Expat Sat: Repatriation, Loss & What It All Might Mean or Not Mean

Welcome to Expat Sat, the culturally kooky, map nonspecific, sometimes bewildering, always fascinating intersection of expat life and writing. And where every Saturday, I offer tips for writing and publishing to expat writers around the globe.


When I moved back to the United States from China last October, I made a mind-boggling discovery. (Well, I made a number of mind-boggling discoveries, but for today, I’ll stick with just one.)

I can no longer park a car.

After nearly five years in Shanghai where to get from place to place I had walked, taken a taxi, or hitched a ride with our driver Mr. Chen, I can no longer park a car.

And I’m not just talking about parallel-parking—that especially challenging maneuver that eludes even some of the world’s finest parkers. Hell, lots of people who’ve never left their hometown can’t parallel-park. Nope…I’m talking about good old-fashioned parking-lot parking. I can’t do it. I cannot neatly and efficiently pull my not-so-very-big car into a designated spot (a generously wide designated spot, mind you, with bright white lines clearly demarcating where the heck I’m supposed to put my car).

Can’t do it.

Every time I try, I end up crooked (wildly crooked), in two spots, or hunched up so close to the car next to me that I could actually give the passenger a big, wet smooch if we both opened our windows at the same time. (Unlikely because the few times passengers have looked up and found me…and my car…nearly in their laps, they’ve start hollering or giving me the finger pretty quickly. So far, no smooches.)

Before China (or B.C., as I often call that time in my life), I could have parallel-parked a mack truck. An airplane. An f’ing tank if you’d asked me.

Thanks to the years I spent in Washington, D.C. driving a Mazda 323 that didn’t have power steering, I was arguably the reigning queen of parallel-parking. Sure, that Mazda had been small but I could wriggle her into spots no wider than a legal-sized envelope, pumping the steering wheel hand over hand, all the while chanting, “All I want is power steering. All I want is power steering.” That kind of training and discipline paid off. And B.C., I was sure it had paid off for a lifetime.

But then came China.

And then repatriation.

And now—A.C. (after China)—I’m unable to maneuver into the most generous parking spots at the grocery store, the bookstore, the airport, my daughter’s preschool. You name it, I can’t park there. After a few disastrous attempts at the mall, I began parking as far away as possible…you know, in those spots no one ever uses except at the holidays…because I don’t want to accidentally sideswipe a car or, truth be told, let anyone see how awful I’ve become at this simple task.

Here’s how an average parking attempt goes:

I arrive at a destination, pull my car into a spot, turn off the ignition, get out of my car, gauge my success or failure, shake my head at the fact that I am either straddling two spots or have six feet in front of me with my tail end poking out, climb back into the car, turn on the ignition, and try again.

And again.

It’s ridiculous.

And sometimes, I admit, I just give up and go home.

Though I’m humored by this strange, unexpected outcome of my time in China, I also recognize the symbolism in it. As much as I gained from my experience in Shanghai, I lost some significant things too.

Sure, I’ll probably get the hang of parking again…eventually…but it will never be the same. I’ve changed. Space has changed. And perhaps most importantly, how much I care about fitting neatly into a perfectly sized parking spot has changed.

I think I’m more interested in the smooch.

 

 

 

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Q4U: Expats / Repats / Globetrotters: What have you lost as a result of your time out of your home country? What does that loss mean to you?

 

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Lips: Image: Idea go / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Robin Black

Welcome to Writerhead Wednesday, a weekly feature in which a brilliant, charming, remarkable author answers three questions about her/his writerhead…a precious opportunity for looky-loos around the world to sneak into the creative noggins of talented writers and (ever so gently) muck about.


Today I am honored to introduce Robin Black, author of the much-lauded short story collection If I loved you, I would tell you this. And I’m especially excited because the paperback edition is being released THIS WEEK (so as soon as you’re done reading about Robin’s writerhead, get yourselves to a bookstore and buy the paperback…you’ll be so happy you did).

