The Displaced Nation

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Expat, repat, and otherwise displaced reactions to the 2016 US presidential race


Welcome to the Displaced Nation’s virtual panel discussion on the most recent presidential election in America. (Hey, we figured if the pundits could get it all wrong, we could all be pundits, too!)

Before we get started, let me quickly explain how this panel came about. As some of you may know, I lived abroad for many years and, since repatriating to the United States, I’ve often felt like an exile in my own country. That said, the election of political outsider Donald Trump did not entirely surprise me. As explained in the most recent Displaced Dispatch, I had good information sources.

But if it didn’t surprise me, it definitely rocked my view of politics as usual in my native land. In the immediate aftermath, I wanted to be around other like-minded people here in New York City rather than being alone with my thoughts.

Likewise, I had the urge to reach out to the members of the international creative crowd we’ve gathered here at the Displaced Nation. How are they processing the news of America’s Brexit? And what impact do they see it having on their far-flung lives—beginning with the possibility of awkward holiday dinners with families?

A motley lot we expats, repats, and otherwise displaced types may be; but we, too, deserve a chance to say what we think.

And now, over to the panel…

* * *


MARIANNE BOHR, American Francophile: In a lodge in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, with my husband. We were on a cross-country trip to move to Park City, Utah, for our early retirement. I was in shock as I saw state after state in the Trump column.

ANTHONY WINDRAM, British expat (now a U.S. citizen) in New York City: I watched the results at home with a makeshift newsroom. I flitted between CNN on the TV, a different cable news channel on my iPad, twitter on my phone, and various news sites on the laptop. But as the results came in, and the narrative arc of the night started to become apparent, I felt I needed to be away from the constant breaking news and the increasingly hysterical tone of Wolf Blitzer. The repulsion I felt at the result was visceral. Brexit is the closest comparison, but with the British referendum result, I just felt sadness. The Brexit vote centered around fairly abstract ideas about sovereignty and Britain and Europe—thus a toad like Nigel Farage could be dismissed as a distraction; but this election was centered around the carnival barking demagoguery of Trump, and the knowledge that he will not be going away for, at least, the next four years and that he now has a permanent, prominent place in the history of this country, is nauseating.

HE RYBOL, Adult Third Culture Kid based in Luxembourg (moving soon to Canada): I heard it on the car radio on my way home. No thoughts, just disbelief, sadness, frustration, anger. If I had any thoughts, they were about the rise of nationalism in the 1920s and 1930s in Europe.

INDRA CHOPRA, Indian and serial expat: In my hometown, Gurgaon, India, preparing for Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights (October 30). Diwali is a celebration of good over evil but this year the festival stars Trump-ted the message. I was not surprised by the result as I had been following the campaign projections and stories during my stays of the past summer in the USA and Canada. I did feel let down by Hillary Clinton’s defeat, she is more qualified and deserving of the two and secondly it is time for the USA to have a woman president.

LISA LIANG, Adult Third Culture Kid based in Los Angeles: At home on the couch in our living room. I was in numb shock, not because I didn’t think it could happen, but because I had known it could and had decided to be optimistic for the last 36 hours because my psyche could no longer handle the dread and uncertainty. I could not sleep most of that night. The pain, grief, and rage arrived the next day and have peaked and dropped and peaked again on different days.

JACK SCOTT, former British expat in Turkey, now living in Norwich, UK: I first heard about Donald Trump’s victory on the morning news here in Britain. It was a wakeup call, but after Brexit, not entirely unexpected. I think we all know that both outcomes are a symptom of something deeper and more socially corrosive. There are a lot of people out there who feel marooned in poverty with little hope of rescue, including members of my own family. So it was okay to bail out the bankers but not the steelworkers? Really? If I was a praying man, I’d be on my knees hoping that Trump will be less incendiary in office than he has been on the podium, but I wouldn’t bet my shirt on it. Stoking up the darkest fears of those at the bottom of the heap is what got him elected. How a man born to enormous privilege can possibly understand the worries of the common man or woman is beyond me. But then I don’t understand the appeal of former merchant banker, Nigel Farage, either.

ML AWANOHARA, former American expat in UK and Japan, now living in New York: I spent the first part of the evening with a group of seven international friends in my NYC apartment building—only three of whom (myself included) were born here. One of our hosts was born in Montreal and the other in Taiwan, and the other two guests, in Asia (one of whom is my husband, who is Japanese). We were drinking wine and eating Chinese food while watching the returns on a huge TV screen. A bottle of bubbly was chilling in the fridge. Several of us left at midnight, when it was clear Hillary was likely to lose. We never popped the cork. The next morning, I couldn’t get over how quiet and glum everyone looked on the subway. At work several of us gathered around a computer screen to watch Hillary’s speech, with Bill standing behind her. The two of them have been political fixtures in this country for so long, it felt like watching the Twin Towers come down. No wonder people are saying 9/11 and 11/9…


MARIANNE BOHR: It hasn’t changed my views because I remain steadfast in my belief that our country’s system of checks and balances will limit the damage Trump can do. Having lived in France, however, I always think about what the French will say/think about US politics and I’m afraid that many of them are as astounded as Americans. They love President Obama and I’m sure they’re shaking their heads about Trump—while also fearing that his election may indicate what could happen with Marine Le Pen.

ANTHONY WINDRAM: This was the first election I voted in since taking American citizenship. Indeed, this election was one of the primary reasons that I sought citizenship. Now I’ve assumed the nationality, I probably can’t claim displacement anymore: assimilation seems to be the stage I am at now. But there certainly isn’t the pride I felt on the morning when I voted as a US citizen for the first time taking my three-year-old daughter with me to the voting booth. I’m glad she’s only three. I’d have hated to try and explain to an older child that Horrorclown was the President-elect. I also find myself thinking back to my citizenship ceremony. The vast number of Hispanics sworn in with me, the small number of people from the Middle East. The result feels like a stinging rebuke to them from the country they had pledged allegiance to. Perhaps all high schoolers as part of their civic lessons should be taken to see a US naturalization ceremony. (As I write this, it has just occurred to me that as President one of the first duties that Trump will have to do is record a video greeting to be played at all naturalization ceremonies. I would find that grotesque.)

HE RYBOL: If anything, this outcome made me feel how lucky I am to have led an international life, with parents from different countries and with the opportunity to go to university in California (I loved it!). But while I don’t understand how anyone could vote for Trump, I don’t feel comfortable putting all of Trump’s supporters in the same basket, especially considering I’m sitting comfortably on another continent. For some of them, a vote for Trump may be an expression of frustration or even despair, rather than a reflection of who they really are. Part of me would like to encourage them to try living abroad for a while. At the same time, though, I’m aware my suggestion might seem unrealistic for someone who is struggling to make ends meet.

INDRA CHOPRA: I am not directly affected, and neither is my family, by the election verdict. Travel to USA had always been a challenge and additional discourtesies have come to be expected.

LISA LIANG: The election result has made me even more grateful for my TCK upbringing and even more determined to tell my intercultural story in my one-woman show, Alien Citizen, in as many countries as possible. I also want to help countless more people tell their intercultural stories via my workshops. On the painful side, the election has made me wonder if traveling will be harder because US citizens will be reviled and/or because the president elect will find other ways to make it harder. I hope not with all my heart.

JACK SCOTT: Viewing the world from our window, I feel rather insulated from the tragi-comedy engulfing us. I’m glad we chose Norwich to pitch our tent after our Anatolian adventures. While the cattle and corn county surrounding us voted for Brexit, the city itself wanted to remain, me included—though even I waivered a bit. The European Union is hard to love. But now the die has been cast, we just have to get on with it, don’t we?

