Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Word-by-Word, Scene-by-Scene, Chapter-by-Chapter - a Guest Post by Julia Munroe Martin

Today, I'm absolutely thrilled to welcome Julia Martin Munroe Martin to the blog. I first met Julia, a freelance writer and editor who describes herself as a 'Novelist-in-progress', on Twitter, where I discovered her fascinating blog, wordsxo.com. There, she blogs about all sorts of things to do with writing and her life on the coast of Maine - if you haven't checked it out yet, it's well worth a read!

Take it away, Julia…

When Emma posted recently about feeling like she was on the Outside Looking In as a teenager, I could really relate.

I felt a lot of the same ways Emma wrote about feeling—and in many ways I really was on the outside. That’s because even though I’m an American, I spent a significant amount of my childhood outside the U.S.

In fact, I wasn’t even born in the U.S.—I was born in France. Then, when I was seven, a year in Belize; at eleven I lived in Kenya and Uganda; at fifteen I lived another year in a different part of Kenya. My problems were compounded by the fact that I also missed formal schooling (and more importantly meeting friends) during those years. Add in that time, my parents moved our permanent U.S. home base 3000 miles from one coast to the other…. and I think any of us who are parents can clearly see a perfect storm of problems gathering like clouds for a child raised like this.

But here’s the thing…my parents—cross cultural researchers—didn’t see. They were so focused on the end result of their own work that their own child’s, my fitting in, my cultural experience, took a back seat. (I should add that a few years ago—when I was in my forties—my father apologized for “dragging” me all over the world, acknowledging that it might not have been a best practice in child rearing.)

I know, I know, lots of you may be thinking “cry me a river, what an amazing life, Julia.” And sure, I had an amazing life: game parks in Africa, traveling by river boats in Central America, eating hippopotamus on the shores of the Nile River, side trips to the Egyptian pyramids, London, Paris, Rome, just to name a few.

But for every exotic lovely memory, there are the others too: no friends to speak of, always feeling and being different in every culture, never fitting in anywhere, and really never knowing what on Earth (or where on Earth) I was going to be.

So much so, that here’s what happened. The only time I ever felt comfortable, really comfortable, was when I was with other people who had the same background I did—other third culture kids:

A third culture kid (TCK) (first coined by sociologist and anthropologist Ruth Hill Useem) refers to children who accompany their parents into another society—a child who spends a significant period of time in one or more cultures outside their own.

And now, to quote Emma: “The trouble is, when you’re a teenager, fitting in can be everything.” And I didn’t. Fit in. Not ever. So I kept looking and wondering: where do I find those people, those kids, those other third culture kids? They were few and far between.

The phrase uncomfortable in my own skin probably best describes it even now. Unsure. Always questioning why, as Emma said. Usually a loner. Add to that, almost always feeling more comfortable with people who aren’t “from the U.S.” or more—were brought up like me: in cultures outside their own.

It’s one of the things I love most about social media: meeting people in other countries and cultures, with different experiences, far from my usual beaten path, and realizing the world is truly getting smaller—people who make me feel more at home. It’s especially wonderful when I meet other writers, like Emma, who make me feel less alone, less different.

So what’s the upside? Is there one? Yes being a TCK makes me a better writer—this feeling of not belonging, of looking at things from every possible angle—providing me with not just a multi-cultural but a multi-dimensional view. And writing also gives me a way to help make sense of everything, especially where I fit in—both literally and figuratively—again and again I write about home and searching and wanting to fit in—in my fiction, my personal essays, and on my blog too.

Because here’s the thing, I am searching, always searching, but I’ve also come to terms with the realization that I’m comfortable with the discomfort—and that’s partly because of the writing. In the writing, when I create those other worlds, I can also create the closure, and by doing that I create the transformation for my characters that I myself have so desperately sought my whole life long.

But my story, that story? My story is still being written word-by-word, scene-by-scene and chapter-by-chapter.

If you want to find out more about Julia, here's her blog link again: wordsxo.com You can also follow her on Twitter: @wordsxo 

Thank you so much for stopping by, Julia! 

29 comments:

  1. Sounds like you've had some interesting experiences. I had a similar upbringing - but not the same because I did have the formal schooling. My brother and I went to boarding school, so we only went home to the exotic places during holidays. I still always called them 'home' though. And while I hated boarding school, I suppose it gave me some kind of stability, and I was surrounded by children in a similar situation . . .

    Good luck with the writing, Julia, and now I need to check out your blog.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Dan! Were you someplace in Africa, too? I met quite a few boarding school kids while I was there -- I have to say I was always pretty envious of you guys :) so I suppose it's some comfort to know that I might not have been a fan of that either. Would love to see you over at my blog! Thanks so much for for the comment!

