Our family dog Bud–now departed–would often spend hours lying beside the pond where he would observe our resident frog, turtle, and goldfish. His eyes told me all I needed to know–that he was feeling the deep joy and love for all living things that we often feel, when we allow ourselves to leave our cars, work, and homes behind for the great outdoors. We miss him still. He died in the spring of 2005. Two of the three haiku captions are, of course, written from what I imagined would have been his inexpressible observations and feelings.
While browsing my digital photo albums, I came across these pictures and others like it within my annual folders. These images, showing off the skill and patience of my eldest son Ken, speak to me about life and how we might choose to approach it.
Several years ago, a member of the writers’ group I belong to suggested we each come up with a single word that would sum up our personal writing goals for the year ahead of us. I was well-aware that my worthy intentions in relation to completing specific New Year’s Resolutions had fallen short time and time again. I truly wanted to be disciplined in my approach to physical exercise, to the completion of creative writing projects, to reading as many books as possible on my “want to read” list, to maintaining and nurturing friendships, and–as Julia Cameron advised in her book The Artist’s Way–to keeping “artistic dates” with myself. Yet I don’t remember sustaining any more than one of those activities for an entire year–reading, perhaps, being the only exception. So in answer to my writer friend’s challenge, I finally latched on to the word focus as a way of summing up what I was seriously lacking in my life; or to put it another way, what I needed more than anything else to accomplish my goals.
Focus. Everything I begin would have to be done with a sense of purpose and a determination to see things through to the end. For example, instead of writing a story, novel or poem and filing it away after completion, as I’d done in the past, I would have to research the markets and submit my work to an agent or publisher. Instead of exercising three or four days a week for a few months, then suddenly stopping the practice because I’ve missed a session or two, I would have to repeat –and believe–a mantra declaring that “some exercise is better than no exercise”, or admonish myself to”just do it!” Instead of saying I would like to invite some friends over whom my husband and I may not have seen in a while, I should simply set a date, pick up the phone, and invite them to dinner. Instead of telling myself I would like to immerse myself in books that I’ve wanted to read for years, I should immediately take those titles from my bookshelves (if I already own them), borrow them from friends, check them out of a library, or search my favourite used book stores.
Did my choosing the word “focus” lead to improved motivation and subsequent completion of my goals that year? Regretfully, I would have to say “not entirely”, although I did read Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude in the months that followed–books that had been on my want to read list for years. But something else was missing from the equation, and I didn’t realize what that was until I came upon these photographs. The word that I now consider equally important is balance.
In the past, as I observed Ken practicing his skills with patience and intent, I noticed how he seemed to be totally “in the moment”, concentrating on the exact placement of one rock upon another, his fingers sensitive to every little crevice or hollow into which it might fit, every little shift in weight that might possibly alter its ability to stand unsupported. I don’t remember him ever failing at this; his successes always amazed those of us who watched him from the sidelines. Perhaps if we focus on the goals we’ve set for ourselves in ways that are both balanced and healthful, we, too, will achieve “the impossible”.
“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: “What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”
― C.S. Lewis
The following definition of “third culture kid” (TCK) was coined in the 1950s, but “cross-cultural kid” (CCK)–a term now used interchangeably with the former–seems better suited for the 21st century. I wonder if the experiences of today’s cross-cultural kids differ from those of my generation, for we had no social media with which to bridge the distance between ourselves and our friends in the countries we’d left behind, nor between each other after we’d settled in the countries we’d chosen to move to for further education.
“A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her development years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture are assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background.” — The Third Culture Kid Experience: Growing Up Among Worlds / David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken : Intercultural Press, Inc., c1999.
The “third culture” described here is a virtual one, located solely in the minds of its citizens. It exists wherever the paths of people of varied backgrounds and nationalities cross and who, for whatever reason, discover they have an instant connection with one another simply because they share the common experience of having lived their formative years away from their parents’ homeland. While living in a foreign country of their parents’ choosing, they and their expatriate friends unknowingly become part of a “third culture” with others sharing similar circumstances. At the same time, this culture they belong to is only one small satellite of a world-wide phenomenon.
For example, a teen whose parent works for an embassy in Ottawa, would likely grow up attending local schools and sharing a Canadian lifestyle with friends and classmates living in her neighbourhood. Near the end of the diplomat’s contract, the family may talk frequently about returning home. But when she actually arrives there, the teen no longer feels a part of her parents’ culture, nor does she feel completely Canadian. She has become a third culture kid. It’s possible that the two of us, if we were to meet today, would discover that we have more in common with each other’s emotional landscape than not, even though I was born here in Canada and she was born, say, in India. TCKs and adult TCKs often wonder where they truly belong, or if they do, indeed, belong anywhere.
My own TCK/CCK experience may be depicted as two overlapping circles–my parents’ culture–Canada, and the host culture–Japan. The shaded part where they overlap represents a set of characteristics that I once held in common with many other third culture kids returning to their parents’ homeland. Not long ago, it occurred to me that I have a third overlapping one–a culture within a culture–a distinct community of English speaking people who once shared the campus life of an international school within a foreign setting. This falls into the circle labelled “mix of other cultures.” Between the ages of nine and thirteen, I lived with my parents and sister in Tokushima City on Shikoku Island. Japanese became the language my sister and I spoke while playing with kids in our neighbourhood, and even between ourselves at home. Because of this immersive experience, when I went to high school in Kobe and lived in residence, I was able to move seamlessly back and forth between the circles of campus life and the city.
Upon my return to Canada and without the benefits of today’s instant means of communication, I felt completely cut-off from my past. This sense of loss included much loved places: Tokushima, where I was home-schooled for four years, and where I became bilingual; Kobe, a bustling, cosmopolitan port city, where panoramic views of the harbour from my high school classroom window contributed to my love of the sea; Lake Nojiri, where I spent my summers at the family cottage, participating in typical summertime activities with other expat kids.
