Archives For TCK

Loneliness of Failure

February 22, 2021 — 2 Comments

I’ve said in the past, I might even have written it, that writing is a lonely business. I was wrong.

Writing is solitary, not lonely. When I sit at my computer, or even pick up a pen, I am transported somewhere, whether in time or place. Sometimes I cry as I type, sometimes I laugh, always I am engaged. The characters become real – their loves, their lives, their dreams, their idiosyncrasies. The hours fly by and, if I am in the house on my own, I might miss coffee, lunch and tea though, it must be said, rarely do I miss a glass of wine. But by that time the sun has set and I am nudged to rejoin the real world by the arrival of darkness and sometimes Bonnie, our deaf cat, yowling to be fed.

My solitariness is a privilege. Granted with grace by my husband as I spend day after day in my imagination and on my computer. And when the first draft is complete, I go back and attempt to fill the pages with SPICE. An acronym coined by my first publisher, Jo Parfitt of Summertime Publishing http://www.summertimepublishing.com. SPICE is what fills the writing with Specifics, Place, Incident, Characters and that most important of condiments, Emotion. SPICE is what makes the reader want, need, to turn the page – to read until dawn.

Initial edits are then made and, as the wait for comments from Beta readers stretches into weeks, I begin another story. I put that new world down to return to the novel that has filled my life for months and months. A rewrite follows, which is never a chore because I am once again embroiled in the lives of my characters. I delete. I add. I edit. I tweak until even I recognize it is time to let go. For now.

Filled with hope, I think of the words of Iranian-American young adult author, Tahereh Mafi, “Hope. It’s a fresh rain, a whispered promise, a cloudless sky, the perfect punctuation mark at the end of a sentence,” then I send the manuscript out in its search for a literary agent. That in itself is a job. 

Each agent requires systematic analysis into their likes and dislikes, their ‘wants’ and not ‘interested ins’. As I troll through pages of names I recognize my many flaws. No, I am not drawing on a tragic background as I weave my tales. No, I’m not part of the LGBTQ community. No, I’m not black, though a large part of my life has been spent in Africa. No, I’m not brown, though another chunk of years was spent in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. No, technically I don’t live in England, though it is my birth country and my father was British and part of my heart is embedded in the rolling Dorset hills, and in pre-COVID days I travelled there regularly. No, I don’t live in Australia but I spent seven years at boarding school in Armidale, New South Wales, and my mother was Australian …. and a large part of my heart is there too – but I’ve left slivers of heart in all the places I have lived. No, technically I’m not American though I am a citizen. No, I’m not from the Caribbean but I currently live there. Yes, I write English English but hey, I can adapt.

The pundits say write what you know. 

So what am I? What do I know?

I am a global nomad. I know the joys and challenges of relocating around the world. Of the isolation, tinged with excitement, of being the new arrival, again. Of living a sometimes disconnected life. And of feeling the agonies of guilt when we aren’t present for final moments, or weddings or births and birthdays. Of knowing the importance of saying good goodbyes in order to welcome the hello, the ‘mahnin, the sawadee-ka, the selemat pagi of a new country. Those are the emotions I draw on, those elements of spice that come from living and working in different countries and cultures, of learning new histories. That combined with a wondering, and wandering, imagination is what goes into my writing.

Novelist W. Somerset Maugham said, “There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” I suppose the closest thing to a rule is the axiom most writers live by – ‘show, don’t tell’. But aren’t rules made to be broken? There really are times when ‘tell’ is the only option, and please excuse the following example, but sometimes an apple is just an apple. Sure, there are variations in colour, size and texture but there seems little need to describe the orb that falls from trees.

Christian Nestell Bovee, C N, to his pals, was an epigrammatic New York City writer who said, “There is probably no hell for authors in the next world – they suffer so much from critics and publishers in this one.” 