ML AWANOHARA: I’m living in a bubble (that of a repat, with many international friends) inside a bubble (New York City), so, yes, I’m feeling rather exposed at this point! On the other hand, this election made me realize I do know something—in fact, my knowledge came from my early years abroad. While in the UK, I wrote a doctoral thesis on women, politics, and Shakespeare. My conclusion was that women nearly always find it problematic to exercise power when their power derives from a relationship with a powerful man. Unfortunately for Hillary, my findings showed that she would have been better off had she tried to make it to the top on her own steam, as Margaret Thatcher, and now Theresa May, did. But that is of course the rational side of me. The emotional side is breathing a giant sigh of relief I’m no longer an expat—I can imagine how weary I’d be by now of being asked by everyone I meet to explain the Trump phenomenon. And how much worse, now that he’s the president-elect! I’m also thinking back to the days when I first went abroad and felt happy to be escaping a society I’d come to see, even at that tender age, as fat (literally), lazy (wanting something for nothing), shallow (“shop until you drop”) and degenerate (hopelessly dysfunctional). Even so, I hadn’t quite foreseen that Washington would one day become a reality show!


MARIANNE BOHR: No. I have to say that all my friends have political beliefs that are similar to mine. As I come from a family of eleven children, I learned long ago that we disagree about politics and religion and that we do not discuss them. They simmer under the surface but it’s dangerous to let them boil over. The burns would leave scars.

ANTHONY WINDRAM: I’ve never considered it before, but the family argument regarding politics over the holiday dinner is such an American trope. It doesn’t seem to exist to the same extent in Britain. Perhaps it’s our lack of a Thanksgiving? When eating our big holiday dinner at Christmas, it’s hard to feel mad at individuals who have just showered you with presents and with whom you can look forward to watching Downton Abbey or a Doctor Who Christmas special. By contrast, at Thanksgiving you feel oddly trapped with your family, and America doesn’t do good holiday TV so families have to actually interact with each other—never a good idea. But you know, even if I discovered that my values clash with a family member or friend, I think I’d be okay. I’m surprisingly diplomatic in person. I’ve always had very close friends of differing political persuasions to my own, and I’ve always been a little suspicious of people who don’t. We all know who among friends and family we can have a reasonable political discussion with irrespective of our differences, and who just wants to vent. It’s always best not to engage with the venters—just treat them as dinner theater (which is just as well considering the lack of good holiday TV in the US!).

HE RYBOL: Nope, thankfully the members of my immediate family—our nationalities include German, French, Luxembourgish and Italian—are all on the same side, as our friends who visit that time of year (whose nationalities also include Dutch, Belgian, Brazilian, Swedish, English, and Portuguese).

INDRA CHOPRA: Luckily it seems, this question doesn’t apply to me.

LISA LIANG: Nope. Everyone in my immediate family, and among my close friends, voted for Hillary Clinton. I also made it clear on Facebook at 1:00 a.m. on the calamitous night that anyone who didn’t vote for her could unfriend me. In my life, I don’t need anyone who voted for—or helped enable the election of—a Ku Klux Klan-endorsed, xenophobic, bullier of the disabled, likely rapist and his religious fanatic VP. Those details absolutely cannot be compartmentalized no matter how many people insist that they can.

JACK SCOTT: As far as Brexit goes: Most friends tend to be remainers, unless they’re closet Brexiteers of course (and I suspect a few are). And I’ve long since kept politics out of the conversation, family-wise. We’re a diverse group and it pays to keep mum. Of course, Mother herself is a devoted Brexiteer, as is common for her wartime generation. The old girl doesn’t get out much these days—and didn’t make it to the polling booth.

ML AWANOHARA: Funny what Anthony says—I talked politics at many a Christmas gathering in Britain! And I’ve always found it much harder to talk politics with family and friends in the United States. It’s as though we’ve outsourced our politics here so that we don’t have to tax ourselves overly with worrying about it. (Hm, I wonder if that will change now!) In any case, I suspect the topic of the election may surface occasionally at tomorrow’s Thanksgiving party. A couple of us were Bernie supporters, and the younger people who are coming, my nieces, are part of the millennial generation that felt devastated in the wake of Hillary’s loss. My stepfather is too old to travel but if he were joining us, he would attempt to hold up the side for the Republican Party. But even then we’d probably find some common ground as his idea of the Party is much different than Trump’s!

* * *

More about the panelists:

Marianne Bohr is the author of Gap Year Girl: A Baby Boomer Adventure Across 21 Countries and has been contributing the World of Words column to the Displaced Nation.

Anthony Windram is one of the founders of the Displaced Nation. He has a long-running blog of his own, called Culturally Discombobulated, where he’s been closely covering the 2016 election and now aftermath.

HE Rybol is the author of Culture Shock: A Practical Guide and the recently published Reverse Culture Shock. She has been contributing the Culture Shock Toolbox column to the Displaced Nation.

Indra Chopra contributes to Indian, Middle Eastern and online media. She blogs at TravTrails and has been writing the Accidental Expat column for the Displaced Nation.

Lisa Liang is the creator and star of the solo show Alien Citizen: an earth odyssey. She is also the creator of the Displaced Nation’s TCK Talent column.

Jack Scott is the author of Perking the Pansies—Jack and Liam move to Turkey and Turkey Street: Jack and Liam move to Bodrum. He formerly contributed the popular Jack the Hack (writing advice) column to the Displaced Nation.

ML Awanohara is the founding editor of the Displaced Nation. She is currently contributing the Expat Author Game column to the site.

* * *

Readers, do you have anything to add to the panelists’ heart-felt responses? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!

And we hope you have (had? by the time you read this…) a happy Thanksgiving, those of you who are celebrating—try not to spoil it by talking politics. 🙂

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of biweekly posts from The Displaced Nation and soooo much more. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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Photo credits: Top visual: Panelist photos (supplied). Q1 visual: Donald Trump Backyard Photo Sign at Night – West Des Moines, Iowa, by Tony Webster via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0). Q2 visual: Bursting bubble via Pixabay. Q3 visual: Thanksgiving dinner, by Marilyn C. Cole via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

DIARY OF AN EXPAT WRITER: Back in full-time writing mode and full of resolution(s) for 2016!

Diary of an Expat Writer
We haven’t heard from American expat in Hong Kong and aspiring writer Shannon Young for a while. Does that mean she’s thrown in the towel on the full-time writing gig? Read on to find out…

Dear Displaced Diary,

It has been a few months since my last entry. When we left off, I had just completed the final book in my post-apocalyptic Seabound Chronicles, and I was working a part-time job that had me trekking to a different corner of Hong Kong each week to teach a reading program in local schools.

Well, it’s a new year, Dear Diary, and I’m starting fresh in a big way. The four titles in the Seabound Chronicles are now out in ebook and paperback, and they are being read by an ever-growing number of people. I’m back to full-time writing, with an even greater appreciation for the beauty of uninterrupted time. My sales ranks and income are trending in a decidedly positive direction.

My New Year’s resolution is to continue writing in a full-time capacity without needing to take piecemeal teaching work. If my calculations are correct, another two strategically positioned novels and a box set of the Seabound Chronicles will put me firmly into “don’t need to get a new job” territory.

Seabound Chronicles Collage

It’s more than a resolution: it’s my mission.

I’ve planned ahead a bit, so I already had rough drafts of the two novels in question when the year started.

Here’s the game plan for 2016:

  1. Finish and publish Ferry Tale, a love story set in Hong Kong, under the name Shannon Young.
  2. Compile and publish a box set of the Seabound trilogy.
  3. Finish and publish Duel of Fire, the first book in my new fantasy series, under the name Jordan Rivet.

There’s just one catch: I need to do all of these things by April!

I have three months before I may need to start looking at job openings again, and I don’t intend to waste them. Having limited time throughout the fall has given me new motivation to make the most of every hour.

So the challenge is there, and the stakes are set.

