Global Nomads and TCKS- 3: Temporariness

Czeslaw Milosz on the mobile life:

Throughout all my early childhood, rivers, towns and land­scapes followed one another at great speed. My father was mobilized to build roads and bridges for the Russian Army, and we accompanied him, traveling just back of the battle zone, leading a nomadic life, never halting longer than a few months. Our home was often a covered wagon, sometimes an army railroad car with a samovar on the floor, which used to tip over when the train started up suddenly. Such a lack of stability, the unconscious feeling that everything is tempo­rary, cannot but affect, it seems to me, our mature judgments, and it can be the reason for taking governments and political systems lightly. History becomes fluid because it is equated with ceaseless wandering.

 Native Realm: A Search for Self-Definition

Originally posted on Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

Global Nomads and TCKS- 2: Loss and the desire to hold things still

Andre Aciman on the exile’s loss and wish to hold things still:

On a late spring morning in New York City four years ago, while walking on Broadway, I suddenly noticed that something terrible had happened to Straus Park.  The small park, located just where Broadway intersects West End Avenue on West 106th Street, was being fenced off…

Why should anybody care? And why should I, a foreigner, of all people, care? This wasn’t even my city. Yet I had come here, an exile from Alexandria, doing what all exiles do on impulse, which is to look for their homeland abroad, to bridge the things here to things there, to rewrite the present so as not to write off the past. I wanted to rescue things everywhere, as though by restoring them here I might restore them elsewhere as well. Seeing one Greek restaurant disappear or an old Italian cobblers turn into a bodega, I was once again reminded that something was being taken away from the city and, therefore, from me—that even if I don’t disappear from a place, places disappear from me.

I wanted everything to remain the same. Because this, too, is typical of people who have lost everything, including their roots or their ability to grow new ones. They may be mobile, scattered, nomadic, dislodged, but in their jittery state of transience they are thoroughly stationary. It is precisely because you have no roots that you don’t budge, that you fear change, that you’ll build on anything, rather than look for land. An exile is not just someone who has lost his home; he is someone who can’t find another, who can’t think of another. Some no longer even know what home means. They re­invent the concept with what they’ve got, the way we reinvent love with what’s left of it each time. Some people bring exile with them the way they bring it upon themselves wherever they go.

I hate it when stores change names, the way I hate any change of season, not because I like winter more than spring, or because I like old store X better than new store Y, but because, like all for­eigners who settle here and who always have the sense that their time warp is not perfectly aligned to the city’s, and that they’ve docked, as it were, a few minutes ahead or a few minutes behind earth time, any change reminds me of how imperfectly I’ve con­nected to it. It reminds me of the thing I fear most: that my feet are never quite solidly on the ground, but also that the soil under me is equally weak, that the graft didn’t take. In the disappearance of small things, I read the tokens of my own dislocation, of my own transiency. An exile reads change the way he reads time, memory, self, love, fear, beauty: in the key of loss.

False Papers: Essays on Exile and Memory

Originally posted on Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

Global Nomads and TCKS- 1: Colin Firth: “Exiles…see everything with two pairs of eyes”

In the following series of posts I will be offering a variety perspectives on the experience of growing up as a “Global Nomad” or “Third Culture Kid.”  I will present bits of wisdom on growing up in different cultures from such luminaries as Colin Firth, Czeslaw Milosz, Andre Aciman, Edward Said, and Eva Hoffman, and now and then, toss in a thought of my own.

First, the basic definitions of the terms used for people who grew up in countries not their own due to a parent’s job.  They come from the classic volume on the subject, Third-Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds by David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Renken (2009):

Global Nomad: “A global nomad is anyone of any nationality who has lived outside their parents’ country of origin (or their “passport country”) before adulthood because of a parent’s occupation.”  Norma McCaig coined this in 1984.  It is synonymous with “Third Culture Kid.”

