Growing up as a Third Culture Kid, I kept a diary. It is tear-stained and filled with the usual teenage angst that most of us go through at that point of our lives, only mine had an international slant. I have schlepped all twelve volumes, in spiral-bound notebooks, from pillar to post throughout my life. Sometimes I flip through it and marvel at how mixed up I was, how I grieved, and how I yearned for love or stability. I recently picked up a book called “Forbidden Diary,” an edited version of a journal kept by an American woman who was interned by the Japanese in the Philippines during World War II. Reading the introduction really struck a chord:
“Confined persons are often prolific diarists. This has been true for centuries, as shown by the abundance of memoirs and journals of prisoners, whether in the Tower of London, concentration camps, or hidden residences, as in the case of Anne Frank. Such persons may be physically confined or restricted to a limited existence, physical or psychological, for protracted periods – because of illness, imprisonment, geographic isolation or emergency conditions. They may be in a threatening, unfamiliar, or uncongenial environment where they have little if any control or freedom to pursue their customary activities. Enforced routine or exceptional leisure may allow them an unusual amount of time for reflection.”
Could it be said that a Third Culture Kid is a “confined person”? I certainly felt confined; I was thrust into foreign countries against my will (okay that sounds a little extreme, shall I say, without any input from me), and completely out of control of my own destiny. I spent hours detailing my life in my tiny script, often copying poems and passages from other books that spoke to my adolescent spirit.
In no way would I presume to compare being a TCK to being an actual prisoner, but aren’t prisons sometimes invisible? We don’t have to be surrounded by walls and barbed wire to feel trapped, after all.
Perhaps that journal was the fulfillment of a dream: I have always wanted to be a writer. In breaking up my mom’s house last year, I came across reams of papers with stories I had written, either in my own scrawl or on a typewriter (remember those?) we had around the house. It is said that you should “write what you know” and I took that seriously. I wrote what was inside my head, purging all the depression and the longings, but also celebrating the joys of a first kiss or “going home”. There were calendars where I literally counted days, agonizingly willing time to speed up until something could happen.
This very blog is a reflection of my need to write. I feel compelled to reach out to others who have lived as I lived, to reassure them that they are not alone. Many TCKs (dare I say most?) know what it is to be lonely; in the dictionary next to that word is a picture of me. A picture of me in a room filled with stacked packing boxes. There is the physical sensation of the first morning waking up in the new place; that sense of strangeness, but at the same time familiarity; the smell of damp cardboard and fresh paint. I am in a new world, afraid but simultaneously intrigued with my surroundings. I filled my loneliness with reading, writing and imagination. There was no one with me to nudge with my elbow and say, “Hey, look at that!” My writing was and is a poke in the ribs to an imaginary friend: “Check it out!”
When we adopted our first daughter in 2001, I wrote about the trip. It was a harrowing experience, on so many levels, (ever see “The Out of Towners” with Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis?) and I felt that no one had been honest with me about the realities (no one wants to talk about the difficult parts, after all!) I felt obligated to share my experience with other families, so that they wouldn’t be as gobsmacked as I was when I was in the middle of it.
I banged the story out on an old IBM Thinkpad that we had, and produced a pretty hefty manuscript. I even signed up with a publishing outfit, and sent it to be edited by a professional memoirist (is there such a word?) Then the Thinkpad died. Then life happened. There was a second adoption, then, sadly, a divorce. The paper copy of the manuscript came along with me in my several moves, but it just sat, neglected, in a manila envelope. I kept running across it and feeling guilty. I rationalized that since it was about my daughter that I needed to wait until she was of age, for her to approve my writing about her. It also addresses some hard truths and I wanted her to be old enough to be able to process this without feeling that any of it was her fault.
This past January 1, I made it my New Years’ resolution to finish the book. I blockaded myself into the study, rewriting, adding, editing, and just plain finishing the book. My mom used to be an editor for the LSU Press, so I ran it by her for typos and bad grammar. I sent it off to the publisher (okay, full disclosure, a self-publisher, but today so called “indie” publishing is becoming more and more mainstream. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it). When I got the first pictures of the cover, I can’t express the emotions that overcame me. It was a childhood dream come true. I wrote a book!
So now, my little book is available on the Authorhouse website. You can also buy it on Amazon. (What? Little old me on Amazon??) I don’t claim to be an F. Scott Fitzgerald or even Shakespeare, but it is me, and it is from my heart.
I intend to contribute a percentage of my royalties to an organization called the Spoon Foundation (I wrote about it HERE), which has made it its mission to improve nutrition among children in orphanages around the world. Many "special needs" children who are adopted from overseas have nutrition-related disabilities, easily fixable with vitamins and a balanced diet. Check out their website here.