Finding Your Peeps Out in the World

Finding your tribe, your peeps, your people. Not to restrict this important part of living to just that of writers, everyone needs community. While it’s true I belong to a nuclear family, an extended family, a parish, a neighborhood and a community of other high school student parents, it wasn’t until I left my corporate job and began to reach out to other writers that I realized I didn’t truly have a community of people who spoke my language. It takes all kinds to make a parish, for example, and that’s great. Because all the differences add valuable and differing skillsets and perspectives. But an artist laboring in a cubicle with corporate drones is not just a different piece of cloth in a multi-colored quilt. She is acting out a perverse situation of mismatch, misfit, and misconnection that adversely affects her on every level. The reason I continue to bang on this particular drum is because for most of my  tenure in a corporate office, while I knew I didn’t really belong, I also didn’t see to the extent the attempt to fit in was bad for me. About two months after I left my job I went to a writers’ conference up in the mountains of north Georgia. There I met authors and writers of every stripe. I met geezers with boatloads of ancient trunk material they were self-publishing for their families, I met traditionally published authors who swaggered about accepting accolades for being incredibly lucky to be recognized as “real” writers, I met teens who only had scribbled poems and short stories they published on Facebook. I met writers a lot like me and writers nothing at all like me. And I was blown away by the fact that I felt connected to every single one of them. Even the ones I would’ve edged away from in an elevator or crossed the street to avoid. Even the obnoxious ones. Even the ones who shoved their self-published prose at me to prove within a few seconds that they couldn’t write very well. Even those people, I felt more connected to than the people I’d shared birthday parties and company picnics with for the five years previous. You don’t have to like every member of your family, but that doesn’t keep you from acknowledging (usually) that they are your family. Breaking out into the world of weirdos and writers, artists and losers, the pompous and the generous has lifted me up and filled me with a sense of belonging that I literally never had before.

My peeps. My peers. I love being with them. I love talking to them about writing. I love recognizing the same struggles in them that I have with my own work. They understand me because they understand my passion. They understand my pain.

When I started blogging last year, I read all the advice about not doing a blog for writers because how can that be helpful in marketing your work? I worked so hard not to make this a writing blog but something readers might be drawn to (for obvious reasons). But writing is a passionate interest of mine so, like any other passion, I kept turning to it time and time again. It’s also the thing I’m attracted to in other people’s blogs—their take on writing, their perspective on writing schedules, their writerly worldview. When I realized that, regardless of what the social media experts preach, a writing blog is what fills me up and satisfies the parts that other topics can’t reach, I stopped trying to write for nonwriters. Not to take anything away from my parish or my family but when it comes to writing there is a singular language that only another writer speaks. Just like the expatriate I once was, I have to say sometimes it’s just so nice to relax with your own people.

 

 

Look Where You’re Going to Get Where You’re Going

“It is a truth universally acknowledged…”

Not just  a great first line, but a comforting thought.  Don’t you love universal truths? Or truths we all buy into? I do because it means  the fact that there are truths we all acknowledge as true means we can look to a universally accepted blueprint for how to live our lives. One of the places I look for these universal truths is at the barn. I look there because it’s one of my many opinions that there is no group of people on earth with more quotes relating to living your life than horse people. For example, there is the one about how to jump fences on horseback which, when you think about it, really applies to anything in life that you tackle that’s a little scary but worth doing. It goes like this: “Throw your heart over first, and the horse will follow.” The point about that one seems to be that if YOU’RE not sure you can jump that five-footer, you’ll inevitably translate that doubt to your mount and he’ll ensure you don’t jump it. When judges grade a jumping competition and a horse balks or refuses a jump, it’s the rider they look at for hesitancy. They tend to figure that if the horse is physically capable of jumping the fence but doesn’t—it’s pilot error, pure and simple.

Like anything in life, you gotta believe it before you can do it. And horses are amazing the way they can mirror how you’re feeling. But for all that, the point I wanted to make today is that when you are sorting out your life, the process is a lot like riding a horse in that you, as the rider, really must look where it is you want to go. Ideally, this is right through his set of ears like a kind of organic scope. You don’t look at the ground, obviously, although new riders often do because they want to make sure everyone’s feet are going where they should. But looking at the ground is a great way to end up there.

Riding a horse–like living your life–is a delicate balance. You are not just a sack of feed up there for the ride (or at least ideally not.) When you turn your head, the horse feels it, the horse reacts even if just a little bit. If you are looking down, instead of up, or to the left, instead of to the next line of jumps, that’s where the horse is now looking too. Which, since that’s not where you want to go, looking over there is not a good thing.

Kristen Lamb has this section in her book Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer where she interviewed some NASCAR drivers for a piece she was doing and they, basically, told her they try not to look at places they don’t want to go…like the wall, for instance. It seems that in professional driving as in life and in horseback riding, it’s important to zero in on where you’re going.

Like I said, I love it when universal truths really are universal.

Time Travel Made Easy

When you think about some of the reasons we read, I believe that being transported to another world must rank pretty highly. For me, anyway. I don’t dislike my life but I do love to escape to  places very different from it. This visit to a different world  coincides with my interest in time travel—something I  can’t easily do with a Delta Airline ticket but I can do with, say, any of Diana Gabaldon’s titles!

