The Displaced Nation

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TCK TALENT: Maya Evans, Poet, Writer, Teacher, Translator, Consultant & Transition Facilitator

Maya Evans for TDN

Maya Evans (own photo)

Elizabeth (Lisa) Liang is back with her column featuring interviews with Adult Third Culture Kids (ATCKs) who work in creative fields. Lisa herself is a prime example. A Guatemalan-American of Chinese-Spanish-Irish-French-German-English descent, she has developed her own one-woman show about growing up as a TCK, called Alien Citizen, which premiered nearly two years ago and is still going strong. In fact, she is now raising funds to take the production to Valencia, Spain, and Capetown, South Africa, later this year.

—ML Awanohara

Greetings, readers. Today’s interviewee is Maya Evans, a poet and writer, transition facilitator, international education consultant, and translator based in Boston, Massachusetts. She is also my fellow ATCK author in the anthology Writing Out of Limbo, in which her poem “Le Français” appears. Currently, she is working on a memoir about her extraordinary life, which took her from the Middle East to Europe to South America and finally to her current home of the United States.

* * *

Welcome to The Displaced Nation, Maya. I understand that you were born to a Francophone Jewish Egyptian-Hungarian family in Alexandria, Egypt, and that you grew up there and in Caracas, Venezuela. Please tell us why your family moved.
My family moved from Alexandria, Egypt, in 1958 after what history termed the Suez Crisis, which is to say the nationalization of the Suez Canal. Built by the French in 1869, and jointly controlled by the British and French until 1956, the Canal was of strategic importance to Western powers. Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser‘s actions to nationalize it provoked a brief war—a lot like the wars carried out presently in the Middle East. Nasser wanted to end Egypt’s colonization. We left because Jews were no longer welcome in Egypt. The revolutionary government confiscated Jewish properties and bank accounts, even expelling some Jewish people holding French or British passports. My father was demoted, the bank where he worked was taken over by the authorities, and clearly his career was finished. His brothers, sisters, and their families mostly went to Brazil, although some ended up in France, but none in Hungary, where they’d come from originally. (At the time, Hungary was occupied by the Soviet Union.) When we left, I was 12-and-a-half—and still have vivid memories.

Did your mother’s family leave as well?
My mother’s family, rooted in the area for generations, did not leave. My grandmother refused to leave her house. My uncles and one of my mother’s sisters, who were very close, all stayed, not daring to contradict their mother.

Where did your family end up going?
For a brief time we lived in Paris, scattered among relatives. We also stayed in Genoa, Italy, for a couple of months waiting for my father to clear his affairs and obtain a visa for emigrating to Venezuela. We were “stateless” at the time, having left Egypt with a travel document valid for one trip with no return. My father had managed to “transfer” money out of Egypt to Switzerland, which was needed to buy our passages to South America. This is a story on its own, one I’m attempting to describe in my memoir.

Achieving happiness in the midst of displacement

I find your story moving as it’s about exile, not the usual voluntary migration for TCK families (voluntary for the parents at least). Still, your moves from North Africa to Europe to the Americas is very relatable for this ATCK. Were you happiest in a certain place at a certain time?
I can recall the exact time when I realized I was truly happy. It was at Brenau College (now Brenau University), in Gainesville, Georgia. It took one year to convince my father to allow me to go to college in the U.S. He thought that a girl had to stay home and go to the university nearest to where her family lives which in my case would have been the Universidad Central de Venezuela (UCV), a 15-minute ride from our home in Caracas. The problem was that the Venezuelan government did not recognize my high school degree from Colegio Internacional de Caracas (CIC)—the school is only accredited in the United States. Besides, my Spanish was not at a high enough level for the entrance exam. A solution would be to transfer to the UCV from an accredited school in the U.S., after a year of university-level courses. Reluctantly, my father agreed as long as I went to a “girls only” school, properly chaperoned during my trip to the States. I was fortunate enough to meet a trustee of Brenau College at a tea sponsored by the American Association of University Women. She traveled with me from Caracas to Atlanta, and drove me to her college. For a variety of reasons, among them the lack of money, neither my father nor mother could have made the trip at that time.

What was it like being in a small southern town after living in Caracas?
At Brenau, I was one of a handful of international students. Besides Venezuela, there were also girls from Norway and Taiwan. Luckily, two Hungarian sisters from Venezuela, in their third and last year of college respectively, took me under their wing. Both were intelligent and poised, which made me a “cool girl” by association. Suddenly, there was no need to explain why French was my native language but I wasn’t French, etc. It was easy to say: “I am from Venezuela.” Period. I had a distinct identity, foreign but also exotic. It was also wonderful to be far from the dramas of home. I had postponed the moment of reckoning, which would occur upon my return to Venezuela, when I would find out what it would be like to be a university student in Caracas who had attended an American high school full of students with tenuous ties to the country.

Maya Universities

From studying at Brenau in Georgia to getting a degree at Universidad Central Caracas Venezuela to working at Harvard…

Eventually, though, you moved back to the United States. Why was that?
I was just starting to feel Caraqueña (from Caracas)—finding my bearings as a journalism student at the UCV by night and as a bilingual assistant in an export company by day, enjoying 80-degree Fahrenheit weather year-round, living in a beautiful apartment facing the mountain—when I met my husband, an American. (We met in Caracas.) We moved to the States in the early 1970s. His job moved us to Boston; then to Stanford, Connecticut, where our first child was born; and then back to Boston.

Allow me to bridge cultures, people and dreams…

At what point did you start your career…or careers I should say, as I know you’ve had more than one.
After the birth of my second child, I was determined to find a job that would link me to the Latino community, or better yet, send me on frequent trips to Latin America. I found that job at Harvard, in a department facilitating studies in the United States for professors and business executives from Latin America. I traveled all over Latin America, and in the mid-90s, was assigned to a project in Venezuela sponsored by Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) to train a cadre of executives for studies in the United States. I left Harvard shortly after and worked directly as a consultant for PDVSA. I also trained as an interpreter, working for the Massachusetts courts, and taught Spanish at the University of Massachusetts.

Consultant, trainer, interpreter, teacher: your careers seem to have been influenced by your peripatetic upbringing…
True. I would slide in and out of professions just as I slid in and out of countries, and adjust like the chameleon I’d become. I was always being uprooted but then would find ways to adapt. This in turn led me to my life’s “calling”: to facilitate transitions for others. Whether working with foreign students at American universities, or with international researchers trying to find the right department to pursue their research, or with companies wanting to train their personnel to live somewhere else, I would bridge cultures and languages in an effort to help others ease into their new surroundings.

Who am I? Where am I from?

Have you found that “your people” tend to be Adult TCKs or other cross-cultural people?
Undoubtedly, I feel comfortable with other Adult TCKs as well as multicultural people. I am actually uncomfortable with monocultural, monolingual people, regardless of their education level or accomplishments. I find that I have little in common with them, or that I have to “explain” myself again—and at a certain stage in life, it gets tiresome. I also feel a kinship with artists and people who are a bit out of the mainstream. Like Adult TCKs, they tend to look at the world from the outside. For the longest time, I felt outside, looking in. Even now, that feeling hasn’t left me completely.

