/casting career in Hollywood, something you can detect in the beautiful trailer for her novel, Three Questions. Her day job these days is in social media advertising. To learn more about Meagan, go to her Web site.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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And the July 2014 Alices go to … these 4 international creatives

 © Iamezan | Dreamstime.com Used under license

© Iamezan | Dreamstime.com
Used under license

If you are a subscriber to our weekly newsletter, the Displaced Dispatch, you’re already in the know. But if you’re not, listen up. (Hey, why aren’t you? Off with your head!)

Every week, when that esteemed publication comes out, we present contenders for a monthly “Alice Award,” most of whom are writers or other kinds of international creatives who appear to have a special handle on the curious and unreal aspects of being a global resident or voyager.

Not only that, but this person tries to use this state of befuddlement as a spur to greater creative heights.

Today’s post honors July’s four Alice recipients. They are (drumroll…):

1) STEVE LUNT, British barrister and expat in the Far East (first Hong Kong and now the Philippines)

For his post: “My invitation to paradise was printed on a T-shirt,” on Telegraph Expat
Posted on: 25 July 2014
Snippet:

The tidal rhythms of island life seem to suit the mind and body. After a week in Boracay, you might forget that other world, where you have to strive more, earn more and worry more.

Small wonder then that so many expats forget to leave.

Citation: First off, Mr. Lunt QC, we’d like to pass judgement on this little adventure of yours. Let’s see. According to your testimony, you were having a “chilly winter” in Hong Kong when you happened to notice someone wearing a T-shirt promoting Boracay, the Philippines’ most popular tourist destination. It read:

Quit your job. Buy a ticket. Fall in love. Stay forever …

—and you decided to do just that. Now, does the defendant plead guilty or not guilty of barmy behavior? Off with your head… (Sorry, this is the first chance we’ve had to use that line in an Alice citation, and we simply couldn’t resist.) Moving right along to your observation about expats who are guilty of staying forever: we note that in your own case, you left the white sands of Boracay for the bright lights of Manila after 10 months. While this is a healthy sign, the jury is still out on your long-term intentions. All we can say is that forgetfulness is surprisingly common among us displaced types. Take Alice for instance. After stepping through the looking-glass, she enters the wood where things have no names and immediately forgets her own name:

“What do you call yourself?” the Fawn said at last. Such a soft sweet voice it had!

“I wish I knew!” thought poor Alice. She answered, rather sadly, “Nothing, just now.”

Suffice it to say that the moment you hear a Palawan Bearded Pig cry out, “I’m a Palawan Bearded Pig! and dear me! You’re an English barrister!”, it will be time to get the heck out of there. We rest our case.

2) LUCILLE CELANO, indie author and New Zealander in New Caledonia

For her post: The downsides of living in a Pacific paradise on Stuff.co.nz
Posted on: 15 July 2014
Snippet:

International contracts in mining and development bring in [to New Caledonia] entire families who must cope with a life not their own. Kids are thrown into school wondering what planet they’ve arrived on. No allowances are made for these children in the local system and the French syllabus of reading, writing and mathematics (and nothing else) seems alien to parents used to school rooms full of colour and creativity.

Citation: Lucille, we’ve long suspected that Paradise has many downsides, so thank you for writing this post. But, as to this business of expat children receiving a French-style education, are you sure that’s not an upside? Maybe we’ve been drinking the Pamela Druckerman Koolaid for too long (has her book, Bringing Up Bébé, reached New Caledonia yet?), but Drukerman, an American expat in Paris, pretty much has us persuaded that if your bébé isn’t doing well in school, it’s a sign of bad parenting. According to Druckerman, the French have a knack for getting the balance right between good parenting and good teaching, the evidence being the kids themselves. French kids are much better behaved than—while also being just as boisterous, curious and creative as—kids elsewhere. That said, it sounds as though you’ve got enough toxic matter in the air from that nickel smelter, and we wouldn’t want Druckerman’s thesis to add any more. The way things are going with that New Calendonian expat crowd, we predict it won’t be long before a Mock Turtle stands up and says he’s had the “best of educations,” far superior to anyone else’s in the room. And just think, if said Mock Turtle held sway, all expat offspring would be forced to study the “different branches of Arithmetic—Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision.” On the other hand, his idea of classes taking place in the sea might have a certain appeal. Isn’t New Caledonia one of THE diving spots in the South Pacific? Yes, yes, we know it’s no paradise, or if it is, it’s a paradise with flaws. Actually, now that you’ve gotten us thinking about French-style learning, we’re remembering a line of Victor Hugo’s that you may wish to use on the expat crowd, next time things get on your nerves:

An intelligent hell would be better than a stupid paradise.

