Sand, 2, 3, 4

8104279874_f648d50f14_z


“Who Is the Sandman?”

“It’s a bit difficult to trace his origins because stories about the Sandman are part of an oral tradition,” says Dr. Maria Tatar, professor of German Studies, Folklore, and Children’s Literature at Harvard University. “I don’t think you can trace the Sandman to Denmark or Germany. I feel confident that there are similar figures in other cultures because so many of the jolly, child-friendly creatures are shadowed by a disciplinary evil person. Who invented the Sandman? Who knows!”

The Sandman’s first foray onto the page was in 18th-century German dictionaries, which briefly described the German idiom “der Sandmann kommt”—”Sandman is coming”—which was used to tease particularly sleepy-looking children. The first story about the Sandman and his doings was published in 1818 by German writer E.T.A Hoffman. “Der Sandmann” begins with an exasperated nurse telling a story about a mythical creature who throws sand in the eyes of little children who won’t go to sleep, causing them to fall out of their sockets. The Sandman then collects the eyeballs in a sack and carries them to his home on the dark side of the moon, where he feeds them to his children.

“‘Der Sandmann’ became an important story in psychoanalytic circles because Freud made so much of it in his essay ‘The Uncanny,'” says Tatar. “Hoffman’s story is a fairy tale for grownups, really—his Sandman is this dark, predatory monster. It definitely wasn’t written for children.” . . .

Jesslyn Shields, How Stuff Works, January 28, 2019

Plans Unfurled, Change the World: A Poem for Cross-Cultural Workers [—at A Life Overseas]

1184603315_567eeeb069_c

I had fun writing a travel poem for my son, so I thought I’d try it again, this time on the topic of working cross culturally. Here are the first eight lines. The rest is at A Life Overseas.

Hear the call
Like St. Paul?
Kneel to pray
Lots to say
Plans unfurled
Change the world
Ready, set
Not quite yet . . .

[photo: “Sandles,” by midnightcomm, used under a Creative Commons license]

In “Alien Citizen,” a TCK Takes the Stage to Tell Her Stories

liang.jpg

I’m from the Midwest. Specifically, I’m from Missouri. You may be surprised to know that my state is a rather cosmopolitan place, with towns named Lebanon, Cuba, Mexico, Paris, Amsterdam, and Cairo.

Lisa Liang, on the other hand, is not from Missouri, or anywhere close by. She has lived in Cairo, though. But her Cairo is the really big one in northeastern Egypt, not the really small one northwest of St. Louis. In fact, one of the reasons she created her one-person show, Alien Citizen: An Earth Odyssey, was to answer the question “Are you from the Midwest?” that she’d heard so many times.

So where is Liang from? Um . . . yeah, about that.

Liang is a Third Culture Kid, which she defines early on in her show (standing on a chair and in a teacherly voice) as “someone who has spent a significant part of their childhood outside their passport country or in a culture that is not their parents’ culture and doesn’t have full ownership in any culture.” Third Culture Kids, or TCKs, have a hard time answering “Where are you from?”

She labels this section of her play “t/c/k 101,” and her whole performance is something of a class on what it means to be a global nomad (another term for TCK). But it’s not a dry, pedantic lecture. Maybe that’s because it’s more like the show-and-tell part of school. Stepping off the chair, she literally lets her hair down and acts out her “business brat” life, scene by scene, character by character.

Liang was born in Guatemala, to an American mother of European “hodgepodge” descent and a Guatemalan father of Chinese-Spanish descent, with her father’s job at Xerox taking the family around the world—to Costa Rica, Panama, Morocco, Egypt, and . . . Connecticut. All the while, as she faced the challenges of changing places, cultures, and friends, she was, she says, “trained by all of the adults around me to concentrate on the positives and never complain.” After speaking this line, she quickly slaps her hands over her mouth, something she does many times during the play to show how skilled she became at silencing herself so as not to offend or stand out.

But the younger Liang had reason to voice her concerns, and as we watch Alien Citizen, we become her sounding board. There are the times when she was called names, misunderstood, threatened, and verbally abused. But there are also the positives of living cross-culturally, and she shares those moments as well. Her stories are rich and funny and painful and heartbreaking. And while they’re unique to her, they will resonate with others who understand the significance of such terms as “home base-ish” and “transition fatigue” and “foreign school.”

Foreign schools. International clubs. Places where expats gather. Those are the kinds of places where Liang spent much of her growing-up days overseas and where many of her stories take place. There was the time at the Churchill Club when she had her first kiss. And then there was the time outside the Moroccan American Cultural Center when two young men verbally and physically threaten her and her mother.

Here’s where I need to include a side note. I have the delusion that my blog is followed so closely by some in the cross-cultural community that they would read my review, buy Liang’s DVD, and immediately start playing it for their son or daughter’s TCK sleepover. To them, I say be aware that Liang’s play includes a few occurrences of the F-word (along with some derogatory epithets aimed at her). One instance is when the men outside the cultural center used it to attack Liang—a more extreme example of what she experienced often as a female walking by herself on the sidewalks of Morocco. Another is a time when she used the word herself as years of emotion burst forth in a moment of road rage while driving in the States.