Here’s how it’s going to happen:

January is a serious writing and revision month. That means 7-8 hours a day at Starbucks for the writing, and more time at home for research and publishing miscellany. That means eating, sleeping, and breathing my stories. That means working some weekends. That means staying focused.

It has been awesome so far. I finished up the second draft and polished off the third draft of Duel of Fire and sent it my first round of readers in the first week of January. I did the same with the first and second drafts of Ferry Tale in the second week (it’s much shorter, in all fairness).

While my diligent and self-sacrificing beta readers are going through Duel of Fire and Ferry Tale, I started the sequel to Duel of Fire, which is tentatively titled King of Mist.

In Week 3, I wrote 50,000 words. That is one full NaNoWriMo.

I know the characters, used an outline, and spent a minimum of eight hours writing each day, which is the only way I could manage to reach that word count. I expect to complete the rough draft in the first half of the fourth week in January, around the time you are reading this.

One thing I learned from the Seabound Chronicles is that sales increase exponentially with multiple books out in a series and quick releases, so I’m aiming to have the sequel ready for publication by May.

But back to my game plan:

February, the month for love, is the month for Ferry Tale. The plan is to finish the final draft and publish in time for Valentine’s Day.

The Seabound box set will launch in March, three months after the publication of the final book in the series. Hopefully this will give it a nice boost while I prepare for the launch of the new Jordan Rivet series.

Meanwhile, work on Duel of Fire and its sequel will continue throughout February and March. I’ve booked an editor for March 9th, leaving no room to mess around. (The cover should be coming back from the designer around then as well, and it’s going to be wicked cool!) Pub Day should happen around April 1st—no fooling! I’m hoping that by the time the sequel launches I’ll have earned another few months in No-Day-Job Land.

Shannons Game Plan 2016

Doing whatever it takes.

It may sound like I’m rushing these books. But the honest truth is I’m still going to end up doing four to five drafts of each one, just like for the Seabound series. I’m simply spending more hours in the chair. It’s a far sight better than writing on a minibus as it swerves all over the New Territories, which is what I did during my teaching contract!

I’ve also found that—shockingly—I’m getting better at this. The more I write the easier it is. I’m creating increasingly detailed outlines for my books in advance, which makes the writing itself faster and the books better. My prose needs less polishing because it’s getting down on the page in better shape. And the knowledge that I am capable of completing books makes completing books less daunting.

So the plan for 2016 is to work harder, work smarter, work for more hours each day, and get these stories out into the world. I’m excited about the possibilities.

2015 was the warm-up. 2016 is going to be big.

By the way, Diary, if you see me at Starbucks too long after dark, you should probably tell me to go home.

Shannon go home


Shannon Young
AKA Jordan Rivet

* * *

Wow, Shannon, I’m inspired! In fact, though I know your game plan reflects how indie book sales work, it makes me think of Victorian times, when novels appeared not all at once but in parts or installments, over a space of time. All of Charles Dickens’s novels were published that way, most of them in stand-alone monthly parts. Are we going back to the era of serial fiction? In which case, may you keep up your Dickensian pace. That said, when you’re burning too much of the midnight oil, please remember Dickens slept from midnight until seven in the morning every day. Readers, any more advice or words of encouragement for Shannon in achieving her ambitious goals of 2016? ~ML

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DIARY OF AN EXPAT WRITER: Still reeling from reaching the end of my 4-book series in 3 years!

Diary of an Expat Writer
American expat in Hong Kong Shannon Young quit her day job a year ago to become a full-time writer. Here’s the latest entry in her expat writer’s diary.

Dear Displaced Diary,

Yesterday I finished writing the Seabound Chronicles. It’s hard to wrap my head around that sentence:


I first got the idea for this series, set on a post-apocalyptic cruise ship called the Catalina, three years ago. I wrote the first words on November 1st, 2012. The series has been my primary writing project ever since, influencing what I read, research, and think about on a daily basis. And now it is complete.

The total word count for the series is 322,000. That works out to 80,000 for Seabound, 73,000 for Seaswept, 73,000 for Burnt Sea, and a whopping 96,000 for Seafled.

Photo credit: Chart via Pixabay.

Photo credit: Chart via Pixabay.

I’ve spent hundreds of hours in this world…

The characters have become increasingly real to me as I’ve figured out how they think, what happens to them, how they react. I’ve lost count of how many dreams I’ve had set on cruise ships. They never take place on the actual Catalina or include characters from the books, but they are often incredibly vivid.

I’ve been walking around for the past day trying to figure out how I feel about this ending. To be honest, I feel hazy, almost hung-over. My reactions are a little slower, lights are a little too bright, and I’m not sure what to do with myself.

Part of this is likely because my week writing the final draft was very intense. I taught five days at two schools far out by the Chinese border. In order to meet my deadline, I stayed at Starbucks until closing several nights that week, and spent eight straight hours writing on both Wednesday (a public holiday) and Sunday.

Except when teaching, I was totally disengaged from the real world. I’m sure I still owe some people some emails.

Trying to get my head around how this feels…

I’m reminded of when I graduated from college. I honestly feel like the three years I spent writing this series was akin to getting a degree. I now have a Masters in Writing Seabound. And like many degrees (my double major in Classical Studies, for example), it’s something I’ll never use again. At least, not directly.

Photo credit: Graduation—my masters degree, by Sarah Stierch via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Photo credit: Graduation—my masters degree, by Sarah Stierch via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Soon, I’ll be able to look at the lessons I learned from this series and apply them to the next one, which is already in progress.

Soon, I’ll be able to step back and remember that the series isn’t really finished because I still have to format and upload the final book.

Soon, I’ll be able to appreciate that my readers are still deeply engaged in this world and there are more of them out there who haven’t discovered it yet.

Soon, I’ll be able to break this down into a nice takeaway message or two.

But today, I am just absorbing the feelings…

There’s some joy, some sadness, some melancholy, some triumph. Right now all I can do is feel and process. And maybe even write down those feelings. Isn’t that what diaries are for?

Thanks for listening.


Shannon Young
AKA Jordan Rivet

The Seabound Chronicles is a post-apocalyptic adventure series set on a souped-up cruise ship. It features a prickly female mechanic named Esther. The first three books are out now under the pen name Jordan Rivet. The final book, Seafled, launches on November 30th.

Photo credit: Cruise ship via Pixabay.

Photo credit: Cruise ship via Pixabay.

* * *

Wow, that’s quite a milestone, Shannon—congratulations! It makes sense to me that you feel both happy and relieved as well as numb and somewhat bereft. It’s been an intense three years! Readers who are also writers, can you relate to Shannon’s mixed emotions? Please share your own experiences in the comments. ~ML

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation and much, much more. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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DIARY OF AN EXPAT WRITER: The highs, but also the lows, of the writing life

Diary of an Expat Writer
American expat in Hong Kong Shannon Young quit her day job a year ago to become a full-time writer. Here’s the latest entry in her expat writer’s diary.

Dear Displaced Diary,

As you’ve no doubt noticed over these many months, most of my entries have focused on the good things happening in my life as a writer. I prefer to take an optimistic view of my progress. But there are hard days, too—when I don’t see the results I’d like or accomplish as much as I want. On such days, uncertainty and frustration overwhelm the logic telling me I’m on the right track. Yesterday was an especially low day, so this month I want to share with you a sense of the ups and downs of the expat writer’s day-to-day existence—take you on a kind of roller coaster ride.

One of the worst lows: Comparisonitis

I try not to obsess over how other people’s books are selling (except for research purposes), but the desire to look at a comparable book’s sales rank and wonder why mine isn’t doing as well can creep in like an evil sprite. That can lead to insecurity and jealousy over things that are 100% out of my control.

That way lies madness!