3) BARNABY EALES, freelance journalist and director of a translation service, former expat but now living in East Sussex, UK

For his post: A return to my beautiful, mad school in Paris, on Telegraph Expat
Posted on: 7 July 2014
Snippet:

Madame Boulic, the mother of my second host French family, dropped me off at the [British School of Paris]‘s anniversary party and reunion. To her amusement, a banner at the entrance to the school read: “We are all mad here.”

Ahead of the evening BBQ party, the theme of the summer fête was Alice in Wonderland, and in the cultural sense, living in this part of France is all about being in wonderland: exposed to French culture and language while receiving a British education. An outsider within.

Citation: Barnaby, thank you for sharing this charming story of your misspent youth at a school for (predominantly, at the time you went there) British expats in France. And we’re head over heels for the idea of an Alice-themed summer fête being thrown by such a displaced institution. In our book, that’s calling a spade a spade, or should we say, a heart a heart? We have just one item in need of clarification, though, after reading your post. You mention beer and Jägermeister being enjoyed. But what about wine? We are recalling, of course, this exchange between Alice and the March Hare:

“Have some wine,” the March Hare said in an encouraging tone.

Alice looked all round the table, but there was nothing on it but tea. “I don’t see any wine,” she remarked.

“There isn’t any,” said the March Hare.

That would not be terribly civil, to use Alice’s word, especially in light of the growing numbers of French students at BSP. À la vôtre!

4) EMMA THIEME, fifth-generation Maine girl living off-the-grid in Washington County, Matador Network contributor and MatadorU faculty member

For her post: The First Time I Felt Independence, on Matador Network
Posted on: 4 July 2014
Snippet:

I wish I could say that this worry gene didn’t pass on to me, but I too have felt myself hugging a loved one too tightly when saying goodbye. I’ve saved countless voicemails as if they were soon-to-be artifacts. I’ve even gone so far as imagining the minute details of myself, distraught, at a funeral. What would I wear? Who would bring me? How soon would I return to work?

Citation: Listen, Emma, “worry” is Alice in Wonderland’s middle name! Honestly, has there ever been a bigger fretter in the history of English literature? Don’t even think about competing with her. But the nice thing about Alice, and we suspect you have this gene as well, is that despite her aversion to nasty predicaments, she handles them with aplomb. How about the time when she eats the cookie in the White Rabbit’s house and grows to the point where her arms and legs are sticking out the windows and doors, yet still has the presence of mind to conduct a little conversation with her extremities:

“Good-bye, feet!” (for when she looked down at her feet, they seemed to be almost out of sight, they were getting so far off). “Oh, my poor little feet, I wonder who will put on your shoes and stockings for you now, dears? I’m sure I shan’t be able! I shall be a great deal too far off to trouble myself about you: you must manage the best way you can;—but I must be kind to them,’ thought Alice, “or perhaps they won’t walk the way I want to go!”

And, while we don’t wish to be too literal, perhaps your worrying nature has kept your feet, which are clearly itching to travel and have adventures, from fulfilling their true potential. Had you thought of talking to your feet, as Alice does, and reassuring them of your intention to let them lead the way? We feel certain they appreciated your outburst at the Denver airport: “Wow, I’m alive!” (Hmmm…and now that you’re a domestic expat, having moved from Maine to Washington State, are they getting ideas about moving abroad? It would not surprise us.)

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So, readers, do you have a favorite from the above, or have you read any recent posts you think deserve an Alice Award? We’d love to hear your suggestions! And don’t miss out on the shortlist of Alice contenders we provide in each week’s Dispatch, which are sources of creative thought if nothing else! Get on our subscription list now!

STAY TUNED for more fab posts.

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TCK TALENT: Esther Williams Kalbfleish, Military Brat with a Heart for Theatre and a Mind for Teaching Other TCKs

Esther & Leon collage

TCK BELLS: Esther with her ATCK husband, Leon Kalbfleisch, on their wedding day six years ago. The couple originally met at the International School in Bangkok. Photo credit: Vikki Goodman.

Elizabeth (Lisa) Liang is back with her monthly column about Adult Third Culture Kids (ATCKs) who work in creative fields, Lisa herself being a prime example. A Guatemalan-American of Chinese-Spanish-Irish-French-German-English descent, she has developed her own one-woman show about being a TCK, which was the closing keynote at this year’s Families in Global Transition (FIGT) conference and will be staged in Europe for the first time this August.

