Friday, June 27, 2014

Three essays for the weekend

DSC06510 (1290x1009)I’ve had these articles tucked away in Pocket for a while and, before heading off for a couple of days rambling in Exmoor, wanted to pass them along as good weekend reading:


DSC06501 (1300x961)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)

DSC06511 (1300x1086)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.   

DSC06519 (1300x959)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.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A year of kindness and loss

DSC05755 (1300x959)Would you choose to live this way,” I asked friends, “or would you make changes?”   They smile: You mean, the loneliness and the uncertainty?  

No, not really, and we all laugh, knowing.

‘Hard work for an uncertain future.  ‘Living frugally in a month-to-month rented room.  ‘Staying connected only by phone calls and emails.

Who would?

“Your business, especially as an expatriate, will take whatever you are willing to give it, then ask for more.” I tell my class.  “You have to recognize and remember, you have to choose, what is important, enduring, and meaningful in life and hold tight to it.”

“Or you can choose to lose it all.”

One year ago, in hard circumstances, I recommitted to those basic principles.  To recognizing the limits of ambition.  To imposing balans en grenzen in my life.  To giving attention and priority to the people who matter most. 

It has been a year of hard lessons and slow progress.

I have come to see things as they are, not as they could or should be.  While I still don’t accept hard truths easily, I have became tough minded in facing them and in recognizing the limits of my abilities to change them.  I have learned to be resilient.

I remember the periods of loss and grief, professional and personal.  The experience is still all too immediate: sitting in darkness with a warm cup of tea between my hands, cloaked in sadness at 4 in the morning, wondering how things came to this.  But I’ve been fortunate to have friends who gave me meaningful advice and tangible kindnesses when I most needed them.  I have learned to be grateful.

I know, now, that holding options diminish the chance for success: Giving commitment is all that matters in relationships and in business.  And that means making choices about what is in and what is out of scope.  Achieving the few most--important things takes focus, patience, and persistence, sometimes giving them less energy rather than more.

I rediscovered the simple pleasures that enrich my life.  Years ago I wrote about the value of sharing insights and laughter together, quiet reflections in open spaces,  sailing wooded coastlines, exploring books that touch and stories that define us; that special warmth found in a close and resonant relationship.  I’ve found that it’s still true: a well-planned ramble, a well-executed recipe, a well-shared conversation, make my days whole again.

My emotions now run closer to the surface than they used to.   I can be embarrassed by sudden vulnerabilities that sometimes appear when talking about past hopes or present passions.   But its also helped me to understand how much connection, communication, compassion, and love mean in my life.  I feel more completely human.

A lot has changed in the year since, and I took a long walk today, taking stock.   The essential elements of my current life, focused and reasonable ambition, balance and boundaries in everyday life, reconnections to family and wezen, have all flowered in peaceful circumstances along the Dorset shore.

I can still do better.  But this June  25, I sip tea, gaze over the sea, and feel content with progress made.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Bournemouth Food and Drink Festival

DSC06650 (936x1300)I admit, it’s been a lot of food and drink festivals this summer, Shaftesbury to Christchurch, faces looking familiar now behind the cider stands.  But it’s summer, it’s Dorset, and the beaches are just too full to be comfortable (‘heaving’, in local vernacular). 

‘better to head inland, town square, in search of food and music.

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The Bournemouth festival is both typical and welcome.  It’s near to home, a short walk from the beach, and filled with familiar foods and music.   At the same time, its unexpectedly small for a city-scale event and a bit slow to get rolling on a B f-d festwarm summer Sunday.

And they didn’t post our picture in the Bournemouth frame for Facebook.

We so nailed it better than these guys…

On the ‘plus’ side, there were authentic German food stands,  krakauer sausages that I normally only see at Christmas markets.

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The sweets were a cut above, and the Chinese dancers were exotic.

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In the end, though, one decamps to deck chairs with a bottle of wine and a picnic along the river greensward, then listens to the Big Band imaginings at the Pavilion into the twilight hours.

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It reminds me of Ravinia, music on the lawn, except for the white jackets and boaters.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Bournemouth Beach, summer Sunday

DSC06680 (1300x996)Oh I do like to be beside the seaside,
I do like to be beside the sea,
I do like to stroll along the prom, prom, prom
Where the brass bands play


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DSC06710 (896x1300)So just let me be beside the seaside,
I'll be beside myself with glee;
And there's lots of girls beside,
I should like to be beside,
Beside the seaside, beside the sea.

  — Music hall song, 1907, by John A. Glover-Kind (1880-1918)