Not only for your sake but for the rest of us ATCKs, I’m happy you are now working on your memoir, a few parts of which I was privileged to hear you read. What inspired you to start writing it, and how far along are you in the process?
Thank you for your kind words. It’s been a long and tortuous road. For the longest time, from my days as a journalism student, I wanted to tell stories. Stories I heard around the world, and stories of my relatives who happen to be an eclectic bunch of multinational people. But I am always escaping into work, travel, poetry writing, whatever other excuse I can find. Now I’ve decided to work less and, while I still can conjure the memories, dedicate more time to writing what I like to call a “romanticized memoir,” with characters loosely built on the stories I heard about Egypt and on the memories I have of the places where we lived. I am still at the beginning of the process, and need to speed it up, lest it get buried alongside other writings.

Attempting to “capture all the voices in my head without sounding schizophrenic”

On top of all of this, you are a published poet. Is there a particular poem of yours that expresses your feelings of transience or loneliness or instability—or freedom or curiosity or love of travel—that you are most proud of? If so, could you share it with us?
Two years ago, a poem of mine I like the best, “Voz Ajena” (“Alien Voice”), was published in Spanish in the New England Translators Association’s newsletter. Although I translate other people’s work, I cannot translate my own. I don’t hear it in any other language but Spanish. In that poem, I attempted to capture all the “voices” in my head without sounding schizophrenic. To me, it is interesting to note that I can do this only in Spanish, which was the third language I acquired, after which it became my “go to” language. Even though French is rooted in me, Spanish carries Latin America with its music and colors, which trumps all others! I’ll give you that poem, but for those who don’t read Spanish, I’ll first give you a poem I wrote in English:

Notebook with a Missing Language

Only English is missing
in these familiar lines
that stretch quietly on a
tidy little notebook
filled in French with spatters of Spanish;
scents of places and of people long gone
leaving behind tender thoughts,
silent melodies, objects of desire,
histories of exiles and commencements
of lenities and humiliations,
of successes and exonerations;
tales of lost places, warm embraces,
mute voices, empty houses,
doors shut on bygone worlds.

door_shut_maya_poetry

The last line of “Notebook with a Missing Language,” a poem by Maya Evans

 

And now for those who read Spanish:

Voz Ajena

Le preguntó un día por su acento opaco,
esa manera que tiene ella
de tropezar con las erres,
saltar continentes al azar,
atar letras sin más sabor
en un ritmo extraño, ritmo de blanco.

Son recuerdos de otras voces,
las vivencias de mi memoria
de crêpe georgette y chantilly,
dijo ella con voz de seda, voz de sirena.

Yo no sabía de los fantasmas que te habitan,
No sabía de Egipto, España,
Francia y Hungría,
No sabía que te comían noche y día,
ocultándote la luz, clamando por aire,
y todos con ese afán de ser.

Y más aún le dijo ella,
tocan tambores y hacen ruidos,
se contorsionan en las tinieblas
por estallar en mil estrellas,
dejar arañas y demás vainas,
ser lentejuelas, champaña fino, jamón ibérico,
Ravel de fuego, Maria Callas reencarnada,
vistiendo toga, comiendo astros, tragando mundos.

Maya
Boston, 19 de abril de 2010

* * *

It’s been a pleasure, Maya, hearing about your many professional accomplishments and “romanticized memoir” in progress. And thank you so much for sharing two of your poems! Readers, please leave questions or comments for Maya below.

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 so much more! Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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TCK TALENT: Rahul Gandotra, Oscar-shortlisted filmmaker

Rahul Gandotra CollageElizabeth (Lisa) Liang is back with her column featuring interviews with Adult Third Culture Kids (ATCKs) who work in creative fields. Lisa herself is a prime example. A Guatemalan-American of Chinese-Spanish-Irish-French-German-English descent, she has developed her own one-woman show about growing up as a TCK, which receives rave reviews wherever it goes.

—ML Awanohara

Hello again, dear readers. Today’s interviewee is filmmaker Rahul Gandotra, whose short film, The Road Home, has played in over 60 festivals around the world and won over 20 awards, including the Student Film Academy Award and British Independent Film Award, and was shortlisted for the 2012 Oscar nominations.

The film beautifully depicts a Third Culture Kid story; it also catapulted Rahul into the shortlist of up-and-coming filmmakers.

RoadHome_posterHere is the film synopsis:

Growing up in England, ten-year old Pico never wanted to go to boarding school in the Himalayas, and despite the beauty there, he struggles to fit in. When he’s bullied for insisting he’s British in spite of his Indian heritage, he runs away, determined to return to his home in London. As he journeys through a country foreign to him, Pico encounters others who mistake him for an Indian boy, forcing him to face the painful truth that the world does not see him the way he sees himself.

* * *

Welcome to The Displaced Nation, Rahul. I understand that you were born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and grew up in eight countries across Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and the Americas. Why did your family move so much, and to which countries?
A lot of my moving around happened because of my father’s job—he was a doctor looking for new opportunities in different parts of the world. While it gets complicated with all the cities I’ve lived in, the general overview is: after being born in Belfast, I spent the first six years of my life in all four parts of the UK (England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales). Then we moved to Saudi Arabia, where I spent three years before attending a boarding school in the Himalayas (in Northern India) for seven years.

How about college and beyond?
I received my undergraduate degree in the United States, where I lived for eleven years. After that I was in the Czech Republic for one year. Since moving to London for my graduate degree, I’ve been in England for the last ten years.

“If you want to see the Himalayas, they’re that way.” —Pico to a British couple touring India

Were you happiest in a certain place at a certain time, and if so, why?
Tough question. My happiest memories stem from when I was living in Saudi Arabia from age 6 to 9. Perhaps it was because I was a child? Perhaps it was because I was still with my parents (my mum was a homemaker) before I went to the boarding school in the Himalayas?

I just remember having happy memories in Saudi Arabia. I think my time at my boarding school was also quite enjoyable after I adjusted to life there.

Come to think about it, I’ve had good memories in places where there was a TCK-like / international environment. The more monocultural the environment was, the less I enjoyed the place.

What led you to become a filmmaker, and did it have anything to do with your peripatetic upbringing?
I don’t know if my moving around pushed me into filmmaking. I think the moving around has given me many gifts that I use in filmmaking. The ability to see things from different points of view, for example, helps me in seeing an actor’s point of view—especially when it’s different from mine.

Looking back, I learned a lot of my storytelling from my mother with all the stories she told me. I guess the patterns and rhythms of storytelling just seeped into me, as she recounted one story after the other!

At what point did you pick up the technical skills that turned you into a filmmaker?
That came from a combination of “doing it myself,” formal education, and a lot of reading!

“But I don’t feel Indian inside!” —Pico to an Indian taxi driver

Have you found that “your people” tend to be other Adult TCKs in creative fields or does it really depend on the individual and what s/he evokes in you, whether it’s a resonance that’s artistic or political or personality-related or life-experience related, etc.?
I seem to gravitate to people who are either TCKs or people who have done a significant amount of traveling. They don’t necessarily have to be in the creative fields though.

Congratulations on all the accolades your short film, The Road Home, has won! What inspired you to tell this story?
The plot was a fiction but the themes were autobiographical in nature. The idea of looking like you belong to a particular region because of your skin colour but feeling inside that you belong somewhere else is something that I wanted to illuminate in the short film.

Here is the trailer:

And if your readers would like to watch The Road Home, they may do so here.

I understand you are now making a feature-length version of The Road Home. Where are you in the pre-production phase?  
I’m in the financing stage where I’m hoping all the investments will be in place so I can shoot the feature film soon. (If there are any interested investors, please do contact me!)

“Why not speaking Hindi, huh? Important your knowing your mother tongue.” —Taxi driver to Pico

Are you working on other projects?
My screenwriting partner and I have been writing other screenplays but those are bigger in scope, and we’ll present those to the world when I’ve completed my first feature.