In a Q&A session after one of her performances, an audience member asks what part of her life is the most difficult part to tell in her play. She answers that it is acting out the harassment in Morocco, being afraid that she’d be accused of portraying all Moroccan men, all Muslim men, in a negative way. But, she explains, rather than painting entire groups with a broad brush, she’s simply telling her stories. “I’m saying what happened to me,” she tells the audience. “That’s all I’m saying.”

When Liang came to the States for college, she was again faced with a culture in which she didn’t fit. Many of her classmates wished they were going to other schools instead of Wellesley, but for her, it was her school of choice. And her roommate was a Christian whom she describes as a “fanatic.” She shows us her roommate screaming out her belief that her Jewish ancestors who died in the Holocaust are in hell. “You don’t know how it makes me feel!” she yells. Liang is stunned by the belligerence and self-centeredness she hears—and claps her hands over her mouth again in horror.

Alien Citizen reminds me of Letters Never Sent, written by Ruth Van Reken, TCK expert and co-author of  Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds. In Letters, Van Reken writes to her missionary parents about the difficulties she faced growing up abroad. It is good that Liang has found a way to remove her hands from her mouth and tell her stories. Van Reken agrees. About watching Liang’s play, she writes, “It was profound for all of us . . . brings laughter and tears to anyone who has lived this life or knows others who have. It is a great show, presenting the gifts as well as the challenges.”

In Alien Citizen, Liang gives a vivid, outside-in view of the places where she’s lived, where the mundane becomes exotic and the exotic mundane. There’s drumming on turtle shells during Christmas celebrations in Guatemala, walking barefoot across the road to buy orange Fanta in Panama, wind surfing in Morocco, and riding in a car spinning on the ice in Fairfield County, Connecticut. It’s because she’s given herself “permission to speak of the pain” that she can be grateful for all the wonderful things she’s experienced. And through Alien Citizen, we get to experience it all, too.

Alien Citizen is available for purchase on DVD and for rent in streamable HD. The DVD includes a Q&A with Liang and the director, Sofie Calderon, and interviews with Liang’s brother and parents. There are also institutional DVDs that include a digital study guide with over 35 clips from the film, each followed by questions to promote learning and discussion.

[photo courtesy of HapaLis Prods]

Pack Things, Spread Wings: A Travel Poem

3207745921_a1208dc553_c

Discount fares
Facebook shares
Pack things
Spread wings
Airport ride
Park outside
Find the gate
Don’t be late
Boarding flight
Squeeze in tight
Stow your bag
In-flight mag
Upright seat
Smelly feet
Coke or tea?
Gotta pee
Watch a show
Comfy? No
Check map
Take nap
City near
Landing gear
Disembark
Outside dark
Stand in queues
Foreign news
Shoulder cramp
Passport stamp
Time change
Feel strange
Suitcase  gone
Carry on

[photo: Full Airport 01,” by Chris Murphy, used under a Creative Commons license]

Newsletters and the People Who Read Them [—at A Life Overseas]

3237919347_9256bc4f8e_c

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of readers. . . .

Now that we’ve reached the end of 2019, it’s time to work on that end-of-the-year newsletter. Or maybe you’re still working on your November newsletter, or your October newsletter, or even a bi-annual summary—since you missed getting out your 2018 installment. (It happens.)

It’s not easy juggling all the demands of cross-cultural work, including the doing and the living and the reporting of it all in meaningful ways to a diverse audience. When you sit down in front of your blank template, whose faces do you see looking back at you? Who reads your newsletters, emails, prayer updates, and blog posts? How do you manage all their sometimes competing expectations?

How many of the following might see what you write?

your friends who adore you and have your photo on their fridge
your teammates
coworkers from other agencies
Mom and Dad
supporters weighing their budgets for next year
the nationals you serve
those in your host country who are glad you’re doing what you’re doing
those in your host country who wish you’d stop doing what you’re doing
your college professors
people who like pictures
people who like numbers
people who like stories

Finish reading at A Life Overseas. . . .

[photo: “Erasmus’ hands,” by Jim Forest, used under a Creative Commons license]

The Serendipity of Juggling

SONY DSC

Entertainer Michael Davis used to begin his act with this line: “They say a comic says funny things, but a comedian says things funny. This makes me a juggler.”

Truth is, we’re all jugglers of some sort, trying to balance multiple roles in life, keeping all the plates spinning and the balls in the air. That’s the way it’s always been, and, I’m sure, always will be.

But when it comes to the pastime (or career) of juggling, things have changed over time, as pointed out in this TEDx Talk by Jay Gilligan:

Gilligan, who’s juggled for 28 years, tells (and shows) the differences between American/Western juggling—with its symmetry and repetition—and Scandanavian/European juggling—which features asymmetry and lots of starts and stops.

From there he goes on to talk about the origins of juggling rings. Have you5624263331_e9c6f4a320_w ever wondered why juggling rings are the size they are? Giligan has. And he found the answer from his friend and fellow juggler, Dave Finnigan. In 1976, Finnigan, also known as Professor Confidence, wanted to find a place in Asia for making juggling props, so he visited a plastic fabrication factory in Taiwan. While describing the rings to the factory owner, Mr. Tsai, he grabbed a cookie tin from Mr. Tsai’s desk. He drew a circle around it and then used “another round item” to draw a smaller circle inside. This became their template. The cookie tin happened to be about 13 inches across.