Here’s a sprinkling of the praise that has been showered upon Robin for her first collection of stories:

“So deft, so understated, and so compelling . . . Fans of Mary Gaitskill, Amy Bloom, and Miranda July will feel like they’ve found gold in a river when they discover Robin Black.” — O: The Oprah Magazine

***

“Each story…in this collection is a mini work of art….They teach life lessons and change the way you view the world.” — Irish Examiner

***

“Black delivers real emotion, the kind that gives you pause….I want to shout about how just when you thought no one could write a story with any tinge of freshness let alone originality about childhood. . . about marriage…about old age, Black has done it.” — Alan Cheuse, Chicago Tribune

***

So without further ado, here’s what the marvelous Robin Black had to say about her writerhead.

1. Describe your state of writerhead (the where, the when, the how, the what, the internal, the external).

Like all the best monsters, my writerhead has more than one head. There’s Solitary Writerhead and then there’s Rude Writerhead. Solitary Writerhead happens—no surprises here—when I am alone. And I mean really alone. Solitary Writerhead will play hard to get if I know there’s someone else in the house be they never so quiet, be they never so hidden in another room. Solitary Writerhead involves a kind of agitated trance. Pacing, talking to myself, scribbling myself down dark tunnels that I then panic about being in. So I jump up. Pace. Start to do laundry. Say, out loud, “What else? What else?” Never finish the laundry. Back to the keyboard. Say out loud “What next? What next?” Then maybe a drawing pad. (Back to the drawing board…) Try to sketch out what I cannot articulate. Characters are circles or they are triangles. Arrows depict actions. Or maybe depict attachments. Time is a series of clouds. Now. Now. Now. Then this. Then this? Scribbles all over the diagrams depict frustration. (Mine.) Say out loud, “Who ARE these people? Why do I care?” Oh, and the TV is often on. But the clock stops. For hours. Then somehow catches up with itself too quickly so all of a sudden it is whatever time signifies The End. Not of the project. But of the time when I will be alone. So it’s time to be a person again.

Rude Writerhead happens at dinner with my family. Or on long car rides. When I want to be doing all of the above. But can’t.And so am rude. We discourage Rude Writerhead, but it does still appear from time to time.

2. What happens if someone/something interrupts writerhead? (a spouse, a lover, a barking dog, an electrical outage, a baby’s cry, a phone call, a leg cramp, a dried-up pen, a computer crash, etc.)

I have been known to weep. But that was some time ago. Over the decade or so that I’ve been writing more or less full-time I have gotten better about not punishing the person, dog or electronic device that has the gall to insist that I lead some kind of regularized existence and not just pace and mutter all day every day. So now I am, if anything, resigned to participating in real life. Though I do seem to remember some screaming back in the day…but I have repressed those scenes, much as with the pains of labor.

3. Using a simile or metaphor, compare your writerhead to something.

For me, writerhead is like cooking, but instead of being the cook, I am the stew itself. It feels, at its most powerful, less as though I am creating something than as though I myself am being created. There’s an urgency about getting “it” right, an urgency that is so pressing that the “it” no longer seems to be anything like the words or the images or the story but me. This, this “it,” becomes necessary, will fix something, will set things to rights. I’m not sure any lesser drive could justify the struggle that goes on.

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Robin Black’s story collection If I loved you, I would tell you this (Random House, 2010) was a finalist for the Frank O’Connor International Short Fiction Competition, a summer reading pick for O. Magazine, among Best Books of 2010 in The San Francisco Chronicle and The Irish Times, and the winner of the Athenaeum of Philadelphia Literary Award. Her essays and stories have recently appeared in Conde Nast Traveler UK, O. Magazine, The New York Times Magazine, Georgia Review, One Story, and others. Robin lives in the Philadelphia area with her family.

To read more about Robin, visit her website. Or say hello on Twitter (@robin_black).

