In Another Country are You an Immigrant or an Expat?


English: Dira Square (also known as Chop Chop ...

English: Dira Square (also known as Chop Chop Square by expats), Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Taken by BroadArrow in 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve referred to myself as both expat and immigrant but think that perhaps I have been mistaken about the “expat” self-reference. An expat is someone who still largely identifies with his/her country of origin. It is who they are. Even with permanent residence/green card status or even dual citizenship, the land of birth still trumps. But an immigrant is someone who wishes to assimilate and take on the new country as his/her identifier. They acquire first residence and then the second citizenship with an eye toward becoming a part of the new land.

In the United States, people bemoan “immigrants” who do not seem to want to be Americans. I would argue that this so-called immigrants are really expats who’ve come to America for political, economic, career or education reasons but who see themselves primarily as citizens of their native land. In that way, how are they different from Americans who pursue work opportunities in other countries for short or long periods of time but consider themselves always American – not bothering to learn the language or make friends locally and living in enclaves of other Americans?

The answer, of course, is that they are not different. But it is a very white versus not so much kind of prejudice that is not attractive or admitted to. Brits, Americans, Europeans, Australians and Japanese refer to themselves as expats but consider Eastern Europeans, Asians, Latinos and Africans immigrants.

In my opinion, if one leaves his/her nation of origin to settle permanently in another country that person is an immigrant. Even if he/she stubbornly refuses to mix, learn local customs and language and generally remains an elitist snob about the whole thing. When you leave to live forever somewhere else, you have emigrated and are therefore an immigrant. This state of being is further compounded by marrying locally, producing children and obtaining legal status up to but not always including dual citizenship.

Expat, really, has this sort of British colonial taint to it. It reminds me of stories of colonials living in India or Africa during the days of Queen Victoria and later under King Edward. Privileged white people enjoying semi-royal lifestyles at the expense of a local population who was considered second-class and expected to appreciate servitude in exchange for pathetic monetary “reward”. All quite Kipling minus the adventure.

It’s important, I think, to know who you are. Expat or immigrant. It informs others as much as it forms your purpose. Given that, it’s time for me to drop the expat and go full on immigrant. My ancestors left Sweden and Ireland to become Americans. They were proud, I am sure, of their heritage but I highly doubt any of them referred to themselves as hyphens. Irish-Americans or Swedish-Americans. They were just Americans (although before the Civil War, I guess that state would have trumped country). Therefore, I am a Canadian in the making. No hyphen.

 

What Really Happens When You Live As an Expat


British Passport, Canada, Thailand

British Passport, Canada, Thailand (Photo credit: dcgreer)

An experience doesn’t have to be perfectly unique to be worthy of sharing. – Chelsea Fagan

Came across a link to Thought Catalog today and read a post by an American expat, trying to quantify the experience of living aboard. She writes about “fear” and “longing” and the inevitability of finding ex-pats huddled together in bars discussing home and the leaving of it.

Maybe it’s a European expat thing because there are certainly enclaves and gathering holes a plenty for immigrants around the area of Alberta where I live. Ukrainians. Dutch. Scots. Brits. Quebecers. Hutterites. But I have yet to find Americans hanging out. Maybe it’s because we blend in so well despite our decidedly non-Canadian accents? You just don’t see American expat groups and among those of us who are making this or that part of Canada our home, there is a feeling of having narrowly escaped a lifetime of … it’s hard to put into words that don’t come off as elitist or lefty liberal or even Eduardo Saverin traitorous.

Much of the article rang no bells for me. I am not in Canada pursing an education, career or some “eat, pray, love” quasi-spiritual artist way quest. I came here the modern-day equivalent of a mail order bride of the virtual variety. And I am not even unique because I know at least one other widowed mom who crossed the border to marry a Canadian within roughly the same time frame as I did under circumstances that are more similar than not.

The only fear I can recall was that of not being allowed to cross over the border or be allowed to stay once I did. The Canadian government casts a less jaundiced eye on marital immigration than does the United States (so long as the bride isn’t from the Philipines) but the process for sponsoring a foreign born wife teems with tedious amounts of paperwork and barely intelligible rules, which no one who works for CIC (Canada Immigration and Customs) is eager to go on record explaining, confirming or denying. It blessedly doesn’t require a public bedding or stained sheets but more than once, we wondered if the photographic evidence of our union they demanded wasn’t just a thinly veiled request for porn.