You’ve been directing commercials. Where are they airing and can we see them online?
I’ve just started directing commercials. Some of them have aired in the UK, while others have aired in India. The funny thing is that the commercial that was shot in the UK aired in India. And the commercial shot in India aired only in the UK! Here is one that was shot in India, for Rajah’s garam masala:


You can see more here.

Congratulations again, Rahul, on the success of The Road Home, all of the commercial work you’ve been doing, and the screenplays you’ve been writing. You’re a true “ATCK creative” and we’re hereby nominating you as Best Up-and-Coming Director for our Displaced Oscars!

Readers, please leave questions or comments for Rahul below.

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 so much more! Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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TCK TALENT: Gene Bell-Villada, literary critic, Latin Americanist, novelist, translator and TCK memoirist

Gene B-V TCK Talent

Professor Gene Bell-Villada (own photo)

Elizabeth (Lisa) Liang is here with her first column of 2015. For those who haven’t been following: she is building up quite a collection of stories about Adult Third Culture Kids (ATCKs) who work in creative fields. Lisa herself is a prime example. A Guatemalan-American of Chinese-Spanish-Irish-French-German-English descent, she has developed her own one-woman show about growing up as a TCK, which is receiving rave reviews wherever it goes.

—ML Awanohara

Happy New Year, readers! Today I’m honored to be interviewing Gene Bell-Villada, author of the Third Culture Kid memoir Overseas American: Growing Up Gringo in the Tropics and co-editor of my first published essay in the TCK/global-nomad anthology: Writing Out of Limbo. Gene grew up in Latin America and “repatriated” to the USA for college and beyond; he is a Professor of Romance Languages (Spanish), Latin American Literature, and Modernism at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. He is also a published writer of fiction and nonfiction.

* * *

Welcome to The Displaced Nation, Gene. Like me, you’re an Adult Third Culture Kid of mixed heritage. Since you were born in Haiti and grew up in Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Venezuela as the son of an Asian-Polynesian mother from Hawaii and a WASP father from Kansas, your identity development was complex and nuanced, as you make clear in your memoir.  Can you tell us how you identify yourself these days?
Like the title of my memoir, I identify myself as an Overseas American, of mixed WASP and Chinese-Filipino-Hawaiian ethnicity, with a Caribbean-Hispanic upbringing. I wrote my memoir in great measure to disentangle and explain that background—for myself and others! More broadly, in my middle 20s, it dawned on me that, by default, I happened to be a cosmopolitan, and that I couldn’t feel “local” even if I wished to. And so, I set out to make the best of that cosmopolitanism and build on it.

OverseasAmerican_cover

Tell us two things you miss about each of your childhood countries.
From my three childhood countries, I miss mostly the Latin informality and warmth…and salsa dancing! From Puerto Rico, I’ve fond memories of the University campus that was next door to my first home in Río Piedras, and where my mother would take us for walks. From Cuba I miss the richness of the music and folk culture. About Caracas, 3,000 feet above sea level, I remember its mild climate and “eternal spring.”

“Puerto Ricans do a lot of hugging, Dickie reflected. His parents and relatives almost never did.”

Your TCK childhood had extra upheaval due to your parents’ divorce and your two years at a military school in Cuba while your parents each lived in other countries. I imagine that affected your feelings about where you lived.
I must admit, I don’t “miss” most of what I lived in my 17 years in the Spanish Caribbean. I had a very difficult childhood, in which I never really “belonged” to any of those countries, had little contact with the expat community, and was leading a painful, dysfunctional family life. Since my brother and I were put away in a military school in Cuba, it’s not a place that I would “miss.” The circumstances of my upbringing have made childhood nostalgia an elusive sentiment for me.

After a young adulthood in New Mexico (briefly), Arizona, California, Massachusetts, and New York—and some trips to Europe—you settled in Williamstown, MA.  When did you come to feel that it was home, inasmuch as any place can be for an ATCK?
My wife and I actually have had homes in two locations in Massachusetts: Williamstown and Cambridge. So we lived both in the city, where we had our home life, and the country, where I taught. And I guess I realized sometime in the 1970s that New England had become my home. The place had enough cultural density, layered history, and overall cosmopolitanism for me to feel at ease in those parts. (I’d also earned my Ph.D at Harvard.) I even turned down a job offer from UCLA in 1976 because by then I felt attached enough to Massachusetts to stay there. Plus, I didn’t look forward to living in my car on the LA freeways, or putting up with Los Angeles pollution, which was fairly serious back then!

“‘Ah, but you speak such good Spanish…'”

Have you returned to any of the Latin American countries in which you grew up? 
I’ve been back to Puerto Rico and to Venezuela, always experiencing those mixed feelings. When I visited my old neighborhood in Hato Rey, PR, in 2012, I found it largely changed. Moreover, during a previous visit to San Juan in 1985, I went for a stroll at the University grounds. At the sight of the palm trees at the entrance and the tower looming above it all, I fell to the ground, crying. It was a reminder that much of my youth there, when I’d believed that I was an “American” boy in the tropics, had been illusory.

As for Cuba, I could only go back under very specific conditions—not because of the regime, which I’m not against, but owing to my painful personal memories of the place. I worry that seeing certain streets and buildings might elicit a wrenching sadness in me.

Since you’re a professor of Latin American literature and have written about the heavyweights in the field, I presume you’ve also visited quite a few countries in the region at this point. What were your impressions?
Inasmuch as I’ve written books and articles about Borges, García Márquez, Vargas Llosa, and Mexican literature, I’ve been more than once to Argentina, Colombia, Perú, and Mexico. Going to and traveling in those countries brought insight into their literary works that one cannot get simply from reading them in one’s study. On the other hand, my Latin American and Caribbean background proved enormously helpful in accessing the culture and the society of those places. Indeed, García Márquez’s world is the Caribbean coast of Colombia; exploring that area in 1982 and 1988 was a lot like being back in San Juan and Havana! Writing about it was fun, a bit like a return to my childhood, without the pain.

“She was from New York. Didn’t people from New York listen to classical music?”

Although you have always had a passion for classical and Latin music, you ultimately found ways to express yourself through writing fiction and nonfiction. Does music still play a big role in your life? 
Music is my first love. If I hadn’t had a late start at the piano (a fact that unfortunately set me back several years), I might have stayed with it. I turned to literature, in some measure, because it didn’t require advanced hand-muscle skills! But once I got involved with the written word, I strived to make my prose style as artistic, expressive, and fun as music can be, and I worked to give it rhythm and melody. (Someone has remarked that I write like a musician.) I still play piano, though.

Is there a particular work that you are most proud of having written, and if so, why?
I feel equally attached to all of them! Each one has had its role in my life. My books on Borges and García Márquez (which have sold well and gone through second editions) are used in AP courses, and are consulted by general readers, here and abroad. From early on, I had set out to be a “cultural mediator” between Latin American literature and U.S. readers, and those volumes serve that purpose.

My book Art for Art’s Sake and Literary Life, on the other hand, grew out of my cosmopolitanism and my desire to deal with the uses of art as both escape and expression. (In some subliminal way, it’s autobiographical.) The volume covers the phenomenon of aestheticism in Europe, the U.S., and Latin America. I felt vindicated when the thing was a finalist for the 1997 National Book Critics Circle Award (there I was, sharing space with Cynthia Ozick and William H. Gass). It also got translated into Serbian and Chinese! When I asked my two translators just what had drawn them to the book, they both replied that what I’d said about Latin American aestheticism was also applicable to analogous 19th-century movements in Serbia and Taiwan. So my cosmopolitanism had shed light on some corners elsewhere in this world.