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Readers / Writers / Looky-Loos: Whatcha think? What takes your attention about Robin’s writerhead? What gives you pause?


Mojo Monday: Pulitzer Prize Winner Jennifer Egan Says, “All That Matters….”

It’s Mojo Monday, and as always, I’ve got a little something-something to lift your spirits, buoy you up, and help you get your mojo on.


Today? Jennifer Egan.  Author of my favorite book of the year A Visit from the Goon Squad and, as of a few days ago, winner of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

What advice does this word maven give to writers?

Pretty simple really: “All that matters…and the hardest thing…and this is really hard…is just to try to do some decent work…and keep getting better.”

That, and stop worrying about the Joneses.

Watch.

 

Expat Sat: M Literary Residency Program Invites Applications

Welcome to Expat Sat, the culturally kooky, map nonspecific, sometimes bewildering, always fascinating intersection of expat life and writing. And where every Saturday, I offer tips for writing and publishing to expat writers around the globe.


Today I want to share an amazing opportunity for writers with an interest in China and/or India…a 3-month literary residency in one of those two countries that includes transportation to and from the country, an apartment, and a stipend.

Crazy good opportunity for writers, huh?

Told ya so.

From the Residency page at the “M on the Bund” website:

“The M Literary Residency Program has been established to disseminate a broader knowledge of contemporary life and writing in India and China today and to foster deeper intellectual, cultural and artistic links across individuals and communities. Applicants are invited to apply for three-month residencies in India or China.”

Applications for the 2012-13 Residency are now being accepted.

The application deadline is Friday, July 1, 2011.

Decisions will be announced October 31, 2011.

To find out more (and to download program guidelines and an application form), please visit M’s Residency.

So if qualify, scooch your patootie over to the site and apply. Come on…time’s a’wasting.

 

Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Alan Paul

Welcome to Writerhead Wednesday, a weekly feature in which a brilliant, charming, remarkable author answers three questions about her/his writerhead…a precious opportunity for looky-loos around the world to sneak into the creative noggins of talented writers and (ever so gently) muck about.

Be sure to leave a comment to be entered in today’s BIG IN CHINA GIVEAWAY!!!


I am very excited to welcome Alan Paul to Writerhead Wednesday. He’s the author of the recently published and wildly popular memoir Big in China: My Unlikely Adventures Raising a Family, Playing the Blues and Becoming a Star in Beijing. In addition to being a writer, he’s also a dad, a musician, and a repatriated expat from China. He’s also from Pittsburgh…my own hometown (go Steelers!). In short, all evidence points to the fact that Alan is a pretty cool guy who’s written a spectacularly entertaining book.

I met Alan on Twitter, cornered him (Twitter-fashion) for an interview, and was delighted he said yes. Here’s a peek into his writerhead.

(Be sure to leave a comment so you can be entered into the giveaway contest. Details below.)

1. Describe your state of writerhead (the where, the when, the how, the what, the internal, the external).

There is absolutely no formula for getting there. It can happen in a flash or it can happen in a long, drawn-out process. I can spend a day laboring over a few paragraphs, carefully constructing sentences, or I can spend a day surfing the internet, reading, drinking green tea and listening to music and then feel the inspiration strike out of the blue, sending my fingers flying across the keyboard in an exhilarating rush.

When that happens I never stop to think or pause, or even correct typos. I try to let the energy fly through my brain and my fingers and later go back and see what I’ve got. Sometimes it was as brilliant as it felt—and there is, of course, no better feeling. Other times, I realize that I just ran down a long road to nowhere. I don’t let that discourage me too much because that feeling of inspiration is exhilarating and almost always returns soon in a more productive form

I was really forced to move away from any idea of a perfect writing environment while working on Big in China. We signed with a contractor to gut our house about a week before I signed my book deal. These were both long-developing projects and I panicked when it became clear that both were actually going to happen simultaneously. My wife suggested putting off the construction until after I had finished the book. I contemplated that for a day, but I thrive on chaos so I decided to let this run and see where it took us.