I confess that I am still fairly nervous about the border. We’ve never had a problem with a crossing but with the United States ramping up to what amounts to entrance and exit checks and Canada unnerving quiet about what American paranoia it will or won’t enforce, I worry.

Maybe life in Paris or London or Abu Dhabi is just so off the charts unusual in its breadth and scope that Americans need to decompress in groups. Touch familiar bases. Talk about DWTS or Game of Thrones. Plot exit strategies if the GOP theocracy comes to full power in the fall.

Canada is just like home.

Except it’s not.

Rob assured me that living here would be just like living in Iowa.  Rural backwardness and all. Okay, maybe the shopping wasn’t as good. Alright, the shopping part would suck. But otherwise, it would be just the same. And a tad bit colder.

The western prairies are nothing like Iowa, and Canada is not the United States of America or even a wanna-be.

Even five years on, I am still struck near daily by the reality that I am an immigrant in a foreign country. And mostly, I don’t think about having left the U.S. as much as I think about how to get it to quit me. There is so much about being an American that clings like the haze around the perfume counters in department stores. No matter how cleverly you think you’ve avoided the sample girl, the scent follows.

The devil is in the definitions. The United States government sees me as an expat, an American living aboard, but I see myself as an immigrant. Someone who has chosen to leave my old life as an American to build a new life as a Canadian . Could this explain my lack of need to huddle and cuddle with other Americans?

I don’t miss America. Not really. Okay, maybe Target. Sure, they are coming here but won’t be the same. Nothing retail translates well into Canadian.

I miss my friends. Not that they have ever numbered many. I wish I had better access to certain members of my family. I wish I could spend a holiday in my hometown long enough to actually enjoy it rather than cramming reflective moments between taking care of my mother and working around the work schedules of family and friends.

Life has gone on without me. But life has always gone on without me.

Moving from one school to another and made and lost touch with countless co-workers. As I moved from this apartment to another couple to a house and then another, I met and discarded neighbors and city regions. Changing groceries, pharmacists, jogging routes, gyms and coffee shops. Every job or living arrangement entailed a certain amount of readjustments.

I met a husband. Buried a husband. Met another husband. Both came with family, friends, co-workers and accessories unique and not necessarily over-lapping.

Has emigrating been any more or less change than any other change I’ve experienced over the course of my life? Was it more of a growth experience than university? Taking my first teaching job? Marrying. Infertility treatments. Pregnancy. Giving birth. Navigating the underbelly of what passes for the safety net via Social Security and Medicaid. Divesting myself of twenty years, packing everything I still owned in a U-Haul and heading to the Great White North, which has to be a metaphor for the long winters because Canada is not as white as Americans think it is in terms of people, customs, cultures, languages, politics and spiritual diversity.

Every experience that is requires leaving something or someone behind to make room.

And in an age of social media on a planet that is always awake somewhere, leaving is a bit of a first world problem because it is a choice.

Have you left if you’ve only brought only a suitcase while the rest of your stuff waits for you in a storage locker somewhere or your parent’s basement?

Are you living or just visiting when you dine alone? If alone means trolling Facebook and texting with your friends on the other side of an ocean or international border.

What happens to you when you leave the land of your birth? Whatever you want. Intentions and the actions that back them up are what matter. Catching up on the latest gossip from the old country with people who possess a similar vowel inflection? Probably shouldn’t read too much into that. It’s the choice between being a tourist for employment or educational purposes and resolving to put down roots that counts.

What happens when you live as an expat? You eventually become an immigrant and then a citizen, or you go home.

 

Pretty Makes a Better Adverb


Sheet music cover of "A Pretty Girl Is li...

Sheet music cover of "A Pretty Girl Is like a Melody". (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

April is not just about showers that bring the flowers of May. Nor is it merely about poetry.

It’s also Guitar Month, Humor Month, Autism Awareness Month, Cancer Control Month and Occupational Therapy Month, Animal Cruelty Prevention Month, Autism Awareness Month, Books to Brighten Young Minds Months, Community Spirit Month, Confederate History Month, Couple Appreciation Month, International Customer Loyalty Month, International Guitar Month, International Legacy Month, Keep America Beautiful Month, Lawn and Garden Month, Mathematics Education Month, National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Month, National Humor Month, National Pet First Aid Awareness Month, National Self-Publishing Month, National Smile Month, National Youth Sports Safety Month, Occupational Therapy Month, Pets Are Wonderful Month, School Library Month, Spring Break Month, Straw Hat Month,  and World Habitat Awareness Month.