The flip side of comparisonitis is reading a great book and feeling like I’ll never be able to write something as good. I’ll say to myself: “Of course they’re selling better than I am! Their book is gripping and sexy and funny and I can’t put it down! Why can’t I do that!”

Borders in Ann Arbor, by Joanna Poe via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Borders in Ann Arbor, by Joanna Poe via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

How I deal with it: The old adage about the overnight success that takes ten years is absolutely true. Behind every book that takes off like a shot there’s a writer who has put in the time, sweat, and tears to get to that tipping point. I have to remind myself, sometimes on a daily basis, that I’m putting in the work now that will hopefully pay off in a big way later (both from a sales perspective and a skill perspective). This is a craft, and I am still an apprentice in many ways. I also need to remind myself to focus exclusively on the things I can control, such as writing the best books I possibly can—and occasionally stepping away from the Internet.

One of the best highs: Fans!

Yes, I officially have fans. This month I received my first fan letter for the Jordan Rivet books from someone who is in no way connected with me or anyone I know. She wrote me again this week to tell me that she finished Burnt Sea and loved it!

While I was in Arizona, I also got to meet up with two different readers who are friends with my mom (one read Seabound before I ever met her, the second I’ve known for many years). One told me she felt star struck to be having coffee with me. The other had highlighted her favorite passages from Burnt Sea and shared them over Chipotle. To hear that she enjoyed these sentences I’d been poring over for months was incredibly gratifying. Both women made me feel great about my work—and that kind of encouragement can’t be understated, especially on the low days.

Jodan Rivet fans

Stateside Jordan Rivet fans Trine and Julie (photos supplied).

Another low: Rejection

I’ve chosen the indie-publishing road for my Jordan Rivet books, and it comes with its own share of rejection. There are a few promotion sites that are real heavy hitters. I’ve been accepted by some of the big ones, but rejected by the biggest of all (Bookbub). Sometimes this is just a matter of scheduling, but it still stings.

Much of my work as Shannon Young is not self-published, though. I’ve been waiting for a response on a particular piece for six months. This week I finally got an answer: no. It’s time to reassess and decide whether I want to release this particular work as is or develop it into a longer project.

Rejection Mug

Photo credit: “Journal of Universal Rejection” coffee mug, by Tilemahos Efthimiadis via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

How I deal with it: Even though six months have elapsed since I submitted the piece, I’m realizing I may need to step away from it a bit longer before I can make a clear-eyed decision. There are a lot of emotions tied up in rejection, and I need to make an intelligent decision about whether to move on, keep trying, or do something differently. That takes time and perspective.

A kind of high: Not reading reviews!

This high isn’t what you might guess. The reviews for my work have generally been positive, but for me the real triumph is that I’ve finally gotten to a place where I no longer read my reviews. I’ve come to realize that, at the end of the day, reviews exist for readers, not for writers. They are there to help other people decide whether or not they’ll like a book and to give the reviewers a chance to express their thoughts about it. None of that has anything to do with the author.

If I do read my reviews—including positive ones—here’s what happens: I fixate on the critiques. I can’t help it. I’m an optimistic person, possibly confident to a fault, yet it’s always the critiques I remember. And you know what, diary? There’s absolutely nothing I can do to fix things at that point. The book is done and dusted. I can’t change it. So why obsess over the one thing that didn’t work for a reader who enjoyed the book as a whole?

(Note: I follow my writers’ groups’ critiques like gospel. I’m always trying to improve my work, but when a book is finished and published that no longer applies.)

Thus reading reviews is a recipe for utterly futile stress. So while I am incredibly thankful for people who take the time to write reviews (and they’re essential for the success of a book), I won’t read them. Instead, I’ll focus on making every book better than the last.

Yet another low: Missed deadlines

I’ve mentioned before that I like to make checklists and to-do lists for myself. Crossing off items on time or early never fails to make me happy. On the other hand, if I miss my deadlines it can be equally frustrating.

Case in point: my new part-time teaching job starts on October 5th. The timing of the classes means I’ll have to rework my writing schedule to stay productive. I wanted to finish the final book in the Seabound Chronicles before then. My goal was to finish the current draft on Friday. Well, on Monday the book was 80,000 words. By Friday, it had grown to 86,000 words, but I had only reached the 51,000-word mark in my edit. Adding all those scenes took a lot more time and thought than anticipated, so now I probably won’t finish the draft until Thursday at the earliest. This leaves me with less buffer time than I had hoped before the Great Schedule Shuffle begins.

Photo credit: Pixabay.

Photo credit: Pixabay.

How I deal with it: Like always, I need to glue myself to my chair and just get on with it! The book will be finished when it’s finished, and I’m not going to put out a half-baked project (or even 80% baked). The worst thing I could do would be to let frustration or impatience paralyze me.

The knack of staying on an even keel

This emotional rollercoaster is normal for a full-time writer. It’s important not to let either extreme get in the way of my work. The key is to accept the reality of the lows and to figure out ways to deal with them so as not to become derailed.

Thank you, Displaced Diary, for giving me a chance to process. Sometimes that’s all it takes to get the day turned around and become productive.


Shannon Young
AKA Jordan Rivet

* * *

Shannon, thank you for giving us such a clear window onto the highs and lows you’ve experienced as a full-time writer. TBH, it brings me back to the days when I was a graduate student in the UK and how frustrated I felt on the days when my thesis-writing wasn’t going well (or at all). When you have to keep producing page after page, you can become very isolated, and you’re already feeling somewhat isolated to begin with as an expat. It’s great you have found such a supportive writers’ community in Hong Kong. You also seem to have a much better ability than I did at the same age, to trust in the process! Readers who are also writers, can you relate to Shannon’s vacillating emotions? Please share your own experiences in the comments. ~ML

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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And the Alices go to … these 3 expat writers for their Hurricane Sandy posts

 © Iamezan | Used under license

© Iamezan |
Used under license

My husband and I have a habit of going on holiday just before some major world crisis occurs — after which we have no choice but to spend several days holed up in our hotel room watching the events unfold on CNN. Twice it was a crisis involving water: the deadly Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami.

But for Hurricane Sandy, we were very much on the scene — ensconced in our apartment in NYC’s East Village, and with no television to watch, not even a radio to listen to! As those who read my post of earlier this month are aware, we were deprived not only of power but also water, communications and public transportation for several days, and displaced from our home for one night — an inconvenience that, while somewhat traumatic, turned out to be minor compared to what others had suffered in harder-hit areas.

As I mentioned then, the experience gave me a chance to test this blog’s basic premise: that forcible displacement at some level compares with the kind of displacement one has when living in a country that is not your home. And if so, can a former expat like me draw on the strengths gained from living overseas to keep calm and carry on?

While pondering these fundamental questions, I came across three posts by expats on Hurricane Sandy that gave me some fresh insights — not only on Sandy but on the down-the-rabbit hole nature of international travel and the expat life.

Thus I’d like to hand out three “Alices” today to (in reverse chronological order):


Awarded for: Clouds from the Past: My Reflections on Sandy, Gloria and the Jersey Shore, in his personal blog: The American Londoner
Posted on: 3 November 2012
Moving passage:

But here and now, when things are raw, when my cousins have been without power for a week and my parents are cooking with a propane tank and a Coleman portable grill even high up in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, I mourn. My heart goes out to those suffering and I mourn for that place of childhood sunshine and wish it a good and steady recovery in the coming months.
All the best, Jersey. I am thinking of you.

