Expat Sat: Writing Prompt #4: Family

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


This is #4 of 10 in a series of writing prompts for expat writers. So listen up, my nomadic pals. Then grab your keyboards and start writing.

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Today…family talk. Not the spouse you handpicked from the apple bin or the kiddos you either created or adopted into your über-awesome immediate family. But your extended family–moms, dads, grandparents, sisters, brothers, cousins, etc. All those lovely, loving, sometimes-comforting, sometimes-irritating family members who make you laugh, push your buttons, drive you batty, keep you real, and know that you’d do anything to keep that 9th-grade photo from making its way onto the Internet.

And why are we talking family today?

Because living in a country far from all those family members is often both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because you don’t have to deal with family crap. A curse because–crazy as it may seem–you sometimes miss dealing with family crap.

Writing assignment: Make some sense of your feelings about being far from family. Write it down. Get real. Get it on the page. Who drives you the nuttiest? Who do you miss the most? The least? Who picks you up at the airport when you travel to your home country? Who sends you care packages? Who do you miss that you didn’t expect to miss? Why? Why? Why? And how do you manage all these loverly emotions while hunkered down in your host country?

#1 Rule: Be honest and don’t pussyfoot around.

Tip: If you have trouble getting started, write this assignment as a letter. To one of those wonderfully kooky family members. Or to a best friend to whom you can say anything. Or even to yourself. Or me. Whatever works.

 

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Image: posterize / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Expat Sat: Writing Prompt #3: Firsts

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, publishing, and thriving to expat writers around the globe.


This is #3 of 10 in a series of writing prompts for expat writers. So listen up, my nomadic pals. Then grab your keyboards and start writing.

__________

I love firsts. If you ever take a class of mine–live or online–you will most likely be assigned at least one “firsts” essay. Maybe two.

What’s a first?

The first time I _____ (stood on my head, kissed a boy/girl, cooked something more than mac-and-cheese, went to college, stood up for myself, spoke out against ______, shaved my head, traveled alone, got on the wrong train, etc.).

All people have firsts, but expats–ooh, you ma-ma-marvelous expats–have a treasure trove of firsts. Think about it:

  • the first time I considered moving to _____
  • the first time I applied for a visa
  • the first time I stepped off a plane in _____
  • the first language class I took in _____
  • the first time I put my foot in my mouth (& how I got it out)
  • the first time I understood what someone was saying to me in _____ (Chinese/Swedish/Spanish/etc.)
  • the first time I got lost in _____
  • the first time I ate _____
  • the first time I forgot to renew my visa in _____ (We actually did this in China…not fun. I advise against it.)

See what I mean? You could probably write firsts forever and never run out of material.

So…here’s your writing challenge for the week:

  1. Fill in this blank: the first time I ______
  2. Write, write, write, write, write!

Tip #1:  Choose a first that is significant to you. (I wouldn’t write about the first time I saw a bus in China, but I would write about the first time I heard the monks chanting at the Longhua Temple in Shanghai.)

Tip #2: Tell your first fully. See it. Taste it. Hear it. Smell it. Feel it. Breathe it in and out. Run your hands over it. Turn it upside down. Look at it through a prism. Don’t worry about writing too much; there’s time for cutting and tightening later. Right now, write.

Need a little inspiration?

Here’s a couple of firsts from the Christian Science Monitor: the first time I went back to my summer camp and first time to Zimbabwe

 

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Image: Teerapun / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Expat Sat: Writing Prompt #2: Stuff, Stuff, Stuff

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, publishing, and thriving to expat writers around the globe.


This is #2 of 10 in a series of writing prompts for expat writers. So grab your keyboards, my friends, and start writing.

__________

In 2006, as I prepared to upend my life and move from the U.S. to China, I (like many of you) rented a storage space and shoved nearly everything I own into it:

  • 40+ boxes of books
  • every single draft of my novel Thirsty
  • kitchen crap
  • Gagual (the panda bear I’ve loved since I was two)
  • my fishing gear
  • a load of elk horns
  • etc.

I arrived in China with a mattress, 2 suitcases of clothes, my laptop, a Swiss Army knife (thank goodness cause our “furnished apt” in Shanghai didn’t include any kitchen stuff & we sure needed that knife during our first few jet-lagged days in China), and few other bits and pieces.

And honestly, that’s all I needed.

Here’s your writing challenge for the week. In the video below, check out what filmmaker David Hoffman has to say about his connection to stuff. Read this terrific essay —“Selling My Mother’s Dresses”— in the NYTimes by Abby Sher. Then think about your own connection to stuff…and start writing. A few questions to get you started.

  • What did you take with you to your host country? Why?
  • What did you leave behind that you miss?
  • What was the “surprise” object you brought from your home country? The thing that proved to be more valuable than you anticipated? (for me, the Swiss Army knife)
  • What new object have you acquired in your host country that you couldn’t live without?

 

 
 

Expat Sat: Writing Prompt: Split

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, publishing, and thriving to expat writers around the globe.


This is #1 of 10 in a series of writing prompts for expat writers. So grab your keyboards, my friends, and start writing.

__________

It’s no secret that expats often feel split. Divided. Cut in half. Between two (or more) places.

If I were a giant, I’d tower over the earth with one foot in the U.S. and one foot in China and rock back and forth between the two.

I’m grateful for this “splitness”–this duality. I love it, cherish it, even slobber all over it sometimes, but at the same time, it hurts…so much I sometimes find myself doubled-over and groaning.

Here’s your writing challenge for the week. Watch this video (which captures this feeling of “splitness” pretty darn well) and then write about your own experiences with feeling split…divided. A few questions to get you started.

  • How does that “split” feeling manifest itself in you?
  • Where do you feel it? (belly, head, heart, etc.)
  • Do you feel it more when you’re visiting your home country or when hunkered down in your host country? How come?
  • Do folks back home understand the feeling? Are they interested?
  • What’s one story that exemplifies this feeling for you? (“the time I was______”)

 

Splitscreen: A Love Story from JW Griffiths on Vimeo.

 

(A big nod to Sion Dayson (an American expat in Paris) who posted this video a few weeks back and who knows this feeling very well.)