All that and still the most interesting thing remains poetry?

I take poetic license then and share what some would disdainfully call a “feminist rant in metered time”, but I think, for poetry, is a pretty damn good poem that says more about the tyranny of “pretty” in a few minutes than I could in an hour.

The New Year Begins in August


Cartoon showing baby representing New Year 190...

Image via Wikipedia

I never really left school. I went from university to teaching, so the calendar year never altered for me. August kicks off the new year in a way that January just never did.

It’s funny really that the year officially rolls over in January yet many people mark the passage of time with the school calendar or the fiscal year, which is July or October usually, depending on your occupation. January 1st is just Christmas’s less interesting sibling.

Back in the day, I would have already been in my classroom and probably completely ready to go by now. I made it a habit to crack the seal on my “office” door the first week of August. I’d spend the mornings cleaning, organizing, decorating and finally planning. I typically outlined the entire year before breaking it down by semester and then grading periods and finally daily lesson plans. I rocked really.

August, therefore, feels like the time to plan. With Dee heading back to school, I have free hours during the day that need direction.

Direction that isn’t laundry or baking or cleaning.

Briefly I toyed with applying for a job at the museum in town. They are looking for a program assistant. It’ teacher work. Organizing and brainstorming. I would totally be in my element. Curriculum. History. Teaching. Some of my favorite things in life. The work is even part-time and mostly flexible, but the bulk is Tuesday and Thursday, and I am already committed to teaching yoga at the community hall in the evenings. The potential for the whole thing to turn into long days in the hellmouth is fair to good.

I’m gearing up to have myself added to the city’s yoga teacher sub list, and I’m going to take a couple of classes to get ready to e-publish a few short works that are a bit too niche for the bigger markets. That’s enough on top of home and family though I struggle still with the stay at home thing. Four years out of the workforce is a freakish feeling for someone who spent nearly 30 years of her life working. And with the economy in free-fall again, I get itchy.

But we don’t need me working part-time for peanuts, which screws us at tax time, and me going back to teaching adds unnecessary stress to our daily lives because the juggling of household chores and kid is no small thing. The pressure to work outside the home rears up though. Not as often as in the first years and usually driven by  something coming up that my working wouldn’t fix anyway.

It’s better that I stick to my original plan, which could pan out more profitably in the longer term with a bit of luck and nose to the keyboard.

Need to put my father’s daughter to bed once and for all and concentrate on the ball in play.

My Sister Wife the Sparkly Vampire


goddess.

Image by neur0tica via Flickr

Some women in relationships with widowers feel that the late wife could only be more perfect if she were perched atop a Gothic cathedral surrounded by a soft ethereal glow, skin glistening as the light catches the tiny sparkling points of light on her iridescent skin while cooling light breezes tousle her hair on its most perfect day.

It’s probably fair to say that the percentage of women on the planet who haven’t felt threatened or marginalized by their partner’s last wife is fairly small. Comparing ourselves – usually unfavorably – is what the female species does and does well, and we are encouraged in this by magazines, movies, television and the self-proclaimed relationship experts. The wife or girlfriend of a widower, however, can feel that a late wife is a rival of unassailable proportions because she is often only portrayed in her Sunday best. Death improves us all, or so it seems.

As I have stated in the past, I would have known that Rob’s late wife, Shelley, was a wonderful person even if I’d never heard a single story about her from him, the older girls, extended family or friends. And it was intimidating for a while. How do you follow wonderful? But, from the beginning, I endeavoured only to be me and not focus on the differences between us that sometimes made me feel like the ugly step-sister. She was her. I am me. For reasons known only to Rob, we both suited him just fine. And that’s where it begins and ends – or should – in any relationship. Worrying about how you do or don’t “stack up” leads to insecurity, anxiety, and misplaced jealousy.

Perhaps the problem is the idea that a man (or woman) can move on but still love a deceased spouse. I’ve heard some poor to bad analogies as to how this can be. There’s the 3 hearts. You. Your spouse. His Late Wife. My issue with this is that hinges on the fact that in our case, it would be four hearts and if three can be a crowd, four is bad porn. There are no extra hearts. There are memories, and everyone has memories of previous love, but the key word is “previous”. You take what you have learned and apply it now and archive the rest and if a person doesn’t or can’t – they aren’t really prime dating real estate.