Citation: Pete, before Sandy, you probably weren’t thinking that much about “that place of childhood sunshine,” the Jersey shore — because, after eight years in London, you try not to think too much about sunshine any more. But then Sandy plunged you into mourning for all the good times you had as an all-American kid — the “long sunny days spent lazily frolicking through waves, collecting shells, and cautiously avoiding jellyfish.” It even made you think with some nostalgia of Hurricane Gloria, which you rather enjoyed as a seven-year-old. Absence, plus tragedy, can indeed make the heart grow fonder… What’s more, I sense how bad you must have felt about being powerless, from a distance, to help your parents and your cousin in their time of need — a guilt that’s at the hard core of the expat life. Just ask Linda Janssen — I’m thinking of her aptly titled “Down the Rabbit Hole” post of last summer, about her father’s illness.


Awarded for: Hurricane Sandy and the unspoken attraction of disaster, in Matador Abroad
Posted on: 1 November 2012
Thought-provoking passage:

Now, as New York City is sloshed by a record-breaking 13ft wall of water, it is I sitting comfortably in a café in Hong Kong watching the light October rain outside. … My friends post photos on Facebook of candlelit dinners, submerged cars, and the powerless, darkened skyline.

And I wish I were there with them. Not because I’m afraid for their safety (I’m not), but because I’m missing a moment of New York history. I’ll never be able to say, “Remember the flood of 2012? That was insane.” I feel jealous at the pictures, like I’ve seen a photo of an ex-lover with his new flame.

Citation: Maddie, I wonder why it is, as we also learned on this blog this month, so few American expats feel the need to connect with their homeland during a presidential election — which, too, provides a chance to be “part of history,” especially if the race is closely contested? I think the answer may lie in your rather astute observation: people love a disaster. Come to think of it, a friend of mine has confessed that during Sandy, she had the overwhelming urge to go outside — in the storm! (Even though it was expressly forbidden by Mayor Bloomberg.) In addition, your post reminded me of another old expat adage: out of sight, (afraid of being) out of mind…


Awarded for: “I wasn’t afraid of Superstorm Sandy — until the lights went out,” in Telegraph Expat
Posted on: 31 October 2012
Moving passage:

Forty-eight hours ago, I was relishing my role as stoic, cynical Brit, refusing to bow down to an impending crisis. I bashed out jokey emails to friends and family noting that it was “a bit blustery”…

…my husband and I — plus my visiting younger sister — spent much of Sunday and Monday quite enjoying the commotion. Like kids playing an imaginary game, we stocked up on all the (un)necessaries: crisps mainly, and garish American junk foods…

Then, something strange happened: the lights went out in Manhattan. … “Ah,” we thought, followed by a shaky: “Hmm”. … Eventually, we went to bed, with the radio on. No one got much sleep.

When the next storm hits, I expect I’ll ditch the cockiness sooner.

Citation: Ruth, there I was, trying to conjure up the “keep calm and carry on” ethos that I’d learned (rather begrudgingly) from nearly a decade of living in Britain, when, had I known you were down in Brooklyn, I could have asked for a refresher course (ah, yes, the junk foods and the jokey emails!). Still and all, I’m glad to know that even for a native-born Brit, there are limits, one of which is seeing the lights go out in lower Manhattan… (From now on, I won’t be too hard on myself!) I can also relate to what you said about these disasters having a cumulative effect (made worse by the fact that you’re living far away from your homeland and already feeling somewhat displaced). As you point out in your post, Sandy was the second time since emigrating that you’ve “had to assume the brace position,” the first being Irene. I can recall feeling something similar when living in Tokyo — first there was the Aum Shinrikyo attack on the subway and then the massive earthquake in Kobe, after which I decided that the stoicism required for this situation hadn’t yet been invented! (Bloomin’ heck, why was it I’d told everyone at “home” that Japan was so much safer?)

* * *

So, readers, do you have a favorite from the above, any comments on these bloggers’ ruminations, or any further posts to suggest? I’d love to hear your suggestions!

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, some comforting advice and (hopefully) words of wisdom from The Displaced Nation’s resident agony aunt, Mary-Sue Wallace.

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Images: All from Morguefiles.

How the 2012 elections looked to a repatriated American who is now a digital global citizen

Global citizens follow the US elections closely; some even see American politics as a spectator sport. For today’s post, we asked Anastasia Ashman, an occasional contributor to the Displaced Nation, to tell us how she felt about the 2012 elections. An expat of many years and an active proponent of global citizenship, Anastasia recently repatriated, with her Turkish husband, to her native California.

Rather than drifting away from the American political process when I was far from my fellow citizens, it was during an expat stint that I became most deeply involved.

My involvement had a displaced quality, of course.

I have always been on the edges of the American experience, hailing as I do from the countercultural town of Berkeley, California. The first time in my life I owned and brandished an American flag was after 9/11. It felt like a homecoming after a lifetime of being the outsider.

Even now that I’m back in California, my political involvement continues to have a displaced quality because I know what it’s like to be a citizen on the front lines of our nation’s foreign policy. For most Americans, the issue of how the rest of the world perceives our country is distant, amorphous, forgettable — but not for those of us who’ve lived abroad.

Clark for President!

I’d discovered Wesley Clark on television after 9/11. A four-star general, he was talking about the world we’d suddenly plunged into like a polished, collected and thoughtful world-class leader. It was easy to feel a kinship with the philosopher general even though I’d grown up in a household that vilified the military. Instead of activist or escapist pursuits, I chose to join him in geopolitical chess.

During the months between September 2003 and February 2004 when Clark competed in the presidential primary to become the Democratic candidate, I campaigned for him from afar. My email inbox soon filled with security warnings from the U.S. Consul urging Americans to keep a low profile.

If I had been able to get my hands on a campaign poster back in 2003 and 2004, I wouldn’t have displayed it publicly in my Istanbul apartment window. We were invading Iraq, and Istanbul was the site of four al Qaeda-related terrorist bombings that November. Avoid obvious gatherings of Americans, the emails cautioned. No mention of red, white, and blue “Clark for Democratic Candidate” campaign posters plastered on your residence — I had to extrapolate that.

Instead, I became active in online forums and wrote letters to undecided voters and newspapers in numerous states for my choice, the former N.A.T.O. Supreme Commander Wesley Clark. That was all I could do.

Obama for Re-election!

I’ve now been back in the USA for a year and have followed this election cycle, like the last one, mostly via social media. Online is an ideal place to become disconnected from echo chambers you don’t resonate with, and to stumble into rooms you don’t recognize. Both have happened.

But for the first time in the American political process, I don’t feel displaced. I feel like I am right where I belong.

Maybe it’s the San Francisco environs, which, although they may not match my concerns, don’t rankle too badly. At least I’m not in Los Angeles being asked to vote on whether porn actors must wear condoms. (They should, obvs!)

I feel less displacement in this election because of the resonant connections I’ve made online in the last four years or more. I’m in open, deep geopolitical conversation with Americans, American expats and with citizens of other nations, all over the world.

During this election I’ve been using my web platform, my digital footprint, to gather political news and opinion, enter discussions, and raise awareness. I’ve been reconciling my patchwork politics by weaving together who I relate to, and what I care about, and what sources I pass on to my network and what conversations I start. I now know that I am

  • A woman from an anti-war town who campaigned for a general!
  • A Hillary supporter who’s backing Barack, and
  • An adult-onset Third Culture Kid who understands how and why Obama’s Third Culture Kid experience confuses the average American.

What I have chosen to share on social media during this election cycle is a processing of all that makes me a political animal. I feel I have participated in this election cycle as the whole me, and that is all I can do.

I’ve shared that I care deeply that

I am buoyed that these abominations are leaking out and being countered. I was edified to hear others share my disapproval of eligible voters who choose to throw their votes away.

I have been able to be an active digital world citizen during this election cycle, someone who votes for the bigger picture, not just at the ballot box, but in everything I do. And that feels like home to me.

