Writerhead Wednesday: In the Car…

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.

As you can see, I’m taking a holiday-inspired break from my normal Wednesday author interview about writerhead, but no pouting because I’ve got some spectacular writers lined up for January…as well as a few writers I’m lusting after and luring in. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, I’m prepping for a bit of change around here.

If you’ve followed me for a long time (and if you’ve read this blog of mine and that blog of mine), you know I spent nearly five years living in Shanghai, China, and that I repatriated to the United States in October 2010.

If I’m honest, this past year—The Repatriation Year (and if you didn’t read that phrase in a deep, Darth-Vader-like voice, please try again)—has been one of my toughest ever. Tougher in many ways than the year in which I moved to China…which seems totally insane and impossible if you’ve ever actually moved to China. Without boring the heck out of you with my personal angst, I’ll just say that returning and adjusting to a more settled existence in the United States hasn’t been easy or comfortable.

But as I’ve sat with these uncomfortable feelings over the past year, I’ve gained a good bit clarity about where I am as a human and a writer. And here’s what I know…2012 is going to rock!

Some wonderful things are already happening:

  • I’m giving my first Writerhead workshop at the 2012 Pennwriters Conference in Lancaster, PA. (Whoop! Whoop!)
  • I’m also speaking at the 2012 Write Stuff Conference.
  • I’m preparing to launch an online writing workshop. Yes, for expats. Yes, for travelers. Yes, for all writers around the world who are inspired by place.

Of late, I’ve been keeping in mind something Buddha once said:

“There are two mistakes one can make along the road to truth…

not going all the way, and not starting.”


As for the title of this blog entry—In the Car—here’s this:

Yesterday my almost-four-year-old daughter dozed off in the car after a harried visit to the hardware store for some last-minute presents. As I pulled into our driveway, my first instinct was to tease her awake and move both of us into the house for some much-needed Christmas cookie baking. After all, it is the holiday season and there are THINGS THAT NEED TO BE DONE. But then I remembered that I had the new issue of Poets & Writers magazine tucked beside me…and that this particular issue is devoted to inspiration. So instead of waking my little one, I cranked up my heated seat, opened the magazine, and began to read.

Although I hadn’t planned it, within minutes I was transported into writerhead. All my angst about not-yet-bought Christmas presents, unbaked cookies, and what-have-you evaporated and I was thinking/feeling/dreaming only about an essay I’ve been working on for the past few weeks. Soon I was scribbling on a piece of scrap paper, oblivious to the concrete world around me.

It was glorious.

Writerhead—however brief, however fleeting, however inconsistent—is glorious. And I’ll take whenever and wherever I can.

Happy Holidays, my friends!


Image (Buddha): Lavoview / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image (Car): winnond / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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.





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?



Lips: Image: Idea go / FreeDigitalPhotos.net