—ML Awanohara

Greetings, readers! Today’s guest is Esther Williams Kalbfleisch, an actress who also works as an ESL teacher in Alhambra, California, teaching kids from around the world whose families have migrated to the USA. I hope you enjoy her TCK Tale as much as I did!

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Hello, Esther, and welcome to The Displaced Nation. I know you grew up in a military family, which gave you automatic admission into the ranks of us Third Culture Kids. Is it true that your dad worked as a spy at one point?
Yes, my dad was an army officer who served for 33 years, and while we were in India he was assigned to the Diplomatic Corps and worked as a spy!

So what did your mom do?
She was a housewife. Besides being a Cub Scout Den Mother and Girl Scout Leader, she assisted my dad with all of the entertaining that was necessary in his position.

I understand you were the youngest of four TCK siblings and the only girl, and that only one of your brothers traveled with you the first time you went overseas.
Yes, John was my only sibling to go overseas with my family after I was born; he was four years older and was born in Germany. My two eldest brothers, Wynn and Dennis, were from my dad’s first marriage and had gone overseas with him years before I was born. Wynn was 17 when I was born; Dennis was 13. Wynn attended West Point for a year and then served in Germany and Vietnam—my first memory of him would be from years later. By the time we went to India, Dennis had enlisted in the army.

Hey, we serve, too!

Tell me about all the moves and transitions you experienced as a kid.
We moved about every two years after I was born at Fort Eustis in Virginia. At that time my family was living off post, in a town called Lee Hall. Eventually we moved on post, to housing on Fort Eustis, and then to Springfield so that my parents could attend a foreign language school in D.C. in preparation for my father’s next assignment, in India. I remember my mom and dad bringing home films to give John and me an idea of what was to come. They also taught us how to count and say some simple phrases in Hindi. We moved to New Delhi when I was six, where I attended an American school. After two years we were transferred to Travis Air Force Base, in California, where we were one of the few army families. My dad was MATCO (Military Air Traffic Coordinating Officer)—his job was to organize and send materials to Vietnam and other places overseas. We moved to Thailand when I was in my last month of fourth grade. I enrolled in the International School of Bangkok, where I stayed and graduated from high school. My dad retired in Thailand, and my parents continued living there until 1976, when they moved back to the States.

When did your love of acting start?
Like many other military brats, I was raised in a very strict environment. My parents taught us that as Americans living overseas we were mini-ambassadors for the USA. Country, God, and family came first, especially country. When outside the home, we had to be polite, quiet, and respectful to all, and it was like that at home as well: no heated discussions or emotional outbursts. But then I got cast as Princess Lonelyheart in the second-grade play. Princess Lonelyheart stomped her feet when angry, cried when sad, and jumped up and down for joy. I had no idea one was allowed to react to the world in such a way—and thus began my life-long love affair with the theatre. I helped to found Thespian Troop 1163 at my high school in Bangkok, and performed or worked on over 12 productions.

The drama of choosing an acting career

But you went on to earn an education degree?
When it came time for college I was torn. My parents (who paid for my college, bless them!) considered theatre to be impractical and frivolous. And I had to struggle with my own feeling that acting was basically selfish. It didn’t fit in with my sense of duty to others. But even after I enrolled at the University of Colorado to study education, I couldn’t resist the pull of theatre. I continued to take classes and work with local theatre groups, both in college and immediately afterwards. I taught for three years in Dallas, Texas, before deciding to quit and study acting full time. I earned a second degree, in theatre, from the University of Texas.

So you got a second degree in theatre?
Yes, and eventually a master’s degree, from Cal State L.A.

It sounds like you really were torn.
For my entire adult life, I’ve been going back and forth between teaching and acting, struggling to find a place where I can best “serve” my community. After pursuing a career in theatre in the Chicago area, I moved to the L.A. area, where, for a time, teaching took over as my second love. For three years I was content to teach—there is nothing quite like watching a spark of understanding flit across a child’s face. But then one morning I woke up and vowed to find a theatre community. I learned that Theatre of NOTE was holding auditions the following day. I dragged out some monologues and went to the audition. For the next 24 years, Theatre of NOTE would be my artistic family. Due to my teaching demands I have now become an associate member. I still struggle with my choices.