ANASTASIA ASHMAN is the cultural writer/producer behind the Expat Harem book and discussion site. The Californian has been on a global rollercoaster: fired in Hollywood, abandoned on a snake-infested island off Borneo, married in an Ottoman palace, interviewed by Matt Lauer on the Today show. She brings it all home in the “Web 3.0 & Life 3.0” transformational media startup, empowering people to be more visible in the world and develop personally/professionally through social web technology. Get your copy of the Global You manifesto here.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s account of the American election cycle from a British expat’s perspective.

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A veteran of the expat life, I thought I knew displacement…but then along came Hurricane Sandy!

The topic of today’s post is Hurricane Sandy. We’ll get to that soon. But first I want to tell you how I’m feeling today, one week after this monster storm struck.

I’m feeling like Joy in the Flannery O’Connor short story, “Good Country People.”

Joy — in fact, she calls herself “Hulga” in an act of rebellion against her simple-minded mother. With a Ph.D. in philosophy, Joy fancies herself the intellectual superior of her mother and the rest of the country bumpkins around them. (Although 32, she still lives at home because of being handicapped — a childhood hunting accident cost her one of her legs.)

But Joy’s advanced degree doesn’t help one iota when, out of the blue, a Bible salesman pays them a visit. In fact he’s a con man and cons Joy into giving him her prosthetic leg. For all her smarts, Joy is left stranded in the barn loft, immobilized.

I’ll tell you something — you ain’t so smart!

As one of the founders of the Displaced Nation — and as a long-time expat who has now repatriated to my native U.S. — I thought I knew displacement. I even considered myself something of an expert on the feelings one has when living in someone else’s place instead of your own.

But did this background in displacement help me at all when, like Joy/Hulga, I met my nemesis, Hurricane Sandy? Sandy left me, along with my husband and our two dogs, stranded without power, water or communications for four whole days.

Instead of sophisticated urbanites, my husband and I were no better than cave dwellers, Neanderthals. Our daily routine entailed going up dark stairwells, through dark halls and into a dark apartment, where we would gather around the fire (our gas stove still worked) and make tea and cobble together some dinner from the food that would otherwise spoil (but without opening the fridge door too much).

No longer seeing the light

I will never forget the moment the lights went off, and we were plunged into this unreal netherworld. We were eating chicken pot pie and Greek salad when it happened. I’d made us a proper dinner thinking that even though Frankenstorm’s monster was on its way, we may as well “keep calm and carry on” — a lesson I’d mastered from living on two other small islands before Manhattan: England and Japan.

We kept calm enough and carried on for the rest of that evening. After finishing the meal, we headed down one floor with our trusty flashlights to the apartment of another couple, with whom I’d communicated just before the blackout. Another couple from a higher floor joined us.

The six of us sat around a flashlight — that was the closest we could get to simulating a camp fire — and kept each other entertained while waiting out the storm.

“Bailing” out

The next day, however, the excitement of camping out in the city wore off rather quickly, especially as we no longer had any water. I’d followed the advice of the Weather Channel and filled the bathtub — but it’s no fun stumbling about in the dark to get a pan full of water when you need to flush the toilet.

It is also no fun going up and down 12 flights of stairs with two dogs in a pitch-dark stairwell, made only slightly brighter by your average flashlight. Note to self: Get one of the those miners-style flashlight headbands for the next time. Dorky they may be, but it’s so much easier to have two hands available.

After three days, like most East Villagers, we bailed — something I’m not very proud of, but my office (at Columbia University) had opened again and I was having a dickens of a time getting there and back using buses — there were no subways running.

A kind colleague with a spare room made an offer we couldn’t refuse. She doesn’t mind dogs (has one herself).

What have I learned from being — literally — displaced?

So, is “displacement” a good metaphor for international travel and the expat life? Does it hold water, so to speak?

Here are three quick lessons I’ve derived from the experience:

1) You know all those expat sites that talk about developing resilience? Well, that’s not such a crackpot notion after all, when it comes to real displacement. Now, I was never someone who admired the Brits for their stiff upper lip, or the Japanese for their gaman. But I ended up imbibing these traits by osmosis, as explained in a previous post — and I’m so glad I did.

New Yorkers like to brag about how great they are at weathering crises, but in this particular instance, they seemed like a bunch of wimps! (They were far more stoical in the wake of 9/11.)

Take for instance the downtown fashion set — including Anna Wintour, Carine Roitfeld, Pat McGrath and Marc Jacobs — and celebs like Naomi Watts and Liev Schrieber. As the Wall Street Journal reported, they immediately sought refuge in the Mark Hotel on E. 77th St., to await the return of power and water and normalcy.

The younger crowd, led by Emma Watson, were at the Carlyle.

C’mon, guys, I got through three nights!

Another prime example were the bus drivers who refused to take any of us cave dwellers south of 26th St. because it was “too dark.”

As a result of their intransigence, I found myself walking down nearly 20 blocks of darkened streets in the company of another East Villager — a young woman from New Orleans who’d already had the misfortune of having been evacuated during Hurricane Katrina. Two flashlights are better than one under these circumstances, and together we dodged rogue vehicles that were taking advantage of the no-traffic-lights chaos. All for the pleasure of, in my case, climbing up 12 flights of stairs to my little cave. Gaman shita.

2) My priorities are in the wrong place. As it turns out, I’d be better off doing fewer blog posts on developing a “core” of self while living abroad and more Pilates, developing an actual core. This is of course assuming I continue to live a dozen flights up in a high-rise apartment building.

Likewise, I’ve been placing too great a priority on hyper-communications. Even though I’m the first to feel offended when someone texts while I’m talking to them, I can’t describe how elated I felt when I at last managed to exchange texts with outside world.

When I was an expat, I could be happy in my own company for days on end. What happened?

3) I’m not sure it matters if you’re at home or abroad when you become forcibly displaced. I used to think differently, as I pointed out in my post about what happens when reality bites for expats.

But as it turns out, displacement is a God-awful experience no matter where you happen to be — and in some ways, being able to understand the language and the culture makes it worse.

You’re planning to hold the New York City marathon, Mayor Bloomberg, really? I can’t tell you how agitated I became upon hearing that announcement. Yes, I knew it meant a colossal loss of income to the city. But at a time when many of us were leading disrupted lives, did we need yet another reminder that life goes on uptown, where no one really suffered?

And did any of us really want an influx of entitled outsiders into the city at a time when our own people are in need?

Thank goodness he saw sense in the end and called the thing off.

And don’t get me started on the debates we ought to be having — but won’t — on climate change as well as the need to re-engineer New York’s waterfront to withstand storms of this nature. I feel incensed — not so much because of what I’ve personally endured, but on behalf of the some 40,000 New Yorkers who are still displaced.

* * *

Readers, do you have any Sandy experiences, impressions, or insights to share? Do tell! People who are truly displaced love community! And please hurry! They’re forecasting a northeaster on Wednesday. When it rains, it pours…

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, a poll about, of all things, expat voting…

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Image: MorgueFile

LIBBY’S LIFE #27.5 — A Halloween rehash

Greetings, Libby fans! If you’ve been following The Displaced Nation this week, you’ll know that we hashed our Halloween post because the writer — Libby’s creator, Kate Allison — went mysteriously missing. Thankfully, she hasn’t done an Agatha Christie, as Libby had feared, but is the victim of a freak snowstorm that left her without power. In a short communication of yesterday (from a McDonald’s near her house), Kate requested that we rehash Libby Life #9 because of the rather garish outfit sported by Libby’s mother-in-law. She thought it might compensate in some way for the post she was meant to do on “Halloween costumes for expats.” And perhaps it will also be a good chance for new Libby fans to catch up with what her life was like before she reached Woodhaven, and for her older fans, to indulge in some nostalgia?

