I am a Writer

Lately I’ve been having trouble getting my thoughts onto paper. I thought I would be overflowing with inspiration after the Families in Global Transition conference (FIGT) and I would be able to write endlessly. Instead, I find myself struggling to express everything I felt. I am overflowing with inspiration, emotions and thoughts, but I am unable to translate them into written words.

I’ve wanted to post an entry about being a writing scholar and what that brought me, yet every time I write something it feels forced. Then I realized I was too focused on just the time at FIGT, without looking at the bigger picture. My journey as a writer didn’t start there, so why was I starting there? So I thought about how I felt at the conference and traced backwards from there…

Learning to Call Myself a Writer

Something I loved very much at FIGT was being surrounded by people who didn’t make me feel uncomfortable or out of place. My background wasn’t an issue, my experiences didn’t make me odd, people even knew how to pronounce my name and what it meant! But it wasn’t just my personal story that felt accepted – my professional story was as well. No one judged me or looked down on me for not having a 9-5 corporate job. So many others at the conference were freelancers in their own domain, or had started their own companies; but even those who do work in corporate environments weren’t judgmental when they knew I was a freelance writer. They showed interest or curiosity, wondering what I wrote about and what led me to writing. Everyone I spoke with at the conference was following their passion, and they also understood the need for a portable career. They understood me.

Outside of the conference, in the “real world”, I often find it hard to be accepted for what I am. I felt like being a freelance writer and trying to pursue my passion wasn’t good enough, so I rarely told people that’s what I do. I usually said I was looking for work and that I sometimes did some writing in the meantime.

But that’s not entirely true.

I have been looking for work – both writing/non-writing related; that part is true. But I don’t ‘sometimes write in the meantime’ – I write all the time. And that’s what I want to be doing. I want writing to be my job and my career.

Over the past few months I had started accepting this realization and was trying to push myself to say, “I’m a freelance writer”, when asked what I do. It’s not easy to make myself believe that. Even though I had published a couple of articles in a magazine, I still couldn’t fully convince myself.

Being a Writing Scholar

Then at the beginning of this year, I saw the ParfittPascoe Writing Residency for FIGT:

If you long to turn your writing hobby into a portable career and want to be published in blogs, magazines on and offline, websites and maybe even books, this might be for you.

If you have already proven your desire of turning your dream into a reality with maybe a blog, a few articles published in newsletters and online (not necessarily for money), then you are definitely the kind of person we want.”

It felt like an opportunity tailor-made for me. I wanted to apply but I was scared. Scared that it was too big a commitment and that I wasn’t good enough to do it. There was so much to do, both before and after the conference. There were lessons and articles to prepare beforehand and after it was a whole other story. There would be articles, blog posts and book reviews to publish; interviews to prepare and write-up; and the articles/chapters for the FIGT book. If I applied and was rejected, I would be devastated. If I applied and got accepted, I would be elated…and terrified. I was scared of failure and of success. But I couldn’t NOT apply. It was exactly the chance I was looking for.

While waiting to know if I had been selected, I remember checking my email on my phone before heading off to sleep. And I never do that. I don’t even have my email set up on my phone. But I knew that the decision was probably made and I had to know. There was no way I could wait until the next morning to check. When I read the email telling me I was one of the four scholars, I was thrilled beyond belief. I couldn’t stop smiling. I even woke up my sleeping husband to let him know. The news was too good to keep to myself!

I was so excited about being a writing scholar; it felt like a dream come true. Nervous as I was, I knew I was capable of doing it. I had been waiting for this opportunity and I was going to make it count. It was my chance to prove that I am a writer and that I can make a career out of my passion.

From the very beginning of the conference I realized that I was in the right place – both as a Third Culture Kid and as a writer. The fact that everyone around me was part of a global community fulfilled the TCK side of me, and everyone’s endless encouragement fed the writer in me. But among all the inspiring words, a few stood out – probably because they spoke directly to me and attacked my doubts about being a writer. At the writer’s forum on the first day of FIGT, Shirley Agudo* told us that whatever you want to be, claim it”. Linda Janssen** echoed that thought, reminding us to own what we do and what we are. Sometimes the biggest step is saying those words: “I’m a writer”. Then we must learn to claim them and believe them.

Well, I am a writer. I don’t know if I fully claim it and believe it every day, but I know I’m on the right track.

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*Author, photographer and assistant editor of Global Living Magazine; ** Blogger and author of The Emotionally Resilient Expat: Engage, Adapt and Thrive Across Cultures

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Alien Citizen: Laughter, Tears and Finding the Right Words

The Families in Global Transition conference held many surprises for me. I was surprised at how kind and generous everyone was. I was also surprised how we all truly connected to each other and how we all wanted to share our stories. As much as I hoped to find that sense of community, family and home, I didn’t expect it to be so present and strong.

What truly caught me off guard, however, was the intensity of my emotions at the conference. And nothing embodied that more clearly than Elizabeth Liang’s show – Alien Citizen, An Earth Odyssey. Her honest performance left us all spellbound from beginning to end. In a way, it was my story, our stories that she was playing up there. We all struggled at times to find the right words; we all felt a connection to people weaving in and out of our lives; we all remember feeling lost, alone and afraid. But we also remember the beautiful moments too – so we laughed with understanding as we recalled our own stories. And we also cried with very deep understanding as we felt those same emotions well up inside of us.

At least I know I did.

And I did not expect that.

I had heard wonderful things about Lisa’s show and I was really looking forward to seeing it, but I didn’t think it would impact me the way it did. I didn’t know it would reach deep into the core of my being and strike such a chord in my heart.

Lisa’s performance hit even closer to home for me because I’ve lived in Central America: I spent three and a half years of my childhood in Mexico. I not only understood the Spanish, but also the cultural aspects…As well as the orange Fanta – although that was my sister’s favorite, not mine. I also understood the Arabic since I’m of Lebanese origin. And I definitely understood Connecticut, because that’s where I’m living now and it’s been a tough adjustment.

I’m sure many others connected with different parts of her stories, recognizing their own experiences in her words. We all know that moving from country to country is not an easy thing to do. Saying goodbye, leaving a home and starting somewhere new is not a fairytale adventure. I didn’t realize just how honest Lisa had made her show – I had expected the laughter, but not the tears. And truth be told, they were as welcome as the laughter. Sometimes we’re so focused on only thinking of the positive that we forget to grieve. But Lisa reminded us that we have to give ourselves permission to feel our pain in order to really see our experiences and appreciate them.

Sometimes it’s hard to find the words to express those feelings. Lisa found solace in acting and I know I found solace in writing. Somehow we found the words, in our own way. Now I just need to find the right words to do justice to her performance.

But maybe our silence and glistening eyes at the end of her show said it all.