My two books of fiction focus in part on TCK issues, plus such cultural-specific matters as American relativism or the seductive influence of Ayn Rand.

But I finally turned to memoir because I felt it was the way to confront head-on the question of my crazy, mixed-up background, to make sense out of it all and give it a living shape. The process of remembering that past, and crafting it and getting it out there, has proved enormously therapeutic. It also led to my meeting Nina Sichel and, then, you, Lisa, via our essay collection, Writing Out Of Limbo!

My latest volume is a kind of experiment, starting with its very title: On Nabokov, Ayn Rand and the Libertarian Mind: What the Russian-American Odd Pair Can Tell Us about Some Values, Myths and Manias Widely Held Most Dear. Besides dissecting the two authors, I tease out my troubled relationship to them, delve once again into my own life history, and finally move on to the larger problem of a rising, spreading libertarianism in this country. There’s even an Appendix in which I throw in a number of spoofs of my own of hard-line libertarians! (I’ve been playing with satires of something or other ever since I was in middle school in Puerto Rico…)
on-nabokov-ayn-rand-and-the-libertarian-mind_cover

You’re a true international creative, with works that run the entire gamut! Tell us, what’s next? Fiction? Nonfiction? Something else?
I have stuff in the works, but am in the process of rethinking my projects in the wake of my wife’s death in 2013. (Widowerhood does things to your mind and spirit, alas.)

Where can people find your works?
All my books are available from Amazon and local bookstores, as well as from any good library!

Thank you, Gene, for sharing your wonderfully inspiring story with the Displaced Nation. So, readers, any questions or comments for Gene? Be sure to leave them in the comments!

Editor’s note: All subheadings are taken from Gene’s book The Pianist Who Liked Ayn Rand: A Novella & 13 Stories.

STAY TUNED for our next fab post.

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TCK TALENT: Nina Sichel, writer, editor, and guiding light on the Third Culture Kid experience

Nina Sichel_TCK TalentElizabeth (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 growing up as a TCK, which she has taken all over the country. In fact, she turned up as the convocation speaker at Carleton College on October 31st, where my niece, now a Carleton freshman, had the pleasure of watching her perform some excerpts!

—ML Awanohara

Welcome back, readers! Today I’m honored to be interviewing Nina Sichel, co-editor of the seminal TCK / global-nomad anthology Unrooted Childhoods, which includes essays by several famous TCK writers such as:

  • Pico Iyer: “I fold up my self and carry it round with me as if it were an overnight case”;
  • Isabel Allende (she fled her homeland for political survival); and
  • Military brat Pat Conroy: “Each year I began my life all over again . . . and I think it damaged me.”

In addition, she co-edited the TCK / global-nomad anthology Writing Out of Limbo—to which I contributed. Thank you, Nina, for the hard work you did on my first published essay!

Nina grew up in Venezuela and “repatriated” to the USA for college and beyond; she is a writer, editor, and leader of memoir-writing workshops in Virginia.

* * *

Welcome to The Displaced Nation, Nina. I understand that you grew up in a multicultural household as a TCK in Caracas—the daughter of an American mom and a German-Jewish dad. With Thanksgiving around the corner, my thoughts are turning to the upcoming holidays. Did any particular holiday traditions or celebrations take precedence over others in your household as you were growing up?
My father had to leave Germany when he was 11 and grew up in Uruguay. He seldom spoke about his childhood. He came to the U.S. for college, and, after marrying my mother, lived in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic before settling in Venezuela. After all of those moves, his identity was not at all tied to nationality, and, like so many other choices in his life, citizenship was a matter of practicality. So national holidays were completely unimportant.

What about your mother?
My mother was a nostalgic American—more so when she was in Venezuela than when she was anywhere else. But she was an expat, and U.S. national holidays were not celebrated in that country. My parents’ friends were multinationals—our social circle was not defined by nationality. And, even though my father’s sister and mother, Uruguayan citizens by then, lived in Caracas, close by, we were secular Jews, only going to synagogue on the High Holidays and mostly not even then. We had an abbreviated seder, we lit candles at Chanukah. That Jewish identity, more ethnic, perhaps, than religious, was important to my parents. Yet we had very little religious training. I think things were assumed more than instructed… I remember going to summer camp in the States with Jewish girls from Long Island—and feeling I had absolutely nothing in common with them.

Did you celebrate other holidays?
We had a Christmas tree with lots of presents and sang carols. Santa Claus came till we were too old for him, but there were still gifts afterwards. We dressed up for carnaval, and the Easter bunny came to visit us. Hmmm… I’ve given you a long answer to what should be a simple question—but then, some things are not so simple. Like composite identities.

I was raised with no real roots, an American child in Venezuela…

Writing_Out_of_Limbo_coverWhich brings us to your wonderful essay, “Outsider,” which appears in Writing Out of Limbo. You mention in that piece that there was a lot of turnover among your friends at your international schools. Can you tell us a little more about what that was like?
I never knew, from one school year to the next, which of my classmates would actually be back. I don’t remember ever talking about it; this was normal, nothing remarkable. I remember a few friends who left with advance notice, and I tried to keep in touch with them—pen pals during a time when letters would take one or two weeks to reach their destinations. Those friendships faded over time. Quite a few friends were sent away to boarding school once they reached high school; sometimes they’d be back for summer vacations, but by then I’d usually be in the States. There were also, of course, quite a few children whose parents would stay in Venezuela indefinitely, till retirement and after. And then there were the kids who rotated in and out every couple of years, many of whom were Americans. Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about how different the ones who stayed as long-term residents were from the ones who rotated in and out. And how difficult it is to make general statements about any of this—there are layers and layers of outsiderness, not just one sort of expat or TCK identity.

Have you still got friends from that period?
I’ve kept strong ties to some friends from my youth, and to me this is very special—they are more like family than friends now. I’ve learned to invest deeply in relationships I hope will last, perhaps because the chances are so fleeting. I’ve felt incredibly lucky to be able to contact some people from my past via the Internet, and rekindle friendships from long ago, and learn how TCK life has affected them, their choices, their lives.

Our memories are the part of life we get to keep and take with us…

After an entire adulthood in the USA, tell us what you still miss about Venezuela. I’m also curious to know how many of those things can still be found there, and how many are connected to memories of family and/or friends who are no longer there?
Though I have lived my adulthood in the U.S., my parents remained in Venezuela, and I went back often to visit until they passed away. The place changed—all places do—and I also changed. My memories now are interwoven with nostalgia for what was or might have been. But there are also tangible things. Venezuela is a beautiful country, and there are things about nature I miss. I miss smells—that thick Caribbean salt air, the tangy grass. I miss tropical light, and will miss it more and more now that we’re approaching winter here.

Nowadays, do you feel at home in the United States?
I do feel “at home” in the States in general; just not rooted in any particular place. As you know from my essays, I’ve lived in several places. I lived in a small town in upstate New York, then Manhattan; I lived in the Deep South two different times; in rural Michigan; in West Palm Beach and then urban Miami; and now I live outside Washington, DC. In the smaller towns, what I missed was diversity—of language, ethnicity, experience, culture. I had to seek it out in the people I befriended and the kind of work I chose to do. But even in the cities, I felt outside the mainstream. Remember, coming to the States was not coming home for me; it was immersion in a different culture.