The story so far: The Patrick family — Libby, Oliver, and their three-year-old, Jack — are in the process of moving from England to Massachusetts. Libby is now looking forward to the move but Oliver has developed cold feet, although he hasn’t been brave enough to tell his employer’s HR department — at least, not yet. Meanwhile, Libby has horrible suspicions that her nutty mother-in-law, Sandra, is about to move into their neighbour’s house. If Libby needs to pull out the stops to persuade Oliver that a transatlantic move is a good idea, now might be a good time.

To Sandra’s for tea.

We do this regularly. I don’t mean afternoon tea with fairy cakes, or mid-morning tea with a biscuit, but tea as in beans on toast, or egg and chips if she’s feeling ambitious. Oliver likes going to his mother’s for tea, even though I’m quite capable of rustling up beans on toast, but apparently there’s something about his mother’s cooking that I can’t compete with. I don’t know what it is. Maybe I don’t buy the same cheapo brand of baked beans, or maybe it’s because I’m left-handed and open the tin the wrong way. It’s a kitchen mystery that not even Miss Marple or Gordon Ramsay could solve.

Still haven’t voiced my suspicions to Oliver about his mother’s impending move to number sixteen. Although it’s my nightmare, I have a horrible feeling Oliver would like the idea and we’d be forced round there four times a week for school lunch.

The good thing is that he hasn’t said anything to his employer about his own doubts over our own move. I suppose if he comes out and says he doesn’t want to go, he will appear to lack company commitment, and look like a big wuss into the bargain, so for the moment, everything’s going ahead, even though Oliver is regretting his initial gung-ho spirit and fresh-lobster-worship .

So, off we went to Sandra’s. We took Boris The Spider with us, his little glass cage sealed in two black dustbin bags in case he escaped into the car boot. He’s been living behind the sofa where I can’t see him, and now I need to Hoover behind it because Jack’s been sprinkling squashed digestive biscuits all over the spider tank, so it’s time for Sandra to repossess him. Oliver started to object, saying it would hurt Sandra’s feelings, but stopped when I said that if the arachnid stayed, I’d see to it that he ended his days Cambodian-style, deep-fried, in the local Chinese takeaway that keeps getting prosecuted for dodgy hygiene standards. So Boris came along, without a murmur from Oliver.

It was all so easy that I’m considering making similar threats about Fergus.

When we arrived at Sandra’s house, the whole street was shaking. Not from an earthquake, but from Sandra’s hi-fi. She plays it loud. Sometimes it’s Mahler, sometimes it’s the Rolling Stones, sometimes it’s the Grateful Dead.

Today it was Lady Gaga, and Sandra was dressed to match.

If you’ve never seen your mother-in-law frying eggs while she’s dressed in hooker heels, Marks and Spencer’s bikini, and makeup that’s less Lady Gaga than Alice Cooper — think yourself very, very fortunate.

No wonder she’s moving house. Her present neighbours must have clubbed together for the deposit.

Oliver raised his eyebrows, but carefully avoided looking at me. Jack gawped at his granny, then buried his face in my neck and refused to let me put him down.

“Are you going to get dressed, Mum?” Oliver asked. “It’s probably not a good idea to fry eggs if you’re only wearing a swimming costume.” He gestured at his own midriff. “Hot oil splashes round there – it might sting a bit. The weather’s cooling off outside, too.”

Oliver’s a big noise in Customer Relations at his company, and I can see why. You don’t live thirty-four years with Sandra for a mother without learning something about tact.

Sandra beamed at him and pinched his cheek, then Jack’s, who had lifted his head to see if the apparition in streaky eyeliner was still there.

“I’ll just pop upstairs. Back in a minute.”

Oliver crossed the kitchen to the cooker and removed the frying pan from the heat.

“Do you think she’s…?” He jerked his head in the direction toward the stairs, where Sandra had gone. “You know. Going prematurely senile?”

I’m not in Customer Relations, and never could be. “She’s always been like that, Oliver. There’s no ‘going’ about it.”

He chewed the inside of his cheek. He does that when he’s worried. Bless him. I know I moan, but he only wants the best for everyone.

“I worry about what will happen to her when we go to America. I keep thinking I agreed to this move without thinking about it.”

Like mother, like son.

“You’re not your mother’s keeper, love,” I said, trying to find the right words. “She’s a grown woman, more capable than you think. And there are worse things than us moving to Boston for two years, you know.”

“Such as what?” Oliver asked, but was interrupted by Sandra coming back to the kitchen wearing a denim mini skirt and a T-shirt from French Connection that said FCUK on the front.

“What that say?” Jack demanded, pointing at Granny’s chest.

I’ve been teaching Jack his letters. He likes copying words around the house, like “Sony” from the TV, or “Dell” from the computer. Quite often he gets the letters mixed up, but he likes to treasure his masterpieces and show them to Carol Hunter at playgroup.

I rummaged in the drawer where Sandra keeps her tea towels and aprons, and handed her a PVC Union Jack apron. “You don’t want to get oil splashes on your nice T-shirt, either,” I said.


“We brought Boris The Spider back,” Oliver said over our egg and chips. “Jack’s allergic to him.”

Jack’s nothing of the sort, of course, but Sandra can’t dispute it one way or the other. All children have allergies now. It’s the law.

Sandra waved her hand dismissively. “I’ll give him back to Petra. Not to worry. I’ve got bigger things to think about.”

Oliver and I exchanged glances. Normally she’d have had a meltdown at this point and we’d have to reassure her that our rejection of her gift was not a rejection of herself.

“Is this the surprise you were talking about the other day?” he asked.

Sandra leaned toward us over the kitchen table.

“I’ve been trying to keep it a surprise until everything’s signed and sealed, but you know me. Can’t keep good news to myself.” She paused. “You know that house near you? Number sixteen? I’ve bought it.”

Silence from Oliver. Silence from me, as I wondered what Oliver would say. Squelchings from Jack as he picked up a cold chip and squashed it.

“Really?” said Oliver. “Wow. I mean, wow. That’s terrific news. Only…” He stared at the FCUK T-shirt, again on display, and at Sandra’s makeup. “Only I wish we’d known earlier. You see, we’ve got some news of our own. We’re moving too.”


Later, much later than we had planned, we left Sandra’s house to go home and put Jack to bed. We’d already put Sandra to bed, with some hot milk and Valium.

“We are doing the right thing, aren’t we?” Oliver asked for the fourth time.

“Oliver,” I said, barely holding on to my patience or elation. “I said there were worse things than moving to Boston. Your mother moving to Acacia Drive is one of them. Of course we’re doing the right thing. In fact, ” I said, turning around to adjust the blanket over a sleeping Jack, “I’ve never been so sure of anything in my life.”

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Image: Travel – Map of the World by Salvatore Vuono /

All hail Sir Richard Branson, along with global nomads who delve into global misery — and welcome to November

The catalog for Heifer International has just landed in my mailbox, encouraging me to donate a sheep in honor of my nearest and dearest, to a family in need in Nepal, Romania, or Brazil. That family will in turn give away the sheep’s female offspring to other families in need, and so on — a benevolent pyramid scheme known as Passing on the Gift.

I get it. What’s more, as it’s All Saints’ Day, I sense I would feel considerably more beatific if I gifted a sheep on behalf of my loved ones than if I bought them yet another pair of Merino wool gloves they don’t really need. (Hey, but it wouldn’t have been any old gloves but a touchscreen pair from Muji, for using one’s iPhone in the dead of winter…)

Yet for some reason, the Heifer appeal doesn’t. Call me a hard-hearted skeptic, but I’ve always had trouble with the kind of philanthropy that poses simple solutions to complex, deep-seated problems — alleviating world hunger and poverty being at the top of the list.

A candid — or do I mean Candide? — appraisal

When it comes to philanthropy, I always wonder — is this more about you (and your need to assuage your guilt about having so much) or about them? And how much do you actually know about them?

That is probably why, when I went to live abroad, I didn’t go as an aid worker or a Peace Corps volunteer. In the UK I was a postgraduate student; in Japan, a trailing spouse.