In talking to Rob, I clarified again for myself a few things about men and how they think. They don’t really care about the guy who came before them. He had his opportunity, and now it’s their turn. They are really not prone to comparing because they feel that if you are with them now, then now is what counts most – which is why it is the rare man who will listen to stories about this or that past relationship without getting annoyed.

And that latter thing is important to note – annoyance – because women are schooled in listening and empathizing. We will listen to a guy go on and on about the woman who came before us because we think that raises us in our man’s estimation of our worth. We are so nice. So understanding. We don’t get annoyed – unless it’s to spout off to girlfriends and rain disdain down on the late wife instead of just telling our men “enough already” – and so a man might get the idea that talking out his last relationship while he is in one with us is perfectly okay.

Grief is different though.

No. Okay, maybe a little. But if your cage is being rattled to the point where insecurity and jealousy are becoming close intimate companions, then does it really matter?

Rob talks about Shelley. She is his reference point in the past. When he uses the term “we” and it’s not he and I, I know it’s Shelley. And so what? She was there. Rob spent all of his adult life before me with her. It’s not an “I” thing for him. And it’s not a big deal. She isn’t part of his past as a personal insult to me or as an obstacle in my relationship with Rob.

Here’s the thing. When you marry a man who’s widowed, you are accepting the fact that you didn’t come first. Yours is not the first proposal, wedding, child. You’re walking on ground that’s been traveled and possibly sleeping in a bed that’s been occupied before you. Deal with it. Because it’s reality and it’s your issue. You can let it eat you, or you can put it in perspective and work on building the life you want.

But there are shrines! Yearly memorial tributes! In-laws who constantly compare me to her! And he does nothing about it!

It’s still your issue. You still have to decide whether or not these things are going to control you or diminish you or even if you can live with them in spite of your Widower’s “awesome potential to some distant day being Mr. Everything”. It’s still your life, and people need your permission to make you feel less than entitled to it.

Which brings me to this point – your sparkly sister-wife isn’t the problem.  She’s not really there. Other people might be using her for purposes of their own and in doing so they make themselves problems, which you can choose to take on or not. And you use her to when you compare yourself, act on jealous impulses or whine like a high school girl because the fairy tale isn’t as Disney as society told you it should be. There’s always a root for an issue to be sure, but she’s dead, so she can’t be it.

If it’s your Widower, you speak up, initiate a conversation and come to an understanding. And just a fyi, doing whatever he wants because he’s played the grief card or you are worried about appearing “strident” or “shrewish” or “bitchy” or whatever other pejorative our culture has for women who won’t stuff their needs and shut up and take it – is not an understanding. Understanding is mutual.

If it’s family. And if you can’t talk to them – he has to.

It’s friends. Same deal.

But it’s not her and she isn’t ever going to be gone. If you are waiting for that day, you’re going to wait forever.

I like Shelley. I am in awe of the fact that her sparkliness lingers on.  She helped Rob raise two of the most fantastic young women I’ve ever known, who I love and for whom want nothing but sunshiny fields with filled unicorns.  Her influence is some of what makes Rob the amazing guy I love and who loves me. Who am I to begrudge her the place that she earned before I got here, and why would I do that unless I wasn’t sure of my own place?

Are you sure of your place? Do you know who you are? Do you know what you want, and do you ask for and expect to get it? You have control over precisely you. You can’t coax, empathize, sympathize, enable or nice girl anyone into being the kind of partner you expect for yourself. And it’s not your job to fix things for him but it is his job to be a 50/50 partner.

Oh, and you don’t get 100% from 50+50+50. Just saying.

Title courtesy of Norah

If I Had a Hot Tub, It Wouldn’t Double As A Time Machine


Hot Tub Time Machine

Image via Wikipedia

Of course, I wouldn’t have a hot tub because they are unsanitary skin flake stews marinating in secreted bodily residue, and traveling through time shouldn’t be done when damp or barely dressed because that is asking for a more awkward than necessarily fish out of your own time zone experience than landing somewhere in your own past would be otherwise,

I’ve been pondering 1986 on and off since Rob and I snuggled in to watch John Cusack‘s Hot Tub Time Machine. Destined to be another non-classic in his mid-life crisis collection along with the equally phoned in 2012, it begs two questions. What would you do if you had a pivotal weekend in your life to live over and what kind of mid-life hell is Cusack going through to have not only starred in but produced such a puerile piece of a complete time suck like this?