Not only did I have to oversee this huge job and make a million decisions while writing my book, but we had to move out of our home, living crammed in with remarkably accommodating relatives. I also lost my office and preferred writing space. I wrote huge chunks of Big in China in libraries and cafes, including the sterile one at my gym. I never could have pulled any of this off without the $400 Sennheiser headphones that pumped music into my ears and allowed me to enter a new world—my own world, the world of writerhead.

2. What happens if someone/something interrupts writerhead? (a spouse, a lover, a barking dog, an electrical outage, a baby’s cry, a phone call, a leg cramp, a dried-up pen, a computer crash, etc.)

My writerhead gets interrupted all the time. It’s a fact of life. I don’t live in a writers’ colony. I live in a house with three children and constant motion.

When I am really on a roll I, have been known to let all kinds of things slip: making dinner for the kids (we can always order in), getting to band practice (the guys can wait), putting children to sleep (they’ll be fine). Ultimately, all of these things have to be dealt with, however. Then I just hope that I have laid down a solid enough foundation beneath whatever I am working on to be able to pick it back up and more easily find writerhead.

Once I have a really clear vision of what I am trying to say with any given piece of writing and find the voice that will take me there, the hardest work is done and I can usually get back to it without as much struggle. So I don’t worry about the interruptions too much.

3. Using a simile or metaphor, compare your writerhead to something.

When I’m in writerhead, I feel exactly the same as I do when I am playing in a band and we have found the elusive groove and everything is clicking from thinking to soaring. In both cases, I just try to stay in the picket and do my thing, always remembering what B.B. King once said: “You better not look down if you want to keep on flying.”

BIG IN CHINA GIVEAWAY:

Whoop! Whoop! Today–Wednesday, April 20, 2011–I’m giving away 2 copies of China expat Alan Paul’s new memoir Big in China: My Unlikely Adventures Raising a Family, Playing the Blues and Becoming a Star in Beijing.

RULES: To enter, all you have to do is leave a comment right here on this post. Wish Alan well. Tell him what resonates with you about his writerhead. Send good writerly/readerly vibes. Tell him that you ordered thirteen copies of his book. If you’ve read Big in China already, tell him what a fantastic read it is; if you haven’t, tell him you cannot wait to do so. Ask him a question (which he might pop in to answer personally). Show him some love.

*Comments must be posted before the clock strikes midnight on April 21, 2011. (That’s Eastern Standard Time U.S.)

**This contest is open internationally.

***Winners will be drawn on Thursday, April 21. Be sure to check back here to see if you’re the big winner of Big in China.

****Though I welcome all charming comments, only one comment per person will be counted in the drawing. (This isn’t American Idol.)

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Alan Paul is the author of Big in China: My Unlikely Adventures Raising a Family, Playing the Blues and Becoming a Star in Beijing (Harper). The National Society of Newspaper Columnists named him 2008 Online Columnist of the Year for “The Expat Life” columns he wrote for WSJ. His blues band Woodie Alan, featuring three Chinese musicians and one other American, was named 2008’s Best Band in Beijing and performed throughout China. For more information, visit www.alanpaul.net or follow him on Twitter: @AlPaul.

 

Misc Monday: Steve Jobs: “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.”

I love this speech that Steve Jobs gave at Stanford University’s 2005 commencement ceremony. When I have a moment of doubt about anything in life–writing or otherwise–I pop over to watch it. It buoys me. Revs me up. Clears the noise. Brings me back to center. Reminds me to listen to my smart, funny, creative inner voice.

Favorite quotes:

“You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”

“Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

And my favorite favorite:

“Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”

Enjoy.

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Q4U: What brings you back to center in moments of doubt?

Expat Sat: The Blogging Rut (& How to Get Out of It)

Welcome to Expat Sat, the culturally kooky, map nonspecific, sometimes bewildering, always fascinating intersection of expat life and writing. And where every Saturday, I offer tips for writing and publishing to expat writers around the globe.