That said, my expat life was never just about exotic travel. On the contrary, I aimed to broaden my horizons and educate myself about other cultures by becoming immersed in the everyday life. I got to know the “natives” — and even married a couple of them (in not-very-rapid succession). Ultimately, I tried to become more of an informed citizen — of the world as well as of my country (assuming I eventually returned — I did).

But saving the world? That wasn’t in my plan. Like Voltaire’s young man, Candide, I would start by cultivating my own garden and branch out (so to speak) from there.

The importance of being earnest

I suppose you could say I’ve never been that earnest.

Earnest people have a calling. They don’t have time for frivolity.

I always have time for frivolity. What’s more, I’m genetically predisposed toward light-hearted nonsense. (Despite what the Heifer International Catalog says, my mother is not the sort to enjoy having me donate a sheep to someone she’s never met. She’d rather I gave it to her as a pet!)

From my expat days in the UK, I remember a joke sometimes told of Princess Diana, that when she would arrive on one of her unannounced visits to a hospital, patients would hide beneath their beds, not wanting to be the next “victim” of her need for making the Grand Philanthropic Gesture.

I find that image amusing to this day.

Do you really want to make me cry?

But lest this post become all about me and my peculiar hang-ups, let’s move on to Richard Branson and TDN’s November theme.

Cue in 1980s Culture Club music. Rockstar businessman Sir Richard Branson has just now touched down on the shores of The Displaced Nation in his hot-air balloon, the Virgin Atlantic Flyer.

As the leading exemplar of a fun-loving philanthropist, he is about to disprove my theory that these two qualities, earnestness and fun, can’t be combined in one individual.

As anyone who’s had the privilege of traveling on Virgin Atlantic in upper class (as I did when I was a spoiled expat in Tokyo) will be aware, here is man who knows how to throw a good party.

But if letting the good times roll is a huge part of Sir Richard’s appeal, it’s not his whole story. As one of the world’s wealthiest people, Branson also believes in giving back:

Ridiculous yachts and private planes and big limousines won’t make people enjoy life more, and it sends out terrible messages to the people who work for [such people]. It would be so much better if that money was spent in Africa — and it’s about getting a balance.

Branson, of course, has spent has spent much of his adult life displaced in ways most of us can’t even imagine — in private jets, on a private island in the Caribbean, in boats and balloons in pursuit of daredevil adventure.

But then some years ago, with his 60th birthday approaching, he began diverting some of his formidable energy and funding resources to countries in need — particularly in Africa. He left behind rock bands to form a band of Elders — consisting of, among others, British rock musician and human-rights activist Peter Gabriel, Nelson Mandela, Jimmy Carter and Mary Robinson — to work on the African continent’s intractable problems.

At Ulusaba, the private game reserve that Branson now owns in South Africa, visitors are encouraged to get involved with the initiatives he has launched to help local villages that have been ravaged by unemployment, HIV and drought. As Branson told a Daily Mail reporter:

To come to Africa and not see Africans is just wrong. A lot of the game reserves don’t really allow you into the villages but I think it’s important.

In addition, Branson is using his business knowhow to incubate and seed promising business proposals from aspiring South African entrepreneurs.

Now, Sir Richard would have earned the right of entry to our Displaced Hall of Fame by virtue of his derring-do alone — have you heard of Virgin Galactic? (It’s not too late to book a seat on the first sub-orbital space flight.) But we’ve chosen this moment to honor him as we plan to spend November looking at the kind of global nomads with the courage and the fortitude to delve into global misery.

Such travelers have displaced themselves, often to far-flung corners of the globe, not for the sake of good times or narrow personal goals but for the sake of helping others — many of whom have been displaced from their homelands through tragic circumstances beyond their control.

Not the final word

The announcement of this month’s theme is not, however, tantamount to imposing a ban on skepticism — we skeptics still have a place at The Displaced Nation’s table. What’s more, our ranks will soon swell to include some of the very people who belong to the volunteer and aid communities. They, too, can have their doubts about the effectiveness of their work — and of the involvement of celebrities in global problems.

But for now, let’s save such issues for future posts.

Which means I can now go back to cultivating my little patch of grass. Hmmm… I wonder if it could use a sheep or two, after all?

STAY TUNED for Wednesday’s post, featuring the first of our philanthropic Random Nomads.

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Dear Mary-Sue: Things to do in Paris

Mary-Sue Wallace is back and she’s dishing out advice to the helpless like it were soup, soup from a big tureen of common sense in the soup kitchen we call the blogosphere … or something like that. If you are looking for solace, then you need Mary-Sue Wallace. Submit your questions and comments here, or if you are a shy bunny requesting anonymity then you can email Mary-Sue directly at

Dear Mary-Sue,

Growing up here in Japan as a big-time Francophile, all my life I’ve wanted to visit Paris. This fall I finally have a chance to go visit it for myself. I am so happy at the thought. I will get to stroll the streets and eat plenty of good food. Being such a travel expert could you give me a list of the top things you think I should do when visiting Paris?

— PA, Kyoto

Dear PA,

Ol’ Coley Porter put it best when he wrote that lovely classic of his, I love Paris. “I love Paris in the springtime / I love Paris in the fall / I love Paris in the winter when it drizzles / I love Paris in the summer when it sizzles.” And that sums up so perfectly and so succinctly my own thoughts about this darlin’ city. No matter the time of year, I fall in love with it. Whenever I arrive in Paris, I always make sure on that first night that I go for a stroll along the Seine. Ah, bliss. And when that’s over I go to a little cafe that I adore that is called…

….wait a moment….


….I’m sorry about this, PA, but I just noticed that you wrote that you’re from Japan. In that case, forget Paris. It’s overrated. Have you thought of visiting Malmo? I hear there’s also an interesting cement works in Frankfurt, you could go there. I’m sure it’s fascinating. And people keep telling me Swansea is the Paris of south Wales…

…Aw, shoot. As a loyal Mary-Sue-ite, you deserve a fuller explanation from me, PA. A Japanese Francophile finally visiting Paris after a lifetime of waiting? Aw, honey, sounds like you could be a prime candidate for Paris syndrome. Certain places just seem to have a strange effect on people. Believe me, I know this only too well. It’s why I’m never going back to Jerusalem. Went on a cruise there with my hubby Jake a few years back. Darn it if he didn’t come over all Messianic on me – thought he could walk on water. Well, the fine people at Cunard weren’t too impressed when he went overboard when trying to be all Matthew 14.

And Paris syndrome ‘aint no picnic either, honey. You can end up psychologically destabilized, suffering anxiety, hallucinations, feelings of persecution. Many Japanese visitors to Paris go there with such a romanticized image of the city and its occupants, that it’s a place of sophistication and politeness, that when they finally get there and see for themself the surly, rude reality of Paris they simply can’t cope. 

So PA, I ask again, have you thought about going to Frankfurt? 

— Mary-Sue

Anyhoo, that’s all from me readers. I’m so keen to hear about your cultural issues and all your juicy problems. Do drop me a line with any problems you have.

Mary-Sue is a retired travel agent who lives in Tulsa with her husband Jake. She has taken a credited course in therapy from Tulsa Community College and is the best-selling author of Traveling Made Easy, Low-Fat Chicken Soup for the Traveler’s Soul The Art of War: The Authorized Biography of Samantha Brown, and William Shatner’s TekWar: An Unofficial Guide. If you have any questions that you would like Mary-Sue to answer, you can contact her at, or by adding to the comments below.

img: Close, by Corina Sanchez.

STAY TUNED for Monday’s post.

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to subscribe to The Displaced Dispatch, a weekly round up of posts from The Displaced Nation, plus some extras such as seasonal recipes and occasional book giveaways. Sign up for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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