Give me someone who has lived in another country…

Like many other ATCK artists I’ve talked to in this series, you’ve lived among worlds—first quite literally, when growing up in different cultures; and then professionally, as you found yourself torn between acting and teaching. As an adult TCK, have you also struggled with your cultural identity? And do you tend to gravitate towards people with interests or backgrounds similar to yours? 
To this day I have a particular fondness for the Thai people and their culture. Like most TCKs, I imagine, I identify most closely with people who have similar interests or who have lived abroad. I was a bit of a snob when I came back to the states for college. I couldn’t believe everyone was discussing Homecoming. I was far more interested in the latest Thai coup d’état… Give me someone who has lived in another country and I can LISTEN, as well as talk, for hours.

Were you happiest in a certain place at a certain time? 
I have fond memories of each place I’ve lived in, but I think India captured my curiosity. I was 6–8 years old when we lived there—old enough to be curious and yet not old enough to be set in any particular way of thinking. For me, India was a great mystery just waiting to be discovered. As I was always accompanied by my brother, John, I had nothing to fear. We would wander the streets of Dehli together or with friends, having adventures.

“The worst thing about being a military brat is not being a military brat anymore.” —Marc Curtis

As an ATCK, do you have “itchy feet” or do you prefer to have a home base and only travel for pleasure?
For many years I had “itchy feet”—I moved to different states or apartments every two to three years. Then someone asked me, was I running away or towards something. That got me thinking! I had three older brothers, all of whom were married with kids. I realized I was in search of something similar, a sense of community and family. That’s when I stopped moving and bought my own place. I realized I had to learn the skills to keep friendships and relationships going. There are wonderful people everywhere, but it is making the time to be with them that creates enduring bonds.

Have you kept in touch with friends from your TCK days?
One thing I’ve done for many years is to attend reunions of the International School in Bangkok, which are held every two years in different locations in the United States and even sometimes in Thailand. What is unique about the reunions is that they are for all graduating classes at the same time. I’ve attended almost every one since 1984. It has been great to reconnect with old friends and create many new ones.

I understand your husband is an old friend from the international school in Bangkok.
Yes! I re-met Leon at the 2000 reunion in Virginia—we had worked together on some plays in high school and were in choir and a couple of shared classes, but there had been nothing romantic between us. During that particular reunion we enjoyed a few nice chats. Fast forward to the next reunion, held in Arizona, in 2002. I had just returned from a magical, month-long trip to Kenya, and when I saw Leon, there was a little flutter in my stomach. It’s a long story, but for a while we had a long-distance relationship, after which he moved to California. We got married six years ago. We both enjoy traveling, but our first priority is visiting family and friends. We still attend the reunions every two years.

A good teacher is a good actor

What drew you to teaching?
The 1974 documentary film Hearts and Minds, which is about the Vietnam War. I came out of that movie believing that if everyone could learn to love and respect others as they love and respect themselves, no one would need to “react” out of fear, and we would no longer need war. It’s a somewhat naive thought, of course, but I can’t let go of it. I hold it in my heart each day when facing my students.

Do you think your international upbringing makes you particularly well suited to be an ESL teacher?
Definitely. As you mentioned at the outset, the students I work with are recent arrivals to the USA. Together we share what it is to leave your own country, family, and friends and try to create a new world for yourself in a new place. I’m currently working with high school students. Besides culture shock, they have the usual teenage angst about boyfriends or girlfriends left behind… Because I lived overseas and constantly moved around as a kid, I can easily relate to what they might be feeling.

Do you use both acting and diplomacy skills as a teacher? 
I think all teachers are actors to some degree. Especially working with high school students, one needs to react in a calm and thoughtful way, even if you’re not feeling that way inside. Teens will try to unnerve you if they can. I am constantly using both my acting skills and my diplomatic skills to create an environment of mutual trust and respect. One thing that drew me to the ESL students is that because their English is so limited, they don’t use language to hide what they need or want; they are too busy trying to make their meanings clear. Their needs are laid right out there for all to see. I find my ESL students to be especially honest and compassionate.

Our time is nearly up, but let’s give acting the final word. Are you performing anything soon? 
I’ll be performing in the New Short Fiction Series, L.A.’s longest running spoken words series, on Sunday, October 12, at 7:00 p.m. at the Federal Bar in North Hollywood. I’ll be presenting a new work of short fiction by a featured West Coast writer. Anyone who is passing through LA at that time is welcome to attend. You can sign up for tickets at www.newshortfictionseries.com.

* * *

Thank you, Esther! Readers, please leave any questions or comments for Esther or me below. I’ll see you in September, after I’ve returned from Iceland. As ML mentioned above, I’m kicking off a global theatre tour of Alien Citizen on August 20 and 22 at the amazing Tjarnarbíó creative center in Reykjavik! Thanks to all those who supported my Kickstarter campaign.

STAY TUNED for next week/month’s fab posts!

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