5 Truths About Expats & Expat Writers

  1. Expats are not the same as travelers. Because expats hunker down and live in a country (as opposed to vacationing for a week or two), they have vastly different experiences than travelers and therefore very different perspectives. It’s much like the difference between marriage and popping in for a quickie; when you’re married, you know as much about the hairy wart on the left buttock as you do the sexy eyes that attracted you in the first place.
  2.  

  3. Expats are bursting with stories…literally bursting. Sit down for a drink with an expat and you will get your ear bent a thousand different ways. In fact, a common comment (complaint?) about many expats is that most of their sentences begin: “In _______ [ fill in name of host city/country], ….” (It’s hard to stop us once you get us going…)
  4.  

  5. Many expats become expat writers after moving to their host countries. In some cases, they’d always wanted to write, but hadn’t had the time or head space to do so. In other cases, there is just so damn much to tell that writing it down feels like the most natural step.
  6.  

  7. Expats write kick-ass blogs. They write funny blogs, informative and educational blogs, raw and revealing blogs, thoughtful blogs. (If you need proof, read Expat Harem or Mrs. Madison’s Dubai or From My Tingzijian.)
  8.  

  9. Expats write too many blog entries and not enough publishable essays, articles, etc. (Ouch! I know, I know…this one stings. But it’s true. Blogging is terrific—I’ve been a blogger for years—but it can become a rut.)

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Before we go on, I’m going to repeat #5 a little more loudly (raises bullhorn):

EXPATS WRITE TOO MANY BLOG ENTRIES AND NOT ENOUGH PUBLISHABLE STUFF!

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Now there are many solid, understandable reasons expat writers do this. For example:

  • They are new to writing and don’t know how to get started. A blog entry can take any shape, voice, tone, length, etc. It doesn’t come with lengthy, hard-to-navigate writers’ guidelines. That feels comfy and safe.
  • They don’t know how to finish and polish a piece to publishable quality.
  • They don’t know how to find markets (magazines, online pubs, lit mags, agents, etc).
  • They don’t know how to submit their work.
  • They don’t have a support group. (Being an expat is often a rather transient existence. Folks come and go every couple of years. It’s hard to establish a support group or class with all that coming and going. But having a support group is a vital part of being a writer. Yes, writing is done in solitude, but all writing is polished and improved upon with the help of others—peers, teachers, editors, and agents.)

The thing is, all of these challenges are a natural part of the expat writer’s journey. So what’s to be done? How do you move to a new level with your writing? How do you find a support group? How do you learn the ins-and-outs of publishing your work? How do you get out of the blogging rut?

Answer: Take my online writing workshop for expats. (No, this is not the only answer, but in my mind, it’s one of the best. )

So, if you are an expat/repat who is:

  • a beginning or seasoned writer
  • bursting with stories
  • looking to write short, publishable essays
  • interested in moving your writing to the next level
  • interested in learning how and where to sell your writing
  • longing for a supportive writing group

…sign up here. It starts on May 1.

Let’s go!

 

Q4U: Where do you fall in the spectrum? Beginning writer? Seasoned writer? Blogger? Published author? What are your goals as a writer?

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Image: graur codrin / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Alain de Botton

Welcome to Writerhead Wednesday, a weekly feature in which a brilliant, charming, remarkable author answers three questions about her/his writerhead…a precious opportunity for looky-loos around the world to sneak into the creative noggins of talented writers and (ever so gently) muck about.


Please welcome Alain de Botton, a philosopher and the author of many books, including The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work and A Week at the Airport: A Heathrow Diary.