Unrooted_Childhoods_coverIn Unrooted Childhoods, your co-editor, Faith Eidse, writes about her yearning “for thick gumbo-limbo roots.” Do you sometimes wish your roots were deeper in this country?
I remember being fascinated by a friend’s roots in the Deep South that went back many generations. As my family does not have that history, it was something new and rather foreign to me, an oddity. But it was not something I wanted, as it felt too confining, to be defined by your predecessors that way.

Do you have “itchy feet,” which still make you want to move frequently? Or are you the kind who prefers to have a home base and travel only for pleasure?
Yes yes yes. All of the above. o I have to choose?

You mentioned longing to find other people with the experience of having lived overseas. Have you found that “your people” tend to be other ATCKs in creative fields—or does it really depend on the individual and what s/he evokes in you, whether it’s a resonance that’s artistic or political or personality-related or life-experience related, etc.?
I tend to fall in love with people, with aspects of people, and am constantly surprised that all my friends don’t automatically feel the same about each other as I feel about each of them! So, yes, I think it’s about that resonance that you mentioned, but it’s a different resonance in each person, a different connection I respond to. In any case, I never knew about TCKs or ATCKs until I began to work on Unrooted Childhoods.

I want to choose and gather the markers by which to remember our years here…

Like other ACTKs including myself, you were drawn to the craft of writing as a means of self-expression. Is there a particular piece that you think expresses your feelings of transience or loneliness or instability—or freedom or curiosity or love of travel—that you are most proud of? And where can we read it?
I’m not going to choose among my babies, but anyone who is interested can read my essays in Unrooted Childhoods and Writing Out of Limbo. I also wrote much of the introductory material in both books. There was an essay of mine published recently in Brain, Child Magazine, titled “Leaving,” which many of the readers of this column will surely respond to. And I’ve been posting short blogs on the Children’s Mental Health Network website, to inform readers about issues concerning TCKs.

We both lead workshops for people who want to write about their own lives. Tell us what got you started as a memoir workshop leader.
I’ve always felt torn between creative expression and nurturing others—as though I had to choose, as though the work I’d always done (teaching, counseling, raising children) wasn’t already a combination of the two. When I moved to the Washington, DC area, I developed the memoir and other writing programs I currently offer and am always expanding the menu of choices. The workshops are theme-based, and range in topic from creative change and transformation to intercultural exchange to turning points to writing about place to parenting to… I had a program that I developed once specifically for au pairs, which I’d like to offer again at some point. I keep the workshops small, intimate, supportive. We do not engage in critiquing—most of my writers are beginners in memoir, and need to both give and receive positive feedback to grow into the writers they are becoming. I feel honored by their trust, in bearing witness to their journeys.

It’s wonderful that you enjoy helping others make the most of this genre. Of course a good example of that is Unrooted Childhoods, which is a book of memoirs by people who grew up in multiple countries.
Memoir is a wonderful genre, open to many forms, and helping writers find their voices, their unique expression, their subject, is a joy for me. There are strands in life that one thinks of as separate, and I have figured out a way to braid them together. There is so much self-discovery in the process—I can’t tell you how many times students have told me, “I had no intention of writing about that. And I’m so glad I did.”

Where can people find those workshops?
My regular memoir-writing workshops are offered through Northern Virginia Community College in Annandale, outside Washington, DC. I’ve offered other types of reflective writing programs in various community and art centers in the area, and am open to offers elsewhere. I’m happy to share more detailed information upon request.

Thank you, Nina, for sharing the story of your creative life with readers at the Displaced Nation. So, any questions or comments for Nina? Be sure to leave them in the comments!

*All subheds are quotes from Nina’s essay for Brain, Child Magazine, “Leaving” (April 2014).

STAY TUNED for our next fab post.

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TCK TALENT: Alaine Handa’s fringe fest dance performance immortalized on the big screen

One year later (August 2014), Alaine Handa finds herself dancing in Spain. (Photo credit: Alaine Handa)

One year after her Edinburgh Fringe adventure, Alaine Handa finds herself in the land of flamenco: Valencia, Spain to be precise. (Photo credit: Eveline Chang, July 2014)

Elizabeth (Lisa) Liang started up this column in summer 2013 with a two-part conversation with today’s guest, fellow TCK performing artist Alaine Handa. By the end, I for one had come to believe in the truth of Martha Graham’s assertion: “The body says what words cannot.”

—ML Awanohara

Welcome back, readers! It’s a pleasure to have choreographer/dancer and adult third culture kid Alaine Handa back with us at the Displaced Nation. As ML says, Alaine was my very first interviewee when this column made its debut last year.

I am circling back to Alaine to see what happened with her dance performance at the Edinburgh Fringe and also because, rumor has it, one of the performers has made a short documentary about this artistic adventure.

Dance and film: that’s quite a pas de deux!

* * *

Welcome back, Alaine! When we spoke to you last year you were about to premiere your newest show, Habitat, at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. The piece “shows how different people from different backgrounds change the way they behave around others and when they are alone.” How was it received at the fest?
The Fringe is the largest arts festival in the world, so we worked very hard to get the word out about our production. We blasted out press releases, distributed physical flyers everywhere (and befriended some local shopkeepers!), and performed excerpts at the venue. All of these promotional efforts starting paying off in audience numbers as the festival progressed. The feedback from audience members was mostly positive—the stories portrayed on stage were relatable. Our negative feedback was that the performance should be longer! I guess that isn’t really a bad thing: to have the audience wanting to see more.

As I recall, the members of your multicultural ensemble lived in different countries during rehearsals, so you relied on Skype, YouTube, and email a lot. What was it like to finally rehearse and perform the piece together at Edinburgh?
I rented a studio from Dance Base in Edinburgh a week before we opened for intensive rehearsals. We also lived together for the duration of the festival run so got more comfortable with each other. The rehearsal process through the 2-D medium of video was frustrating, to be quite honest. The time difference of 12 hours between New York and Singapore meant that feedback via email would be received hours later. The rare moments when we Skyped during rehearsal, we would run into problems with connectivity. I rehearsed weekly with another dancer based in Singapore and videotaped everything to send to the other dancers in New York. By the time we came together physically, it was a dream come true but also a whirlwind. We had to fit together all the puzzle pieces and find the missing links. It proved a bit of a challenge.

One of your dancers, Laura Lamp, is also a filmmaker who made a documentary short, Dreaming to Escape, about taking Habitat to Edinburgh while also exploring your philosophical and aesthetic approach to dance. Please tell us what it was like to be the subject of a documentary when you were in the middle of premiering a new work.
Laura partnered with Kevin Tadge, who runs the film company Nesby Darbfield, to make the film. They shot a lot of their material on stage, backstage, in rehearsal, at warm-ups before the performances, during dinners, in taped interviews, and everything in between. I was a bit self-conscious at first, but after a while, I just learnt to ignore the camera like a reality TV star! Upon seeing the short, I realized I should’ve cared a bit more about my appearance during rehearsals!

Where is Dreaming to Escape being screened?
Here’s what Laura reports:

“We hope to take it to documentary and dance film festivals around the world. It would be great if it screens at the Singapore Film Festival later this year. We’ve really only begun to send it out… It’s a bit of a slow process, but we’re excited to share it with everyone.”

Alaine, I understand you have relocated back to Singapore, where you were born and spent your adolescence. What has been the best part, the worst part, and the biggest surprise about living in Singapore again?
Reverse culture shock has been hitting me hard, living back in Southeast Asia. It’s been a little over two years now and I still go through culture shock every single day I am here. Singapore has changed so much in the 2000s. I barely recognized the country when I returned. The biggest surprise is how expensive it’s gotten to live here. The cost of living has gone up tremendously!

