The Constant of Memory

Today is one of those days.

No, not one of those days that leave you feeling overwhelmed, drained, lost or homesick. Today is one of those days that I find to be my favorite type of expat-life days – when all the places I’ve lived (including and especially “home”) can be felt in the air of the place that I am.

It’s spring here in Tana. It’s the rainy season. This means that everyday, at some point, it rains. And this is rarely some brief drizzle. It can be hours and hours of rolling thunder, steady downpour, and off and on again breezes that completely wipeout the humidity. And, it’s a really quiet day. My daughter is going on the second hour of her nap. Our housekeeper is out sick. I hear the neighbor’s gardener mowing with one of those hand-push, squeaky-wheel mowers (the kind that only the most environmentally sensitive Americans use, but that are considered quite a luxury…over the everyday machete…where I live). We have great birds here; they’re chirping away with their super unique Madagascar songs.

All these things together – the sounds, the dampness in the air, the dim light of the house even with the curtains open – make this like a day I’ve experienced before. A day that’s happened here…and there…and there. Those days in my old office in Austin where a bit of rain kept bus-riding clients at home and meant a colleague and I could steal a moment to catch up on a cup of tea and a chat. Or, those times as a child when I’d wrap up in this old blanket from my Mimi’s house and read The Three Musketeers. Or, when we lived in Japan and I’d get home early from teaching young boys sections of Casey at the Bat, the rain would start and I’d doze off for a brief nap. And don’t even get me started on how this reminds me of the rainy season in the Dominican Republic. It may be halfway across the world, but I can practically smell the rice and beans cooking through the drizzle.

Even the most adventurous of expats crave a sense of belonging. I believe these moments – the stream of past events that bind us through each stop in our journey – have the power to make us homesick. That’s okay, of course. But, they also have the power to help us realize that we can carry home with us. We are a part of something constant through the power of our own memory and the people with whom we share those times, even if we move around a lot. It takes stopping to notice. And really, not just noticing, but feeling the noticing, filing it away, making it part of our collective records of the home we hold inside us. That’s a good thing. Because we’re not home-less, we’re home-full. We’re a long, long list of places that we collect together into a new land called “us.”

 

Your Life Story

This is a nice article on the power of personal narrative. It gets me thinking about how life coaches help clients access their stories.

Life coaching is very forward focused, but that doesn’t mean that life coaches don’t acknowledge or think about the past – or that they encourage their clients to forget the past. In fact, the past (and what we tell ourselves about our history) is essential to looking forward. From birth through old age, we’re constantly assimilating past experiences to help us better understand what’s next.

I ask my clients to complete a “My Life Story” exercise. While this helps me get to know the people I’m working with better, I also believe it’s important for creating the next steps in a path towards reaching one’s dreams. It can help you develop closure, recognize that it’s time to move on, remind you of the dreams you left behind or enable you to take the first steps towards change.

Are you finding your visions for the future a bit nebulous? If so, try writing down your life story. You don’t have to be the next Shakespeare. It’s not even essential that anyone else ever see it. And I’m not talking autobiography, just a page or two of the highlights. But, it should be your voice, your take on the way things have been.

Then read what you’ve written. What feelings come up about the past? What language do you use to describe your life? Do the changes you might want to make get clearer? Do things look completely different on paper? Do you see patterns that you want to repeat in order to reach your dreams? Or, do you see habits you might want to get rid of?

It could be you see your needs, your wants or your values where before you simply saw a series of events. Maybe you see your blessings. Perhaps your strengths become more apparent. Or, it could be simply a nice reminder of where you’ve come from. And it might be there’s no better place to start when you’re thinking about where you want to go.

The Things We Put Up With….

I’m not going to go into the details of why, in our expat life, we find ourselves ordering shoes online for our kids, but suffice it to say – we do. There are myriad complicating factors to international shoe purchasing (especially if you live in a place where the general population finds shoe-wearing highly optional). The cost, the quality, the sizing, the styles…the possibilities for shoe misfortune are endless. In the end, you guess your kid’s shoe size, cross your fingers and click “order.”

Over the last several years, as a result of my own experience with this, I have found myself with at least 3 pairs of shoes per child that didn’t quite fit. Too long, too narrow, too short, too green (to which I admittedly say, “But you wanted green shoes!”), too wide or just plain “uncomfortable.”

When I think about the shoes, I think about all of the inconveniences that we must deal with as a simple fact of living life outside our home cultures. But, I also think about all the inconveniences that we accept simply by being blinded by our own habits. There’s a balance to be sought here I think. Those expats who chose to accept a certain level of inconvenience undoubtedly fare better. There’s very much something to be said for going with the flow and making adjustments to your own sense of normal in order to merge successfully into your new lifestyle. If you’re constantly fighting, the only thing you’re really defeating is yourself.

At the same time, isn’t it possible that over-flexibility or extreme-acceptance causes us on occasion to put up with things that actually have real, obtainable and viable solutions? The challenge, of course, is being able to recognize the difference.

It can’t hurt to regularly take stock of the things you’re “putting up with.” If you find yourself repeatedly struggling with the same issues, write them down and then ask yourself (or a friend) if maybe there’s a solution you hadn’t considered before. Then, list concrete steps to try out the solutions. And remember, when it’s all said and done, give yourself the reward of letting go of frustration over the things that really can’t be changed. Pat yourself on the back for simply taking a new approach, regardless of the outcome.

And, as for the shoes, the solution was simple (and very much thanks to the suggestion of a friend and mother of four) – purchase a Brannock Device. Life (and pocketbook) changing.