1. Describe your state of writerhead (the where, the when, the how, the what, the internal, the external).

A young student once wrote to the French novelist André Gide to ask him whether he should try to become a writer. “Only if you have to,” answered Gide, neatly summing up the best advice any writer can give a prospective recruit. The job clearly makes no sense from any practical point of view. It only intermittently satisfies ordinary longings for security and status. Trying to tie writing talent to a mortgage is akin to connecting a bicycle to the national power grid. So if one’s to become a writer, it clearly has to be from a motive other than the search for money or status. It has to because of the deep fulfillment that some people feel in arranging thoughts on experiences on the page.

I wrote my first book at the age of eight. It was the diary of my summer holiday, spent in the Normandy seaside resort of Houlgate with my parents, dog and sister. “Yestday nothing much happend. Today the wether is lovely. We went swiming for the hole day. We had salad for lunch. We had a trout for diner. After diner we saw a film about a man that found gold in Peru,” reads a typical entry headed Wendsay 23 of August, 1978 (not dyslexic, just learning English). If the book is unreadable, it’s because, despite the best intentions and neat handwriting, the author is unable to capture much of what is actually happening. There is a list of facts, the trout and a weather report, but life has slipped out of the picture. It’s like watching a home video, in which you’re shown only the feet or the clouds, and wonder, bemused, what might be going on at head-level.

The desire to record experience never left me, but as I matured, my technical skills slowly improved. I learnt that wanting to say something very badly doesn’t always mean that one has managed to do so. Writing is about capturing experience. Behind the desire to write is a wish to gain mastery over beautiful as well as painful feelings. Inspiration comes in many forms: a fine weathered brick wall, a humiliation, a painting, a face glimpsed in the street. For me, the finest books are those where an author has put his or her finger on emotions which we recognise as our own, but which we could not have formulated on our own. We have a feeling that the author knows us–perhaps better than we know ourselves. I aspire to write books that offer a feeling of recognition, and ultimately, of friendship.

2. What happens if someone/something interrupts writerhead? (a spouse, a lover, a barking dog, an electrical outage, a baby’s cry, a phone call, a leg cramp, a dried-up pen, a computer crash, etc.)

I constantly procrastinate over anything. The writer’s life is suffused with anxiety. In a highly productive, entrepreneurial age, it seems odd, even insane, to be locked away in a room, trying to hammer words into their correct places. I often have intense longings to go to an office–in order to share the burdens of my work with other people, as workers in offices can. Currently, I am overwhelmed by a desire to become an architect. I have always been marked by how much the buildings we inhabit shape us and I would love the chance to improve (in my eyes) the environment around me. I have a running dialogue with myself about what is right and wrong with the buildings I pass daily. I admire the ability of architects to be artists and at the same time, practical people of the world, whose visions translate into a solid mass. I don’t only want to interpret the world, I also want to change it and there are days when I am painfully struck by what a modest object a book is as an instrument with which to make a difference, compared that is, to the power of a government, a university or a business.

3. Using a simile or metaphor, compare your writerhead to something.

I worry constantly about my future. Few writers are able to turn out a decent book a year, three or four years is more typically necessary, and even this rate is unlikely to go on over an entire working life. The idea of a Muse may be fanciful and sexually incorrect, but the lady evokes well enough the insecurity of the hold most writers have on their creative faculties. An element of chance lurks behind the birth of masterpieces, which aggravates financial anxieties: it is one thing to be poor and convinced of the worth of one’s work, far harder to combine poverty with an awareness a book isn’t going well.

As for where I write, it seems that my work is always best done in places where it isn’t supposed to happen. At a desk, in front of a computer, my mind goes blank, but as soon as I take off (to the supermarket, to Australia), inspiration strikes. Journeys are the midwives of books. Few places are more conducive to the internal conversation that is writing than a moving plane, ship or train. There is an almost quaint correlation between what is in front of my eyes and the thoughts I am able to have in my head: large thoughts at times requiring large views, new thoughts new places. Introspective reflections that are liable to stall are helped along by the flow of the landscape. The mind may be reluctant to think properly when thinking is all it is supposed to do. The task can be as paralysing as having to tell a joke or mimic an accent on demand. Thinking improves when parts of the mind are given other tasks, are charged with listening to music or following a line of trees.