I know one of the things you’ve been doing in Singapore is teaching dance. Please tell us where prospective students can find your classes.
Yes, I’ve been teaching at multiple locations around the island. The best way to learn more is to join my mailing list by sending me an email at ahdancecompany@gmail.com and/or join my Facebook group.

Thanks, Alaine! Readers, here is a tiny taste of what you might see in Laura Lamp’s short documentary, the trailer created last year for Habitat:

Questions or comments for Alaine? Be sure to leave them in the comments section!

STAY TUNED for Thursday’s fab post.

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TCK TALENT: Even without slide projector, projection of life as a Third Culture Kid engages Reykjavík audiences

TCK in Iceland Collage

Elizabeth Liang in front of Tjarnarbíó, in downtown Reykjavík, where she performed her one-woman autobiographical show, Citizen Alien, on growing up as a TCK of mixed heritage. Photo courtesy Elizabeth Liang.

This month Elizabeth (Lisa) Liang updates us on her own creative life, which this past summer veered in the direction of an island situated at the confluence of the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans!

Halló, vinir mínir! Hello, my friends! I’m addressing you in Icelandic because in this month’s column I’ll be re-creating my journey to Reykjavík, where I traveled in August to perform ALIEN CITIZEN: An Earth Odyssey, my one-woman show about growing up as a Third Culture Kid, or TCK, of mixed heritage.

How did I end up performing my show in Iceland? I have a friend in that part of the world who put me in touch with the artistic director of Tjarnarbíó, a creative center for professional live art in Reykjavík, who enthusiastically offered to host the show if I could cover my travel and lodging. Presented with a chance to combine three of my favorite activities—acting, writing and travel—how could I resist?

Engum flýgur sofanda steikt gæs i munn (“One cannot expect to benefit without making some effort”)—Icelandic proverb

My husband, Dan, agreed to work as my stage manager, which was perfect because he knows the show so well. I launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to raise the requisite funds for our trip, found a cozy house in Reykjavík on AirBnB for us to rent, bought our flights, started promoting the show on social media—and then off we went to the Land of Fire and Ice.

We arrived in ideal weather, cool and dry, which many Icelanders told us was lucky because it had been raining all summer. We were relieved to find that our lodgings were in a quiet, pleasant residential area that was a seven-minute walk to downtown and a 15-minute walk to Tjarnarbíó.

Tjarnarbíó is a beautiful venue with state-of-the-art technology. At the technical rehearsal, the two “techies” who adjusted the lights and projector were friendly and professional. (Incidentally, we never met anyone in Iceland who was unfriendly, and the Icelanders we encountered all spoke perfect English, some with gorgeous British accents.)

That said, we had an unexpected snafu at the tech rehearsal. There are two kinds of projections in the show:

  1. Pictures and videos that are projected onto a screen via my laptop, and
  2. Words that I project onto my torso using an old-fashioned slide projector.

During the tech rehearsal, the slide projector I’d used in the show for over a year konked out. The stage hand and I stared at the plume of smoke rising from the top and said: “It’s smoking.”

No, the problem was not the power converter. We had the right one. Nor was it the bulb. We replaced it but the projector still didn’t revive. So my Icelandic friend’s father-in-law generously loaned us his. More on this later…

Citizen Alien Photo Strip

(top to bottom) At the tech rehearsal, the lights were lowered from the ceiling–fancy!; opening night; closing night; post-show celebratory drink; with Dan in front of Hallgrímskirkja Church; with Dan in Þingvellir National Park. All photos courtesy Elizabeth Liang.

August 20, 2014: Opening Night

We had an audience! I only knew of five people who were planning to attend (of whom I’d actually met only one—my Icelandic friend). What a pleasant surprise to see twenty or so people in the house!

And they laughed! I guess the show’s humor translates.

Dan stage managed wonderfully and the light board operator did a great job, too. The only hitch was that when it came time to project slides onto my torso, the borrowed projector didn’t work, even though we’d tested it earlier. I improvised and the audience went right along with this. (Afterward, a very kind audience member offered to loan us his projector, but when we met later, he realized it had a part missing. So Iceland never got to see words projected onto my torso. Ah, well.)

The best part of opening night was the fact that I enjoyed myself on stage, which hadn’t happened in a while. There were two curtain calls and people stayed afterward to shake my hand, thank me, and say lovely things. It was such a pleasure. About half were Icelandic and the other half internationals—once again, the right people had found me and my show. Several said they would spread the word for the next performance.

A few people from Spain, France, the Czech Republic, and Iceland hung out with us at Tjarnarbíó’s cafe afterwards. They all mentioned different parts of the show that resonated for them, and one said she felt that the show does a service for nomadic and non-nomadic people—it’s like a bridge between them. They thought it should be filmed, which I’m planning to do in December.

All hail my director, Sofie Calderon, for making this show such a dynamic experience for the audience! People from far and wide have enjoyed the production, and that’s Sofie’s doing. If it had been up to me, I would have found ways to hide onstage, because performing a solo show is super scary.

August 22, 2014: Closing Night

More people in the audience, which was very moving, because I knew none of them. The word of mouth from opening night must have been good. And maybe all those promos I sent to the international school and Facebook groups helped…?

The performance didn’t feel as good—I was having less fun and getting fewer laughs—but I forged ahead. Afterward Dan and the light board operator said “No way, it was TIGHT, really good show!” Yet more proof that we actors have no idea how well we’re doing. We only know if the audience is responsive or quiet.

Just like on opening night, a bunch of people waited to speak to me afterward. One was a young adult TCK who was very moved by the show. Another was a professor at the University of Rekjavík whose field of study is TCKs. Their compliments, along with all the words of support from other audience members, was tremendously encouraging.

Because the truth is: before embarking on this Northern European adventure, I had no idea how audiences would react, or if there would be any audiences at all. I had girded myself to perform for a handful of kindly people on opening night and then possibly cancel closing night because who knew if there would be enough interest?

Reykjavík may be a small capital, but as it turns out, it has plenty of residents who are international or international in outlook, and open to trying new things.

Kleina & coffee, Björks in boots, Lutherans & lava…

Beyond the show, Dan and I had a glorious time exploring small but pretty Reykjavík; the Blue Lagoon, a thermal spa located in a lava field in Grindavík; and the Golden Circle, a route the loops from Reykjavík to central Iceland and back. Other highlights included:

  • snacking on kleina, a donut-like pastry in the shape of a trapezoid;
  • visiting Hallgrímskirkja, the Lutheran cathedral designed to resemble the lava flows of Iceland’s landscape, and Settlement House;
  • hanging out at the Boston, said to be one of the world’s best bars, and at several coffee houses; and
  • last but not least, watching singers and dancers all over town on Culture Day/Night, a day and night-long program of cultural events that takes place in August every year and is one of the country’s largest festivals.

I also got a kick out of Icelandic fashion—bright colors, unusual cuts—and, as I love boots, was pleased to see practically every woman sporting boots of some kind: ankle, knee-high, sexy, hiking, and everything in between. (Did I buy a pair? Nope. Iceland is expensive.)

On our last night, we stepped out onto our little street to see fireworks, which felt like a final burst of congratulations. I got teary-eyed!

Overall, it was a delightful trip. Dan and I left thinking we’d like to go back someday. We want to see more of the island (puffins! volcanoes!), enjoy the friendly vibe…and hopefully bring another solo show for Icelanders’ entertainment—but without any cantankerous 1980s equipment.