Third Culture Kid (TCK): “Dr. Ruth Hill Useem and her husband John Useem, social scientists, coined the phrase third culture in the 1950s when they went to India for a year to study Americans who lived and worked there as foreign service officers, missionaries, technical aid workers, businesspeople, educators and media representatives…The Useems defined the home culture from which the adults came as the first culture.  They called the host culture where the family lived (in that case, India) the second culture.  They then identified the shared lifestyle of the expatriate community as an interstitial culture, or ‘culture between cultures’, and named it the third culture.” 

And now, here is Colin Firth talking about his global nomad childhood, spent partly in the U.S., partly in Africa, and partly in the U.K.  This is extracted from a delightful interview with presenter Mariella Frostrup on BBC 4’s “Open Book” program of December 27, 2012.  In the full half-hour long program, Firth talks about his five favorite books.

Mariella Frostrup: It’s interesting your interest in all things Italian.  I mean, obviously, you’re married to an Italian.  You live part of the year in Italy…and it seems an embrace that’s in direct contrast to the image that people have of you, which is perhaps formed from the parts you’ve been asked to play, but often of an inscrutable, buttoned up, very English character.  Is the real you, Italian, do you have, deep down, a beating heart of Latin fervor?

Colin Firth:  I wish I could say it was.  No, I’m probably every bit the chinless, stiff Brit that I seem to be, but I am an actor and we are all phonies, and we all have an ego that’s a bit fractured and confused, and I think, like a lot of people who do what I do, I’m a bit of a composite.  You know, I’m obviously very connected with this country and I seem to represent the kind of Englishman that I’m not sure really exists very often, but my father is fifth generation Indian-born.  My mother was born in India. She was raised in the United States.  She didn’t come to England until she was 16 years old.  My sister was born in Nigeria.  My brother I, I think, are a rare breed in that we were born in the UK.  I’ve lived in Nigeria and the United States.  Um, somebody said, you know, that exiles have a bit of heartache in being away from the country you live in, you know, but there’s also an immense gift because you see everything with two pairs of eyes.  You see everything from the eyes of a visitor and from the eyes of a native.  Although I do think I carry a lot of what England’s given me, I feel partly a visitor here as well…

Originally posted on Friday, February 1st, 2013

The Memoir-Writing Process: A most rewarding journey

Often, while in the possession of the demon called the memoir, there is a sense of a brain burning too bright, like Van Gogh’s.  There have been moments—brief but flashy–when I thought it might drive me mad.  Re-living the hard stuff can bring you close to the brink.

And then there is the downer of coming up against real life: like when the insightful adolescent in your head comes up against the boring, stupid adolescent-you of the diaries you dig out; like when you make contacts with old friends  who seem too strange to touch, or too disappointing, or even frightening.  Interactions with a couple of old friends have changed the actual content of my memoir.  One contact fired it up.  The other, with a friend of whom I was once fond, was so bitter, I eliminated the person from the book.

And finally, there is the disappointment of finding out that when you are in the mood to re-contact people, or when you are in the wistful, nostalgic mood, your old friends are not.  They went through all that, and purged, long ago, or aren’t yet ready to touch the fire.  No one is back there where you are, when you are.  This brings you to think: How alone we all are.  And yet how vivid everyone is, and how clamorous and crowded the life while writing.

All in all, despite it all, memoir-writing: a most rewarding obsession.

Originally posted on Monday, December 3rd, 2012

The Memoir-Writing Process: Prone to fits of idiocy

Write a memoir at your hazard.  It is a precarious activity.  One that makes you prone to embarrassing yourself.  All the awkwardness, the idiocy of youth come flooding back, and, believe me, you suddenly really are fourteen.  You do stupid things, you act weird, because it’s like you’re half your forty-nine year-old self and half- your fourteen year-old self and you lurch around in your harlequin garb, unable to stand.  One moment you’re tongue-tied at the edge of the dance floor, the next you’re pitching to the torrents, pulses, surges, and swayings of first love.  In the course of the writing, when operating under the influence of my mixed selves, I have put three feet in my mouth (the urge to self-humiliation was so great, I needed a spare), acted mentally ill, become a lovesick puppy, and delivered lectures, mature as Athena, all at once.

Originally poster on Monday, November 26th, 2012