On the other hand, there have been a few counties in my life that were awesomely exotic to visit and also, in a small way, offered a taste of the experience of a different time, too. No offense to France or New Zealand—two of my most favorite countries in the world and two through which I’ve traveled extensively, but, at least in the sixties and the eighties, travel to either country could  easily make you feel as if you’d traveled back in time about twenty years. Depending on where you travel in France or NZ, you still can. (I have Kiwi friends who tell me today (with some annoyance) that times have changed and they have all the same GAP stores that I do in Atlanta.)

But my point is that there was a time, when I lived in New Zealand in the mid-eighties where I felt like I’d been dropped into an episode of Masterpiece Theatre. And we’re talking one of their Victorian period piece set dramas, not Inspector Lewis. While it’s true I’d spent the last five years living in a shopping mecca with easy access to Nordstroms, Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue and the like, when I moved to Auckland there was only one department store (called Farmers) in the whole of the largest city of the country, and that looked like it’d been plucked from Macon, Georgia. In the mid 1950’s.

For me, it was charming. It was delightful. (Besides, you could always mail off “back home” for stuff you really needed.) And it was an opportunity to live in a time that my parents had lived in, to experience life in a slower pace.

The view from my rental house in Murray's Bay, 1986. The rise on the horizon is Rangitoto, an active volcano that served as a visual focal point no matter where in Auckland you lived.

Once, when I was having lunch with some colleagues in Wellington (I worked at Ted Bates advertising agency in Auckland) one of the men told a story about a rustic inn he’d stayed at on his honeymoon somewhere in Greece. He talked about how the little bar-restaurant he and his bride frequented kept serving them cold dinners. When I asked why the proprietors didn’t just pop the meals in a microwave, he looked at his pals at the lunch table and said: “God, I love Americans.” (Said in a way to mean NOT.) Then he  said: “I make $82,000NZ a year and I don’t have a microwave oven. Does anyone at this table have a microwave?” He then looked at me. “Do you have a microwave?” (Naturally a microwave was one of the first things I’d acquired after moving to NZ but I did think he was making a super BFD of the whole microwave thing and so took the opportunity to switch the subject as soon as was feasible.)

I admit it. I am a slave to my silly American conveniences!

My deduction was that possibly it was easier for Americans to experience time travel than those from some other countries. (Which, now that I think about it, might logically mean that people from other countries who visit the States would be able to experience travel to the future! Which would also be quite nice, I’m sure. ) (Okay, please hold all hate mail, I’m KIDDING.)

Has anyone else had the feeling that they were going back into time (or into the future) when they visited a foreign country? Was that something that added to the experience for you? If so, I’d love to hear any stories you’ve got!

Belonging Starts by Leaving Home

I have lived at 35 different addresses in my life. 13 of those addresses were before I turned 18. The 22 apartments and houses since then are the legacy of an ex-military dependent who spent the bulk of her childhood moving, saying goodbye, saying hello. My husband, who spent his entire childhood and adolescence in one neighborhood and in one house, is resigned to my relentless restlessness (eight of the 35 moves were with him.)

It’s my belief that the feeling of belonging and travel are not mutually exclusive. I think, to a certain degree, we travel in order to feel like we belong. Not only does travel give you a glimpse of the rest of the world, and therefore a snapshot of your place in it, it also helps you to see that we are all a part of one large human family.

In fact, the expatriate experience—one that you’d typically think of as apart or separate from the collective group—is really a definitive exercise in belonging. Nowhere is the feeling of belonging more strongly felt than when you live abroad and happen upon a fellow American. This could be someone you might not bother to cross the street for back home, yet in this context—say one where they are the only American besides yourself in a room of foreign nationals—they are met with real pleasure and enthusiasm.

Think of all the expatriate clubs and organizations in Paris, for example. First, there are an astounding 165,000 Americans living in France today (50,000 in Paris, alone) so they have no problem getting a taco party together to watch American gridiron or feeling like “they belong.”

Then, of course, there’s the technological revolution and how it’s affected the expatriate. When my husband and I lived overseas—he in the late seventies and me in the mid-eighties—contact with family and friends was expensive and slow. A letter to New Zealand from the States could easily take two weeks to get to me. The phone calls—expensive and infrequent—had serious quality issues, (like a humpback was squatting on the cable that threaded along the ocean floor from Jacksonville, Florida to Auckland, New Zealand.) My husband and I often remark how much easier it would be to live in a foreign country today, with skyping, and the instant gratification of cell phone contact. During the decades that he and I lived overseas, we felt truly and completely separated from our support group of friends and family back home.

The plus side, of course, was that it added to the immersion effect, for us, a large part of the reason we were overseas in the first place. He was living in Germany at the time and the lack of home contact probably aided in his mastering the language that much faster.

Like all travel, living abroad tends to give you perspective. It gives you a different point of view either of how you live back in the States—or how you want to live. Have you ever come back from a trip overseas and then made a drastic change in your life? I would love to hear how a trip or travel in general has changed you.