      Delete
  2. Emma, thank you so much for the opportunity to guest post on your lovely blog -- it's so wonderful to have had the chance to meet you and now write with you!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank *you*, Julia! It's a fantastic and thought-provoking post. I'm really pleased you agreed to guest blog for me! :)

      Delete
  3. This was such a fascinating post, Emma and Julia. Julia - I knew some of these things from our chats, but not the extent of it. I can imagine how these experiences both widened your outlook, while also closing you off to certain experiences. Funnily enough, I was talking to another twitter friend recently who had a very unconventional upbringing - mine felt so dull and 'normal' by comparison. When I told him this, he said he'd have loved 'normal' as he didn't have any of the stability that I had. That really made me take stock and think! I suppose it's the 'grass is always greener' thing isn't it? I'm so glad that writing has given you a way to find yourself Julia - it has for me too, and you are right about the social networking,so many lovely friends are made through this - like-minded people finding their way. A really fascinating and thought-provoking post. Thanks Emma and Julia!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You really nailed it with your description, Abi: widened my outlook while closing me off... It's so interesting that not only does the grass often look greener on the other side, but it also seems to change color frequently in life as well, as what's important ebbs and flows. Thanks for the lovely words, Abi!

      Delete
  4. Thanks for guest blogging on Emma's blog, Julia! I really enjoyed reading your post. I guess as a kid I was always jealous of those kids who moved a lot...mostly because I went to small schools my entire life and EVERYONE knew EVERYONE. My first years (from kindergarten to 6th grade) were spent alright...until 4th or 5th grade when every girl didn't want to be my friend anymore... And this was a class of 15 people with 6 girls in it. Sigh. Then I switched schools again to a slightly bigger one (70 kids in a grade) for 7th and 8th where I had no friends. I think they always say Grass is always greener on the other side. :) I envied those army brats and travelers. (I did end up at a high school where I loved it and had tons of friends so yes - a good ending, and I'm in university/college now and love it)
    I did get a taste for traveling later - in 2010, I went to both England and Israel in a matter of 4 weeks, and then in 2011 I studied abroad in Australia for 5-6 months and loooved it. Traveling has made me a different person - less sheltered but also realizing that people across the globe can like the exact same things as me and have the exact same fears.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad you enjoyed the post, Rachel! Your comment makes me realize that maybe even if I had stayed in one place, the end result might have been the same.... so interesting. And you really nailed it exactly when you said that traveling makes you realize that people across the globe "can like the same things as me and have the exact same fears." We are, after all, more alike than we are unalike, as Maya Angelou said! So happy to have met you!

      Delete
  5. Like Abi, I didn't know the extent of your travels, Julia. A fascinating post. I worked for an international business school where virtually ALL the students came from the same background as you (from every corner of the globe; many the kids of expats). This would have, indeed, been your 'fit in' place. But it appears that you have found that place in your immediate family, and in the social media family (and are rocking it!) ... AND in your writing. I LOVED what you said about, in the writing, being able to find that closure and writing it into your characters' storylines. So true! Writing is such a gift (and look at all the story IDEAS you have. I know ... a shoddy replacement for the discomfort you had to endure growing up ... but maybe the silver lining on the dark cloud for a fiction writer). Loved this post!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad you enjoyed it, Melissa! I think you may be right, that I would've fit well into an international school -- or at least to a large urban area where I could meet many different kinds of people. I'm so glad you mentioned my small nuclear family: yes, I have found my oasis, my haven with my wonderful husband, the most supportive and accepting person I've ever met, and my sweet children. Writing really is a gift, and that's one of the things that all other writers can relate to -- wherever their ideas originate!

      Delete
  6. Julia, this post is wonderful in so many ways. I don't know if Sarah is on her way to turning into a TCK, but I do wonder the affect that our choices are having on her. However, if she can grow up to be as creative and talented as you, and find ways to be comfortable in difference, I will be happy.

    Emma, I'm so glad I followed Julia over to your blog. I have a feeling I have found another blogging friend.

    Lisa

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are so sweet, Lisa. And I can guarantee (after knowing you through your blog) that you are quite different in your approach to Sarah. You constantly think about her, put her first... this was, unfortunately, not really my experience. Nonetheless, you are so very kind with your generous words -- to say you'd be happy to have your daughter be like me? Truly the highest compliment I've been paid in a very long time. Thank you so much! :)

      Delete
  7. I like your post Julia! I found it through twitter, a good thing the social media. I'm a TCK too. I was born in Zambia, we lived in Malawi and Zimbabwe. I can really relate to this sentence: "But for every exotic lovely memory, there are the others too..."
    In Africa we were always the "odd ones out". I was the "foreigner", on my local ID in Zimbabwe is said "alien". This does not help you fit in as a teenager. Recently I have started writing and I love it. I too have discovered that it helps.
    Thanks for your lovely words. Greetings Janneke @DrieCulturen

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your comments are so kind, and it's so nice to know so many people understand the feelings. I also am so happy to meet you, Janneke! (Twitter is so great for making these connections, and I love your Twitter name!) I have so rarely met other TCK, at least that I'm aware of, so I'm very glad you commented here. I look forward to checking out your writing soon. Thank you for your lovely comments!