The first question occupies me more than the second though it is hard to watch yet another movie in Cusack’s slow fall from watchable to just another movie star cashing a paycheck. The movie for all its seriously lowbrow reach focuses on the question of going back in time to “right yourself”. The main characters are Al Bundy off-track and stuck so firmly in the weeds they’ve wandered into courtesy of poor life choices and the plain old drift that most of us allow to direct our course. You know what I mean. We paddle furiously until we find that sweet spot in the river and then allow the undertow to do the rest. We figure that the channels we’ve chosen should simply flow along, carrying us to where we want to end up, but the reality is that this only happens for those yellow plastic ducks in wading pools at carnivals. The kind that bob in an endless loop, waiting to be plucked for possible fabulous prizes.

I find that back to the past stories fall into two categories. There is Ray Bradbury‘s “butterfly effect” where any deviation from the original past, no matter how slight, spells doom for the future. Or there is the big fix that puts everyone into a utopia ala the McFly family‘s hunky dory happy ending in the first Back to the Future. The possibility that the past can’t be altered because it’s fixed (as some scientists theorize) is never entertained. It’s never like Emily Webb trying to relive her 12th birthday, stuck in a play where ad-libbing isn’t allowed.

“Where were you in January of 1986?” I asked Rob after the movie was over.

“Mick had just turned one, and I was in my first year of university,” He said.

Rob was already righting his path. An old married man of 24 going back to school to secure that better life.

In January of 1986 I was living in an apartment near the TKE house in Iowa City. Challenger was a couple of months away from blowing up. I was finishing up course work to get ready for my student teaching in the coming fall. It was a crappy winter. I was feeling sorry for myself because everyone had a boyfriend but me. Not having a boyfriend was a huge drama-rama thing for me though the reality – that I never bothered to really acknowledge – was that I did next to nothing to actually remedy the problem. Prospects abounded and one that I was even interested in a more serious way (that being relative to who I was at the time), I let slip because the truth (not something I was big on admitting) was that I didn’t want a boyfriend. My ambivalence couldn’t have been higher or more plain but nothing is as blind as 22.

But if going back to 1986 were an option, what makes us think that the outcome will be horror movie or happily ever materialism after? It’s like people who believe they’ve lived before are only ever victims of great historical tragedy or famous people. There is no ordinary. No average option.

Time travel theory – the serious shit – postulates that traveling backward is the only option. The future doesn’t exist and you can’t travel to somewhere that isn’t yet. Back is done. It’s like photos in an album or stepping into a home movie and wandering about like visitors to a re-enactment of a historical event. The outcome has already been decided. Nothing left to see there but the details that you’ve forgotten or altered as you’ve aged and waxed nostalgic.

My 22-year-old self would be too annoying and it would drive me crazy to be stuck inside her limited worldview.

Cusack and company naturally improved their futures in the superficial sense. They had money, goods and the women of their dreams. Presumably better attitudes and a little gratitude came along with the upgrade but the film doesn’t go there really.

I’ve gone over the side of the wading pool a few times in my life. Saw opportunity or took a chance. The only way to effect change is by going forward. The past has been and done.

In My Next Life


The public radio, Studio 360, gave a recent audience one of those fill in the blank cards asking them what they thought they might be in their next life.

Katherine’s answer isn’t lofty or ambitious. In fact some might say she lacks vision or is afraid to reach for her potential, but I thought it was very yoga and almost enlightened . After all, how many of us are aware enough of our true selves to know when we might have already “arrived”?

Rob and I were watching another episode of the unlamented mid-90’s Marines in space fare, Space: Above and Beyond.

“It’s not as even as borderline watchable as I remember it,” he remarked back when we were barely two episodes in. But with just a half-dozen or so painfully acted installments to go, we are committed.  Or should be.

The recent ones have been character development with each of the show’s primaries taking a turn. Last night’s belonged to McQueen, an artificially gestated human who is the commanding officer to a group of Marine pilots/expendable ground grunts. His dilemma? “Who am I?”

He had determined that he existed for a reason and if he paid attention that reason would reveal itself and he could – in essence – fulfill his destiny.

As it turned out, his existence was narrowly focused but very important to the survival of Earth. And really not all that important for me to go into because the bottom line is that McQueen knew who he was in this life. The one he was living. He was not waiting for a do-over. He didn’t believe in that in any case.

Katherine, the English teacher, knows who she is present and future and I am betting past as well.

In my next life, I hope I will just “be”. The “doing” is immaterial. But I am not certain I am that enlightened yet.