Whilst I don’t suffer from writing, and nor do I consider it a lonely occupation, I can state that waiting for agent responses is harrowing. And believe me when I say, once received, rejection is the loneliest business. Sympathy, and sometimes empathy, from friends and fellow writers eases the sting of rejection and, despite agent’s letters assuring hope may be found elsewhere but ‘this book is not for me,’ the failure is a most lonely affair. 

It is a jolt to the heart, a dart speared into the imagination, and all we can do is wallow for a sentence, maybe a paragraph then write on and think of Sylvia Plath’s admonition, “The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”

Hope once again accompanies our solitary days.

Melancholy Confusion

January 5, 2019 — 6 Comments

It is January 5th, Twelfth Night, the eve of epiphany, but here on St Croix, it is known as “Three Kings’ Day” and is marked by the adult carnival parade – a not particularly chaste celebration of the Magi’s first sight of the infant Jesus.

But as with most things Crucian it does have its roots in history when the enslaved were given time off to celebrate Christmas. In the 1700s the streets of Christiansted and Frederiksted would be filled with costumed singing and dancing merrymakers, who would also visit other plantations to spread the holiday cheer. The modern manifestation has been in existence since the early 1950s when Three Kings’ Day marks the end of the month-long celebration with ten days of fun at the Crucian Christmas Carnival. Calypsonians compete for the title of king or queen and this year was won, for the fourth time, by Caribbean Queen aka Temisha Libert for her calypos, Promise and Karma. The first advising the incoming governor, Albert Bryan, to say true to his election campaign promises, and the second perhaps warning of what would happen if he doesn’t! Moko jumbies keep bad spirits at bay, cultural activities and fairs showcasing arts and crafts, food and drinks, keep the revellers happy, fed and lubricated. The final day, “Three Kings’ Day”, sees shimmering scantily clad men and women chasséing down the streets of Frederiksted to the steady beat of music belting out from trucks. It a noisy fun-filled spectacle that sets the crowds up for the coming year.

Twelfth Night, or the beginning of Epiphany, was always a subject of debate in my childhood home. Do the decorations come down on the night of the 5th or 6th of January? According to the Church of England it should be the 5th and so, over the years, I have come to adhere to their ruling. I can only assume the confusion came about due to one parent counting the 12 days from the day after Christmas Day, and the other from Christmas Day. Perhaps having the international date line between their two countries had something to do with it.

Whatever the reason, I find the day a little melancholy. The tinsel is down, the fairy lights are stored away despite knowing a fuse needs changing, the baubles that have survived the cat’s delighted playing are packed away and my favourite tree decorations are wrapped in tissue and bubble wrap and wedged into stout boxes ready for any eventuality. The whole enterprise reminiscent of an international move, which was my initial reason for such careful storage practices. For many years we did indeed move every twelve months and I’d be damned if my Christmas decorations didn’t travel with me.

Perhaps the melancholy comes from knowing my global relocations have spluttered to an end. That is not to say I am unhappy in life or in my current location. How could I be? I am healthy and happy, as are my family. I have the Caribbean glinting in the sunlight and trade winds rustling the coconuts palms outside my study. A new book being released in March adds an element of satisfaction, and the thrill of starting another engages my mind in pages of what ifs and maybes. But the excitement of wondering what country we might call home the following year was intoxicating, and I miss it. 

Or perhaps my melancholy comes from saying goodbye to a houseful of friends who have stayed with us and shared our 12 days of Christmas – a noisy, busy, laughter-filled time of tempting smells from the kitchen and far too much rum and wine on the gallery.

Or perhaps it because this year we did not share our Christmas with our children and grandchildren who are scattered around the world. That, perhaps, a direct reflection of their upbringing in different parts of the globe. We all lead our own lives and only rarely do they truly entwine for a few precious days of shared memories, and when new ones are made to be stored away, like the decorations, and brought out occasionally for delightful reminisces. That is the price we all pay for a nomadic existence. And whilst I might think ruefully, and with a smidgeon of envy, of families who each year gather around the same Christmas tree in the same house in the same town, I know that is not our family.