      Delete
  8. What a great post and such a fascinating story Julia! I can not even imagine the depth of feeling like you don't belong when the teenage years are so riddled with those feelings even in the most normal of circumstances. Writing is a gift for people who are missing something, anything, in their lives. It can be whatever you need it to be.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So happy you came across the pond to Emma's, Sara! I'm not going to lie, being a teen and trying to fit in despite being out of the country for a third of high school = not fun! Possibly why I ended up skipping much of my senior year even though I was IN the country ;-) Yes, agreed, writing is a wonderful way to figure the missing pieces out... but still figuring out how it can help me plug the gaps, hmmm. Thanks for your lovely comment, Sara!

      Delete
  9. Replies
    1. Thank you so much, Linda -- you're so sweet!

      Delete
  10. You are endlessly fascinating, my friend. I recall you mentioning being a TCK before, but this was a much more in-depth glimpse into your past and what being a TCK is really all about. I appreciate having the chance to get to know this part of you better, and it also makes me long for that morning cup of coffee together all the more.

    Another angle? I lived in the same house for most of my school years (age 4 to 24) and I stayed in the same school district, I'm in touch with many of the same friends from my childhood (and even my husband has become friends with them, too), but I STILL relate to your post, and Emma's earlier post, about being an outsider among my peers over the years because I've struggled with being a square peg in a round hole for many reasons: introvert in an extrovert world, person of faith who doesn't fit the dogmatic doctrines of the majority of people I know, mom who insists on a slow-paced schedule for her kids when the rest of the world thinks we all ought to be crazy-busy and overly-involved... and the list goes on.

    Sorry to be so long-winded in my comment, but obviously I think you hit on something SO relatable here. I LOVE what you've said about the writing helping you become comfortable with the discomfort! BINGO! And doesn't it just figure that the writing is also what brings us "outsiders" together? Warm fuzzies. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That morning cup sounds amazing... some day, no doubt, my friend!! It's so interesting you'd mention the introvert angle because I agree, that's a huge component as well. I often count the ways I'm different, and it stacks up -- having the internet community, the writer community, the larger circle of friends is definitely helping. Knowing that I'm perhaps not as different as I think I am, but more importantly, there are people who know me and care! Thank you for caring, Barb, and for finding me all the way over here on the other side of the Atlantic! YES, warm fuzzies. Here's to being outsiders together!! xox :)

      Delete
  11. Julia, You have such a wise, amazing perspective here. I love your insight on how your experiences give you the ability to look at the world from many angles, inside out, and backwards. What a gift for writing. I see that ability in your blog posts -- and love it. And I aspire to getting there myself someday.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much, Lisa.... I rarely think of myself as either wise or amazing in any way -- quite the opposite, I always feel like something of an imposter -- so I very much appreciate your kind words! I see so much insight and wisdom in your blog posts, so your compliment in me is all the more humbling, and I would return it to you! Thank you again, my friend!

      Delete
  12. Very thoughtful and thought provoking. I've lived in the Philippines for 3 years as a child, so I can understand, but my parents did the opposite - they made sure we fit in - especially within the family unit. I've never been the popular kid - just the opposite, but I always felt good in my own skin.....I guess I was one of the luck ones.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know we've talked about our different childhood experiences, Ann, and this is just one more example -- so glad your time outside the US was so much better than mine! And I'm not a bit surprised you've always felt good in your skin; your enthusiasm and optimism are two of the things I find so wonderful about you and your writing! xox

      Delete
  13. This is a great post! It is always nice to meet fellow travelers. It is funny because I have the exact same photo of the equator with me in it!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh my goodness, gave me goosebumps to read your comment about the equator photo.... so nice to meet you!! Will look forward to checking out your blog!

      Delete
  14. I love how we bring everything we've experienced as a writer to the table when we write. Great post!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad you enjoyed the post! And I agree -- it's great to be able to bring all our experiences to the writing table. It's one of the great things about being a writer, you never know what in your past will come in useful -- and when!

      Delete
  15. A thoughtful, poignant post Julia. As an expat married to an ATCK and mom to 2 TCKs, believe me, believe me, I think long and hard about the issues you've raised (the good and not so good). We discuss them, and I've had them read the books by Ruth Van Reken & the late David Pollock, and by Tina Quick, to understand what they and their friends may be dealing with. It must have been particularly difficult not being in a formal school setting which would have provided some socialization and stability. In the end, I believe we have to make a conscious choice to embrace what we miss (whether it's settling down or feeding our wanderlust) and build the life we want to have. It's also why I'm writing a book on the importance of emotional resilience in expat life.

    ReplyDelete