* * *

Thank you, Lisa! Having only been to the Blue Lagoon as a round trip from Keflavík International Airport, I really appreciated this vicarious journey into the heart of the city’s cultural scene. And, as always, I’m impressed that you were contributing to the culture as well as taking something from it! Readers, please leave questions or comments for Lisa below.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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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.

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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!

* * *

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.

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TCK TALENT: Alice Shu-Hsien Wu, Cultural Bridge Builder and Global Nomad Videographer

Alice Wu TCK TALENT Collage

Alice Shu-Hsien Wu (her own photo).

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.

—ML Awanohara

Happy summer/winter/rainy season, international readers! As some of you may recall, last month I talked to Cathleen Hadley, a fellow ATCK contributor to the anthology Writing Out of Limbo, dedicated to telling the stories of those of us who grew up among different countries. Today I’m interviewing another Limbo contributor, Alice Shu-Hsien Wu. An intercultural communication consultant and lecturer at Cornell University, Alice is particularly interested in intercultural adjustment and in internationally mobile families. She has produced two acclaimed videos about college students who have led internationally mobile, nomadic lives, in which the students themselves discuss such challenges as transition, cultural identity, and rootlessness.

* * *

Welcome to The Displaced Nation, Alice. I understand that you were internationally mobile while growing up, living in England, Finland and Sweden in addition to the United States.
Yes, my father was a biochemistry professor and had sabbaticals in various places. We went from New York City to Palo Alto, California, when I was 6 and to Upstate New York when I was 7, and then to England when I was 11 and back to New York State when I was 12. We also sometimes traveled to various countries where my father had meetings. I was a Rotary exchange student in Finland when I was 17; went to college and grad school in New York; and then, at age 26, went to Sweden to study and work, returning two years later to Ithaca, New York, where I still live.

Were you happiest in a certain place at a certain time?
I’ve been happy in many places—one of my favorites was California because of the sunny weather, fruit trees and flowers in my yard, and sand in the playgrounds (I was 6 then, remember). This was a welcome change from living in NYC—where the playgrounds were concrete and you weren’t allowed to walk on the small amounts of grass.

“Then when I got here it was a big adjustment identity thing: I didn’t feel American…” – Lynn, US

How did you find your various “repatriation” experiences?
My repatriation from Sweden was probably the most challenging—since I had lived there longer and gotten more immersed in the culture through school, work, and friends. I remember thinking American TV newscasters smiled and laughed too much compared to Swedish commentators and that college and grad students in the United States dressed very informally compared to students in Stockholm. Everything in the U.S. seemed bigger than I had become accustomed to in Sweden—gigantic tableware and portions in restaurants (especially in California), huge shopping carts and vast numbers of products in supermarkets. Also, I was surprised by the general lack of discussion about current world events in the U.S., compared to the amount and frequency of these discussions in Europe.

Now you sound like the other Alice: in Wonderland! (I mention because she’s the Displaced Nation’s mascot.) As an instructor at Cornell, you’ve made two important documentaries about global nomads/TCKs, Global Nomads: Cultural Bridges for the Future (1994) and Global Nomads: Cultural Bridges for the New Millennium (2001). What did you like best about the creative process?
Meeting the students and getting to know them—they were fascinating, honest, and articulate. I screened the first global nomads video for the student interviewees at the end of the school year, and they liked it so much they decided to form a global nomads club. They asked me to be their advisor and I ended up working with them for the next three years. They were amazingly creative, active, and energetic and brought a lot to the campus community.

“Global Nomads have the ability to educate others…” – Liliona, Ghana

What attracted you to the documentary format? I have talked to other ATCK actors like myself and to novelists and artists, but you are my first videographer.
Clearly, there are many effective ways to portray the GN/TCK experience, but I was more familiar with the documentary format since I’d used it in teaching. For example, I’d used videos during intercultural training sessions for students and staff at Cornell to introduce topics like cultural adjustment, culture shock, and reentry shock. I also videoed international students as well as first-generation Americans who were participating in panels about aspects of American culture, as well as some international students who were teaching and doing role-plays. So I was very comfortable with the format. I really like being able to feature students’ own words and impressions—especially when I can capture them interacting with other students. In the first video, all of the students were from Cornell. In the second video, the students were from six different schools across the United States: San Diego State University, Colorado State University, The College of Wooster, George Mason University, Syracuse University, and Cornell.

Limbo_coverIn your essay in Writing Out of Limbo, you describe the impact of the videos not only on the college students who participated in them but also on the TCKs in your audiences. You produced these two documentaries in the era before social media. How did the news spread?
I showed the videos to as many groups at Cornell as I could: students, including Resident Advisors in dorms and the members of an international student discussion group, as well as groups of staff. I also screened them at international and intercultural conferences. Also, the students who appeared in the first video were great with promotions. They showed it to their dorm-mates to help them understand the GN experience, as well as at an initial meeting of their global nomads club to introduce prospective members to the concept. And they traveled together to a Global Nomads International (GNI) collegiate conference in Virginia where they screened it for GNs and TCKs from other colleges. Audience members who’d been TCKs/GNs could really relate to the students on screen, and word soon spread.

“I never wanted to put down roots…”- Brian, US

Did making these videos help you to better understand yourself as an ATCK?
I could relate to many things that the students talked about, and making the videos helped me think about some of my own experiences such as leaving my friends many times and having friends in many different places.

Do you identify most with a particular culture or cultures? Or are you like many TCKs who are more likely to identify with people who have similar interests and perhaps similar cross-cultural backgrounds? (And of course it’s not a given that we’ll identify with them!)
I identify with some aspects of Nordic cultures like Sweden and Finland, some aspects of Chinese culture (due to my family background), and some aspects of American culture. I always seem to meet global nomads and Third Culture Kids wherever I go: I really enjoy it. After learning about the concept of global nomads and Third Culture Kids at the Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication and from the late, great David Pollock, I realized that a lot of the friends I’d made at college were global nomads (and they were very interested in learning more once I’d informed them).

As an ATCK, do you want to move frequently, or do you prefer to have a home base and only travel for pleasure?
My suitcase is always partly packed so it is easy to go on the next trip. On a recent trip to the West Coast, I was thinking about how much I love seeing all the gates listing flights to various parts of the world. I like to imagine what it would be like to jump on one of these planes and end up in a new part of the world. That said, I also enjoy having a home base, especially since I have kids who are quite rooted and don’t like me to be away for very long.

Are you working on a new TCK video project?
Yes. This spring I filmed three panels of Cornell students at Cornell’s Language House. This time I am looking at the influence of technology on the global nomad/TCK experience and how this compares to the experiences of GN/TCK students in my previous two videos. In addition, I am making a video that follows up on some of the students who participated in my first two films, and am planning to use social media tools.

* * *

Thank you, Alice! Readers, if you’re interested in learning more about Alice’s work or obtaining a copy of either of her documentaries, you can go to the Families in Global Transition (FIGT) website. And, to reiterate, you can read her chapter describing her work in Writing Out of Limbo: International Childhoods, Global Nomads and Third Culture Kids. The subheds above are all quotes from the students featured in her second documentary. Please leave any questions or comments for Alice below.

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TCK TALENT: Cathleen Hadley, Porteña at Heart and Artist by Calling

Cathleen Hadley Collage

Cathleen Hadley in the transit lounge nervously awaiting her son’s arrival from Afghanistan, taken by her husband, Roger.