At that time, there was no one word or words to describe the deep sense of loss I was experiencing upon my return; the place I’d always thought about and talked about as home when I lived in Japan, no longer felt that way to me. My thoughts were often drawn to Japan, where I’d spent my formative years–the last half of my eighteen-year-old-life. The question I always dreaded being asked was “Where are you from?” because I had no idea what to say. My answer would often end up being long and rambling, not to mention boring to the person who’d asked it. It wasn’t until the late 1990s that I first heard the terms “transnational”, “third culture kid” (TCK), “global nomad”, and “cross-cultural kid” (CCK). I suddenly had a word-rack on which to hang all those mixed-up emotions, which meant I didn’t have to carry them around any more. I could finally let go. “Transcultural” and “hidden immigrant” have also joined the lexicon of words describing those families around the world who choose to move between cultures and countries every few years.
When a TCK puts down roots, such as when one establishes a career and/or family, he or she may self-identify as an adult third culture kid. And although the feeling of being at home deepens, a strange sensation of dislocation may arise from time to time, reminding the person of her other culture–a suppressed or buried part of her identity, perhaps revealed and celebrated briefly, but often relegated for years on end to the locked trunk of her mind. Indeed, sometimes it takes a period of living abroad in another, completely different culture (as in my own case, Caribbean and South American), for TCKs to fully realize–upon their latest return–that their parents’ country of origin has once again become their true home.
June 5, 2013
Recently, someone in a reply to my blog used the word “saudade”, one that I was unfamiliar with, in relation to the inexpressible feelings we sometimes experience as adult “third culture kids”. Here are two explanations for this word that I found during an online search:
“The famous saudade [my italics] of the Portuguese is a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist, for something other than the present, a turning towards the past or towards the future; not an active discontent or poignant sadness but an indolent dreaming wistfulness.” (Bell, AFG. In Portugal, 1912)
“Saudade: A Portugese word for a feeling, or longing for something, or some event that one is fond of, which is gone, but might return in a distant future…often carries a fatalistic tone and repressed knowledge that the object of longing may never return.” (Wikipedia)
January 27, 2014
“Third culture kid” (TCK) is interchangeable today with “cross-cultural kid” (CCK), but many other terms exist including the following:”adult cross-cultural kid” (ACCK) ; “adult third culture kid” (ATCK), “global nomad”, “hidden immigrant” and “third culture individual.” In case anyone would like to learn more about this topic, here are links to four website/blogs related to this subject that I’ve visited recently: www.crossculturalkid.org ; https://denizenmag.com ; https://thedisplacednation.com ; http://www.tckworld.com/ ; An article in Wikipedia sums up the benefits and challenges of being a “third culture kid” very well: Communicating Across Boundaries ; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_culture_kid
When I was a child, I would look up at the night sky and imagine myself to be in the company of Peter Pan, Wendy, John and Michael, escaping to Neverland with arms outstretched, as if flying were the most natural form of transportation in the world. After several trial flights off the edge of a barn loft into a pile of hay, I had to accept reality. There have been times in my life, though, when I experienced “flying dreams”–ones in which I felt detached from my physical body, yet was fully aware that I was soaring above the earth, elated by my freedom, no longer bound by the limits of space and time. Even upon waking, the feelings associated with being at peace and in a state of wonder would remain with me long afterwards. While watching the lunar eclipse on September 27, 2015, I marvelled, again, at nature’s awesome display. As I watched the moon pass through earth’s shadow–our home planet temporarily blocking the rays of the sun–the moonscape took on a mysterious blood red glow. Lovely! These are a few of the photos I took that night from our deck in the city.
When I first read the subject of this Weekly Photo Challenge, I knew that my pictures of Lunenburg, NS would provide all but one of the colours of the rainbow required to appear in this assignment. For violet, the “v” in the mnemonic “Roy G. Biv”, the irises now blooming in my garden fit the bill. The first photo in the mosaic was taken in Peggy’s Cove, NS, and I chose to include it because the yellows are more visible and vibrant than those of the potted flowers to the right of the mural. Enjoy.
March 23, 2015
For those of us living in Nova Scotia, these last two months have been unusual in that we’ve had several major snowstorms. As I wrote in an earlier post, “remedies for winter blues” often arrive unannounced and unexpected; I can now count my first sightings ever of Bohemian Waxwings among them. Harbingers of spring? Let’s hope so!
Harbingers of Spring
(Oh, no! Not more snow!)
Tipsy as they land,
Bohemian Waxwings flock
To my apple tree;
Feasting on fermented fruit,
Flaunting yellow-banded wings.
The Buds of May
Pink pearls, now in bloom,
Hang in drifts of snowy white–
Wafting spring’s sweet scent.
This one hundred foot, granite rock face in Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia, honours both the living and those lost at sea. Sculpted by William Edward deGarthe (1907-1983), it incorporates thirty-two fishermen, their wives and children, enveloped by the wings of a guardian angel.
I was quite taken by the number of life-sized, wood carvings of seafaring characters in the town of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia (Canada)–a UNESCO World Heritage Site–one of five designated as such in this beautiful Canadian coastal province. Although this photo was taken a few years ago, it’s one that still speaks to me of Scale, a recent Weekly Photo Challenge. The people on the upper balcony and at ground level are folk art representations, of course, while those on the middle balcony are for real!
Late afternoon sun coming from the direction of my patio doors, passed through a glass plate on top of my bookcase and created a shadow-image of a butterfly on the wall behind it. This was an unexpected, but lovely coincidence relating to a recent Weekly Photo Challenge theme, so I grabbed my camera!