Travel Writing: Essays about faraway places should make people feel like they are there, writes Perry Garfinkel. Thus, any travel writing must begin by completing the phrase “Here and now I am…” Good writing should also connect physical observations with larger themes, the Particular and the Universal. Finally, travel essays should transport the reader from their ‘here and now’ to the fantasy of where they want to be, here and now.
I really like this guidance, and it holds well for expatriate writing as well. Too often, its easy to slip into travel-guide overviews of places and events, superficial advice, or particular feelings that I am experiencing. While insightful detail and point of view matter, its first and foremost important to tell a good focused story.
This essay is a good stimulus to thinking about ways to improve (I’d also recommend listening to From Our Own Correspondent podcasts)
Home: This meditation on the meaning of “home” resonated with my reflections on what the word means for an expatriate. My Family, my physical home, my citizenship, are all in the United States, but I’ve spent little time there over the past ten years. My “13 boxes” filled with personal items and business hub are in the Netherlands, the apartment along the Maas feels like home because thee things in it are familiar and mine. The room that I rent in Poole is proximate to my business and relationships, housemates, associates, wezen and friends. Then there’s my home-on-the-road: time shuttling around in my car and on the train to meetings with investors and contractors.
Amidst all of this, where is “Home”, what defines my Place, when I don’t have a simple stationary point of reference?
Roger Cohen describes a James Wood essay that explores the choices that expats have.
Is home defined by Where You Came From, the place that you feel homesick for? While formative and evocative, one’s origin increasingly distant and alien with passing years.
Is home defined by Where You Are Allowed To Live, the land of opportunity, freely chosen, where identity and purpose can be redefined. He concludes, as I do, that you always remain an outsider despite legal and economic connections: the long-term personal ties are missing.
In the end, the question comes down to If I had only a few weeks to live, where would I go?
Home, to the place that I feel most welcomed by the people most important to me.
Real love: This essay by David Brooks builds from a list compiled by Lydia Netzer about 15 ways to stay married for 15 years. Her advice is lovely and contain a lot of wisdom that I know to be true: the importance of managing conflict wisely, of being kind to one another, of committing to the long term together. Her specific suggestions (Go to bed mad; eat pancakes together in the morning, and Let your spouse hear you talking about them, foolishly and obviously, in glowing terms to other people) are funny and wise.
What I most like, though, is Brooks recognition that we are all imperfect in our being and in our relationship, “to varying degrees foolish, weak, or just plain inexplicable”. We are each made of “crooked timber”, he asserts, and we need to see each others failings as ironic, to be addressed with wry humor and bemused affection.
“We move from lofty hopes to loving one another’s frailties,” he writes, “learning the intransigence of imperfection and how to befriend every stupid stumble.” ‘
Wonderful truths that I wish I’d read sooner.