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.

—ML Awanohara

Greetings, readers! My guest today is Cathleen Hadley, my fellow ATCK author in the anthology Writing Out of Limbo: International Childhoods, Global Nomads and Third Culture Kids. Cathleen grew up in South America and the USA; she is a visual-turned-conceptual artist now living in Oviedo, Florida.

* * *

Welcome to The Displaced Nation, Cathleen. I understand that as the US-born TCK child of American parents—a Foreign Service dad and a homemaking mom—you lived in the United States (Washington, DC and Maryland), Venezuela, and Argentina before enrolling in Hartford Art School, part of the University of Hartford in Connecticut, and starting your adult life back in your “home” country. Recalling these many transitions, do you have a place and a time where you felt happiest, as in least displaced?
I had a happy childhood in Maryland, but of all the places I lived while growing up, I liked Buenos Aires the best. BA was like a first love; I had come to it fresh, and found it fascinating. It gave me the freedom to explore, discover joy in my life and youth, find myself in the arts… The depth of my feelings for this city are perhaps best summed up in my reaction to the first book I read by the Argentine writer Jorge Louis Borges (who was a living celebrity at the time), his short story collection Labyrinths. I likened myself to one of his halls of mirrors, and felt as though I lived in his circular time travel of art: prose to dreams or dreams to canvas and so on.

Was it an adjustment coming back to the U.S. after such a heady experience?
When I left, I carried as many things Argentine as I could. I had a lot to relearn. In BA, for example, I was courteously late for all appointments, but that was unacceptable in the USA. I had forgotten that if a class started at 8:00 a.m., I should arrive 15 minutes earlier or at least be on time. This reset to my inner clock was harsh. I still carry the music of the language spoken with soft “che” sounds. It grates on my ears to hear the City of Good Airs mispronounced.

But I presume you enjoyed attending art school?
My first art school: the smell, lighting, and echoes in those rooms resonated with my awareness of being in a circle of like-minded souls. Each project was an awakening, a revelation of inner potential.

Becoming a tourist in her own country

Limbo_coverIn your essay in the anthology Writing Out of Limbo, called “Artist in Transit,” you write about the difficulties of repatriation. I can relate! Eventually, you married a U.S. Navy officer and the pair of you ended up living in several different states.
After years of meeting Germans, Indians, and other assorted nationalities who congratulated me on my awareness of the culture of others but admonished me for my lack of knowledge about my native land, I decided that the Navy could serve as my passport to the United States—I would follow my husband, Roger, in his career. I particularly enjoyed being stationed in the Pacific Northwest, our final destination while he was active Navy. It offered the combination of climate from where I grew up in Maryland (think gardening), the temperate weather of Buenos Aires, and the emerald green and mists of the Indonesian Islands.

How did moving to different states compare to your earlier experience of moving from country to country?
The experiences were not dissimilar. Each place we lived in the United States had a different routine and a distinct local culture. Living in Ridgecrest, California (the Mojave Desert) was vastly different from living in San Diego—and that was within the same state! The Navy culture and traditions—those we carried with us everywhere. And having a child, a son, rooted me in life/home.

And now you live in Florida?
Now I am in a place that was not on my map—Florida, where I moved to be near my parents. Roger and I are rooted here by necessity, by the roof over our heads, his job, and my disability (chronic back pain).

I’m so sorry to hear about your back pain. That would be hard for anyone to endure, but especially an artist and a traveler! Going back to your upbringing: are you like many of us TCKs in that you tend to gravitate towards people who have similar interests and perhaps similar cross-cultural backgrounds? (And of course it’s not a given we’ll become fast friends…)
Identifying with people from my own culture is an ongoing process, and to this day I often find myself failing when making an effort to blend in. I suppose I am happiest with my dear old friends from my traveling TCK days and with those Navy folks from my ATCK days. And I was drawn to you, fellow author—Limbo brought us together because of the “resonance” we find in each other’s stories. Though we’ve never met in person, I am certain that if we did, we’d be comfortable and familiar with each other.

“Painting is silent poetry.” — Plutarch

Something that resonated with me from your Limbo essay was your description of how you behaved on home leave during your adolescent years: “I began wearing a mask, holding back information, or my true stories and feelings.” I gather you found ways to express yourself through your art, as I did through acting. Are there particular art works of yours that express these feelings of transience or loneliness or instability—and what about the freedom, curiosity, and love of travel you’ve also experienced?
Yes. I can share several examples:

ch_arrival

“Arrival,” by Cathleen Hadley

I created this painting, “Arrival”, a cleaned-up version of which was used on the cover of Limbo, when imagining what my son would see when serving in Afghanistan. That was a speechless, visual time for me. I wanted to paint endless versions of the same horizon until he came home.

"Phantom in the Woods," by Cathleen Hadley

“Phantom in the Woods,” by Cathleen Hadley

Here I painted myself looking like a phantom standing in a dark and gloomy woods, which symbolized the closed-in feelings I had about transience, loneliness, and instability. The ghost is passing through the landscape of an imaginary world because “place” did not yet exist.

CH_Bug Quilt

Bug Quilt, created by Cathleen Hadley for her son, Alan.

I asked my son to pick out whatever quilt pattern he wanted and I would make it for him. Of course he picked one that required a complicated technique called appliqué, which requires attaching small pieces of fabric to a larger piece. It was way out of my league—not on my list of quilting goals. But making Bug Quilt represented my love for him and my husband, and what it took to make a home for all of us.

What sort of artwork do you find yourself doing now? And is it influenced by any culture(s) and/or by your peripatetic upbringing?
Today, I am a conceptual artist adapting by necessity. I had worked with many wonderful local artists—but had to give that up in 2012 due to my recurring back pain, which influences the mediums I can and cannot use. For one year—as I sat on my terraced porch—with a view over trees directly across from where I sat, I took photos of the sunrise and the changing clouds. That view became my canvas. It was the most accessible art I had at the time. I call it the cloud photo series:

Three of the photos in C Hadley's "cloud series."

Three of the photos in Cathleen Hadley’s “cloud series.”

Today’s painting are these words on paper:

Grey mountain, Green grass. Yellow sky. Blue water.

Time to open those boxes?!

I imagine that due to your back pain, you can no longer travel as you used to. But do you still have the ACTK’s “itchy feet”?
I have worse than itchy feet. How about itchy underworked imagination? Some days I’ll move wall hangings, rearrange the photos on display. Other days, it’s the furniture, or the books…anything that isn’t nailed down. My poor husband! For the first time, I am focusing on “place”. What would I do, what will I keep, to make this place more than a temporary home? As far as travel goes, the urge to travel and live elsewhere remains, but I am becoming a person who wants a home base as well. I consider myself to be in the transit lounge of my life. When we relocated to Florida, I became homesick for the first time for the Pacific Northwest. I am over that now.

Are you working on a new art project or projects?
I am in a period of transformation. From years of having to change or make do, I recognize it as a moment before something new emerges. It’s a slow and alone time and I hope to use it wisely (well). I am feeling remarkably undefined—and that is okay. I am making an art of managing expectations, trying to lose some of my structured behavior and let things unfold. Find my place and be satisfied. Not every day has to be an answer to an existential question. I am on a quest to be a homemaker—lay down the past and make a homey home. A home as a place to speak from, somewhere to simply be. Time to open those boxes!

* * *

Thank you, Cathleen. I do hope we get the chance to meet in person some day! Readers, I hope you’ve enjoyed getting to know Cathleen through this post. Please leave any questions or comments for her below.

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