We are global nomads. Each married to or with a partner from another country. We live in three different countries and as different cultural mores are navigated, with some becoming amalgamated into our own family culture, I reflect on the differences. But more importantly I reflect on the shared values. 

Because as Three Kings’ Day draws to an end, my melancholy vanishes and I have my own epiphany. It doesn’t matter where we live, or who we live with, or what language we speak. What matters is that when we do share time together, whether in reality or the virtual world of FaceTime, we are a family despite the miles between us.

I Promised Monkeys

March 13, 2018 — 2 Comments

We are a mixed bag! A family spread across the globe – Britain, the US, Trinidad and Tobago. My children were born in The Netherlands and Thailand. My grandchildren are bi-racial TCKs. My son’s girlfriend is Polish. We are archetypal global nomads. And we love it.

However getting together is never easy. We all lead busy lives in different time zones, with the added complication of a son working rotation in the North Sea. Fortunately my daughter is a firm believer in travel being part of her children’s schooling and so has no compunction about freeing them from the bonds of formal education.

This month, after a three year gap, we managed to coordinate our lives to have six days together on neutral ground – Costa Rica. A country none of us had visited and one we were all eager to explore.

I wanted a house Ava and Harley would remember. A unique property jumped off the screen. Way down south on the Peninsula de Osa, and 40 feet up a tree. There was even a ground -level bathroom for anyone not keen on conducting ablutions in the treetops. Perfect. What fun! Until the sensible partner of our marriage pointed out that a fearless-almost-four-year-old rampaging around a treehouse would not be conducive to a relaxed vacation. And one review did mention mahogany birds the size of playing cards. For those of you who have not read my novel, Fireburn, mahogany birds are not sleek and beautiful members of the avian family but are actually up-sized flying cockroaches. Seven of our group, whilst not being enamoured of the rather repellant insects, are pretty relaxed in their presence. The eighth member of our party would not have been quite so blasé and might well have taken flight herself.

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And so Sirena Azul was found. A funky house memorable for its shape and colour. Round and a vivid hyacinth-blue. Located a short way up a hillside equidistant from Domincal and Uvita, it ticked all the boxes. Large enough. Reasonably safe. A beautiful tropical garden and pool. A stream and waterfall. Birds. And monkeys.

Spider and howler monkeys to be precise.

As we arrived the dipping sun bathed the garden in dappled gold, and cicadas launched their evening chorale. Then from further up the hill  came a cacophony of deep-throated coughs. Though we couldn’t see them, the howlers were howling. A quick scan of the Costa Rica guide (we weren’t set up for internet) told us their voices can be heard up to three miles away, warning other troupes to stay clear of their territory. The children went to bed exhausted but happy with the promise of monkey sightings soon.

While most of us were diving for multi-coloured plastic turtles in the pool the next afternoon, Grandpa disappeared on a monkey hunt. Having clambered upstream and over boulders, he returned happy and victorious. A family had been found larking around in the treetops – spider monkeys – their prehensile tails acting as a fifth arm. He promised a trek up the hill the next day but we got sidetracked and so the only monkeys around were the girls.

We surfed, we zip-lined, we rode, we lazed. We played games. We were a family gathered. And all the while humming birds, so iridescent it looked as if they had sequins sown on their wings, sipped from heliconia around the garden, hawks hovered, egrets busied themselves, and euphonia showed off their yellow breasts with gay abandon. Toucans did not appear though we heard them high in the canopy. A two-toed sloth was spotted but fortunately not whilst I was arboreal, and also agouti. Iguanas eyed us with reptilian lassitude as we passed by. But still no monkeys though we heard them howling as dawn crept over the horizon and through the trees, or as darkness fell in a bruised blur of purple and black.