Of all modes of transport, the train is perhaps the best aid to writing: the views have none of the potential monotony of those on a ship or plane, they move fast enough for me not to get exasperated but slowly enough to allow me to identify objects. They offer me brief, inspiring glimpses into private domains, letting me see a woman at the moment when she takes a cup from a shelf in her kitchen, before carrying me on to a patio where a man is sleeping and then to a park where a child is catching a ball thrown by a figure I can’t see. Out of such fine filaments, books are born.

 

Readers/Writers/Looky-Loos: Comments? Thoughts?

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Alain de Botton is a philosopher, who has started up his own school and architectural holiday home business.

 

Misc Monday: I’d Go The Whole Wide World

Welcome to Misc Monday…the day of the week when I share something…something fun…something inspirational…something profound…something inventive, genius, soul-stirring, life-changing. Something.


I love the movie “Stranger Than Fiction.” A weird, innovative tale about many things: storytelling, taking risks, narration, being stuck, and more. But at the core, it’s about a taxman Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) who discovers something he really, truly wants…Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal).

My favorite scene is when Harold Crick sings “I’d Go the Whole Wide World” while strumming a guitar and Miss Pascal falls for him/on top of him/in love with him.

In that moment, there is a clarity of desire. Sure, there’s the physical desire unfolding…but it’s deeper than that. There’s a seeking and a finding of self in this moment.

Watch.

 

Q4U: What do you want? What will you go the whole, wide world for? As a writer? A human?

 

Expat Sat: Hone in on a Good Story (Or Opposites Attract)

Welcome to Expat Sat, the culturally kooky, map nonspecific, sometimes bewildering, always fascinating intersection of expat life and writing. And where every Saturday, I offer tips for writing and publishing to expat writers around the globe.


Here’s the truth, as an expat, you are perfectly poised for writing and publishing essays about your experiences. You’ve got all kinds of story possibilities right on your doorstep…adventure, travel, culture, family, etc.

But before you can write and publish a story, you have to find and hone in on a story, which isn’t so easy while also managing cultural differences, miscommunications because of language barriers, international (or local) schools for your kids, travel arrangements for the holidays, and relationships with both folks back home and folks in your host country.

But you know what? You don’t have to look far. Here are two great paths to a good story:

1. Opposites – No matter which country you’re from, I’ll bet that if you pause at any given moment, you’ll be able to pinpoint at least three ways you are the opposite of the folks who are native to the country in which you’re living. (They sound different, look different, drive different, eat different, pray different, dance different, wave different, smell different, give the finger different…you get it.)

2. Commonalities – I’ll also bet that you’ll be able to pinpoint at least three ways you are the same.

Consider, for a moment, Amy Chua’s recently published memoir Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. (If you happened to somehow miss the tremendous hullabaloo surrounding the publication of Tiger Mother, you can catch up here.) In the book, Chua couches her story of mothering in a comparison between the opposite parenting styles of Westerns moms and Chinese moms. It’s an understatement to say that this book stirred the emotions of Western parents, but no matter how you feel about Chua or tiger mamas or parenting, she did a great job of using opposites to structure her story.

But lest you think that opposites can be the sole supporting structures of a story, think again. The core commonality that is also a necessary structural support of Tiger Mother is that both Western moms and Chinese moms love their kids. Without that, the book would have gone ker-plunk.

As you head off in search of your own stories, keep in mind that many can be whittled down to the old adage, us and them. But also remember that some of the best grow out of moments when you find a little bit of us in them or a little bit of them in us.

Q4U: So what about you? What opposites grab your attention in your host country? Is there a story there?

 


**Also, if you’re an expat writer, check out the online writing workshop I’m launching specifically for you. Yep, you! The first session begins May 1.

 

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Image: africa / FreeDigitalPhotos.net