#38Write: If You’ve Ever Felt Like a Square Peg in a Round Hole

38Write—my global writing initiative—is a monthly series of online writing adventure workshops for place-passionate, culturally curious writers around the world. Each writing adventure focuses on one particular aspect of craft or the writing life (for example, writing kick-butt descriptions), and during each 38-hour adventure, writers connect with me and 38Write writers around the world via a Twitter hashtag (#38Write) and a group Pinterest board. Lots of good work getting done.

The theme of September’s #38Write workshop was Square Peg, Round Hole? Thirteen writers in 8 countries participated. After reading a number of essays, articles, and blog entries, as well as watching the oh-so-hilarious episode of the “I Love Lucy” show I’ve embedded below, I asked writers to write a couple of pieces, including a short piece about a time in which they either conformed or did not conform to a cultural reality.

Here’s what a handful of the brilliant #38Write writers put on the page:

 Anita | U.S.

Two weeks after starting work at the convent, Sister Mary Alice questioned me about my religion. After taking her medications, she asked “Are you Catholic Anita?”

“No, Sister”

Her wimple framed her sudden frown. “What religion are you?”

I squirmed under her scrutiny. I was raised Methodist but I now follow the Buddhist philosophy. My mind raced through the ramifications of telling Sister Mary Alice of my fall from Christianity. If I told her the whole truth my role would change from being her nurse to being her project, so I told a half-truth. “I was raised Methodist, Sister”.

Fingering her rosary she gave a weak smile. “I’ll pray for you dear.”

I had become a project after-all.

 Meena | U.S.

I landed at La Guardia airport dying to see the gregarious America sculpted by my childhood staples of Archie comics and slapstick sitcoms. It was summer of ’96. The immigration queue labeled ‘Aliens’ was long. Me, the alien waited for my turn that finally was about to come. Before me was an old Indian auntie who spoke little English. She had her papers in order but was finding it hard to understand the official’s question on the length of her stay. Rolling her eyes, the New York official bellowed the question to the helpless auntie. I stepped forward, past the yellow line saying I could help translate. “Ma’am, step back,” barked the lady official. I heard few sniggers behind my back and felt embarrassed. When my turn came to stand by her window I instinctively knew that my entry to USA was going to be unpleasant. She scanned the front, back of my passport and papers. I was invited to offer database programming expertise for an organization that’d sponsored me for 4 months. She then, handed my visa stamped for 3 months. Finding my voice I stated that the program was for 4 months. “You Indians, you are here more than in your own country,” she said insultingly, waving me away. Offended, I pointed to the company letter and said loudly, “Well, an American company invited me. Your country lacks qualified people to do specialized work and that’s why I am here.” It was petty but heck I wasn’t going to take the slur silently. Maybe it was my anger. Or maybe because she wanted to reserve her bullying for another alien, she became quiet, turning her face away.

The friendly Indian auntie standing beyond the counter smiled at me.

Jennifer | S. Korea

Dongjin told me the stories in moments of vulnerability, the two of us alone and intertwined in the black of night. How his father was separated from his parents at the start of the war, his terrible survival, his persecution as the relative of a Communist, the deaths of his wife and first child. I was filled with sympathy for this man I had never met, and fantasized that I could be the perfect daughter-in-law, a balm to him in his old age.

It didn’t last long. I ground my teeth when he told me that women were responsible for happiness in the home. I nodded when he told me to smile more and always speak with a light, pleasant voice. When he blamed a fight he and DongJin had had on my influence, I only bitched to DongJin about it.

But when he started to give me advice about my child I put my foot down. He told me that long-term breastfeeding would create a wimpy, “Momma’s boy.” He accused me of starving Jae because I wouldn’t follow him around and feed him. He told Jae that no one would play with him if he cried. Lacking the ability to argue well in Korean, I ended up lashing back with the same frustrated, dismissive, petulant tones he used to me. Then I’d repent, turning my anger into analysis: He’s taught himself suspicious of happiness; it never lasts. He deals with his anxiety by constantly preparing for disaster. He doesn’t know how to talk to people, he only knows how to command and scold. For a while, the only solution that worked was to pretend I didn’t understand what he was saying.

Ten years later, I still bounce between good intentions and imperfect execution. But I’m proud that Jae can say, “I used to think that Grandfather was nagging me all the time, but now I realize that that’s just how he says he loves me.”

Rocio | Belgium

When I was six years old, I was supposed to go to Morocco with my parents and my brother after Christmas, but I got a fever. My parents decided to leave me with my grandparents and go anyway. I was just enough feverish not to be fit to go, but it was nothing serious. Going to exotic Morocco, wasn’t a prize for me. We used to go very often as we had some relatives there and my parents loved it. The trip was a nightmare, a whole day in the backseat of the car dividing the space in two halves with my brother. This is before highways existed in Andalusia! After almost a day driving, we had to cross the Gibraltar Strait in the ferry for a couple hours, maybe more, and then at the end go to the border and pass the control. And this, too, was long before any electronic passport was in use.

So I was really happy to be left behind and stay. My grandma cooked everyday delicious stuff; even her fixes of Christmas turkey were transformed in amazing homemade cannelloni. I wonder now, if I didn’t fake that fever somehow… But, always a but, I had to accompany my grandparents to church, oh god! I was so nervous before going! Already that young, I knew it, I was a square peg in a round hole, dying to fit in. I had heard at school about god, angels and all the paraphernalia, scary. When we entered the church, I was wishing my grandparents wouldn’t go sit in the firsts rows. All I wanted was for time to go by quickly, me unnoticed; and all I could see were the images of the saints, with those decrepit and melancholic marble faces.

Being in church was hell for me. The mass began. Each and every single part of the ritual, I was absorbed by all the procedures, now stand, now sit, now do the cross… all I wanted was to get it right and all I was imagining was the priest pointing his long thin finger to me, lightnings and thunders accompanying his gesture, and saying out loud: YOU!!!! It was martyrdom. And then the mass finished, I was still there, alive! Back home to a dish of hot cannelloni.

Maria | U.K

I failed miserably at being a free-spirited student during my university years. You know, the kind of student who studies like crazy during many sleepless nights, but who also parties like an animal when the occasion appears. When I was 19, fresh into Journalism school, and for the first time living alone in a flat in Bucharest, all I could think of was getting a job, earning money, and standing on my own two feet. Escaping from under my parents’ tutelage had been my dream since first year of high school. While other freshmen were learning the ropes of how to get from A to B in the Capital, I got my first job—working nights in a media monitoring centre, smoking two, three packs of cigarettes a day and feeling damn grown-up. I seldom attended parties, never took a trip to the mountains with my friends, and didn’t touch alcohol for about three years. Sadly, it also took me almost six months to actually get to know my university colleagues. At a time when I was supposed to learn all about the hot places to hang out in Bucharest and enjoy my longed for freedom, I incarcerated myself in a job, learned the ropes of office politics, and got almost eaten alive by my older, well-versed work colleagues. After the four years of study were up, I suddenly realized what I had missed. And that’s when the bitter taste of regret started eating at me. All I could show for during my college education were a few paychecks, a lot of working week-ends and an untimely coming into adulthood.

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