And then as four of us sat enjoying a quiet few moments on the verandah later in the week, I think with a beer in hand, a rustling attracted my husband and there, just a few trees away, was a skittering shape. Then another. With more still to come. A balcony surrounded the top floor of Sirena Azul and we raced up. There they were. Monkeys. The same family.

A quick message was sent to those absent. “Monkey sighting. Come home.” And home they raced, in time to see the troupe swing from tree to tree in playful chase. A family just like ours enjoying each others company.

Six days flew by. Who knows when we’ll all get together again? But in the meantime we will all treasure our memories of Costa Rica, and the promised monkeys.

Brats Abroad

August 22, 2016 — 1 Comment

Never having been an athlete, or anything talented enough to represent my country in the world arena, I can only imagine the privilege and honour.

I did though grow up abroad and was raised with an inherent understanding that, while I might have considered myself African or Asian in outlook at times, I was actually Anglo-Australian. I was a guest in another country and therefore my behaviour reflected not only on myself and my parents but also my passport country. I also understood, when I reached my teens, that undisciplined behavior could result in my father’s work permit being rescinded. Was it an onerous charge? No, of course not. It was considered accepting the responsibility which accompanies privilege.

Back in those dark old days I and my friends were unflatteringly known, and it has to be said in the main unfairly, as expat brats. Ruth Hill Useem’s descriptor, TCK (Third Culture Kid), used to described children brought up in a society or culture not their own, was used only in the hallowed halls of academia.

There were of course some who did deserve the monicker, but it must be remembered they were children. Closer inspection usually found a parent who had embraced a sense of entitlement which spilled over to their offspring. A dismal lack of parenting which resulted in unpleasant and unruly children which often led to arrogant teens.

Not so Ryan Lochte. At 32, one would have hoped the American swimmer had outgrown any inclination for misbehaviour of any kind, anywhere. He has represented his country at four Olympic games, and has garnered through hard work and dedication an impressive array of hardware – individual and team. What an accomplishment. How sad to tarnish such a panoply of gold, silver and bronze.

I can only imagine the adrenaline rush of competing in front of the world, and the accompanying drop after the event. Winning or losing. That does not however excuse his appalling actions in Rio. Or that of Jack Conger, Gunnar Bentz or Jimmy Feigen – his three cohorts ranging in age from 20 to 26. Vandalising and pissing not only on the walls of a petrol station but on their host country, not to mention their home country. Their utter lack of respect for anything, not least themselves, is worthy of all the public condemnation and disgust being heaped on them.

Speedo have dropped their sponsorship of Lochte, rescinding $50,000 of his fee which will instead go to Save the Children in Brazil. Jimmy Feigen reached a deal wherein he donated $11,000 to one of Rio’s favelas. Little is being said about the other two. I assume other sponsoring organisations will also decide not to link their products with this quartet of crass and callow youths and men.

Their story is reminiscent of another young American, Michael Fay, who back in 1994 as a privileged 18 year old expatriate living in Singapore was sentenced to six lashes and four months imprisonment for spray painting a judge’s car. His punishment caused an outcry in the United States, garnering even the attention of then President Clinton. Lashing may seem barbaric to those of us coddled in western mores, but the reality is that when a guest in a foreign country we are beholden to their laws. Fay was indeed an expat brat.

The vast majority of young men and women who go abroad whether for sport, academics, or for the sheer joy of travel are respectful. Do accept the responsibility of privilege. Learn through their exposure to different cultures. But as always it is the shenanigans of a few who have sullied – certainly for the US team – what turned out to be a relatively incident-free Olympic Games.

Perhaps for Ryan Lochte, the pressure to compete with someone as successful as Michael Phelps, was too much. Perhaps the knowledge that his swimming days were possibly over was too much. Whatever the underlying reasons he has certainly damaged his chances of representing his country again, and he led three others into the same quagmire.

How sad for him. How sad for his parents to whom he also lied. How sad for all of them. But Lochte and his fellow vandals deserve the label – Brats Abroad!