Tada!

Juggler and juggling historian David Cain adds to the story, locating the factory in the south-Taiwan city of Tainan and writing that the original rings were later fine tuned by expanding the hole inside. He quotes Finnigan as saying, “When jugglers complained that the ring would not easily fit over their heads, we came up with the white ring the next year, so it would fit over the head of the jugglers.”

Speaking of innovation, juggler Michael Moschen is so innovative that in 1990 he was named a MacArthur Fellow, receiving a “genius grant” from the  foundation. In the early TED Talk below, Moschen shows off his creativity and delves into what I would call the “philosophy” of juggling. At 19:24, he juggles inside a triangle, and at 25:50 he uses a single ball to give a short introduction to “contact juggling,” which became one of his specialties.

If you’re not completely sure what contact juggling is, let’s go back to Taiwan and watch Zheng Jhe demonstrate his skills. Relax and enjoy.

(David Cain, “Juggling Rings: Their History, Development, and Innovation—Part I,” International Jugglers’ Association, October 9, 2016)

[photos: Juggling,” by Shabai Liu, used under a Creative Commons license; “Ring Toss,” by Ahd Photography, used under a Creative Commons license]

To a Friend Nine Days before We Fly Out Again [—at A Life Overseas]

14330415607_2c6bff6f7d_c

Dear friend:

I’m so glad we got to say Hi a while back, but sorry we never made it to your house for dinner. When we landed three months ago it seemed like we’d be here forever, but then the time went by so fast. We’re all busy with so many things, and we had so many places we needed to be.

You asked about us getting together for coffee next week, but I don’t think I’m going to be able to make it. We’re kind of booked up with so many last-minute things to take care of, and then we’ve set aside a couple days to get away and catch our breaths before we head out. I’m afraid coffee will need to wait until next time.

And you wondered about seeing us off at the airport. That’s so nice of you, but we’re trying to get our goodbyes done before we pull up to the curb and have to fix our minds on tickets and luggage and passports.

Speaking of luggage . . .

Read the whole post at A Life Overseas.

[photo: “coffee lover,” by Camila Tamara Silva Sepúlveda, used under a Creative Commons license]

Big, Big, Big Ideas from—and for—the Friendly Skies

I got an idea!!!

There’s something about flying that inspires me creatively. Maybe it’s the altitude. Maybe it’s the soda and snacks. Maybe it’s the inflight magazines and pretending that I belong to their target audience.

Whatever the cause, ideas come to me when I’m up in the air. What kinds of ideas, you ask? Well, they’re great ideas, amazing ideas, Shark-Tank-winner-million-dollar ideas. Understand that I have no plans to bring these to fruition—no, I’m just an ideas guy—but I do want to be on the record for creating these when someone else puts them in production. . . and changes the world of travel as we know it. And if you find out that someone has already come up with anything like these, I simply don’t want to hear it (fingers in ears, LA LA LA LA).

So without further ado, here they are, the fruit of a recent flight:

  • Out o’ My Way Beeper: A small speaker system that you wear on your belt that emits the high, sharp beep used by airport carts. Use one of these and everyone will clear the way for you as you hurry to your gate. By the time they realize they’ve been had, you’ll be long gone. I saw a man driving a malfunctioning, silent cart through an airport once. He called out “Beep, beep, beep,” as he drove. He could have used one of these.
  • Mag Pillow: Maybe you have a neck pillow that takes up too much room in, or hanging onto, your carryon. Maybe your pillow fills with air, but you have to blow it up for each flight. If either of these is true, you need the Mag Pillow. It’s a hollow, zippered pillowcase that you fill with the wadded-up pages of your inflight magazine. I know: brilliant.
  • EarThing I: A fake Bluetooth earpiece that screams “I’M SUCH A BIG DEAL!” as you yell such things as “WHEN IT GETS TO 2 MILLION I WANT YOU TO SELL!” or “I DON’T CARE HOW LONG YOU’VE BEEN CEO! CLEAR OUT YOUR OFFICE NOW!” You’ll get the respect you deserve without having to pony up for a real Bluetooth system. And, yes, those sideways glances you’re getting are looks of envy.
  • EarThing II: This one’s an earpiece connected to a coiled cord that leads into your collar . . . and goes nowhere. You’ll get all sorts of attention: “Are you a pilot? Are you a sky marshal? Are you important?” A slight shrug of your shoulders and a finger to your lips is your answer.
  • The One-and-Only Luggage Ribbon: Have you put a red ribbon on your luggage to make it stand out only to find that five other people on your flight had the same idea? Get a One-and-Only Luggage Ribbon and that will never happen again. Your luggage tag will be 100% unique. Billions to choose from! No one will every have your color and pattern because no two One-and-Onlies are the same. Guaranteed! In fact, if you find two that are identical, you’ll get a free, um, Mag Pillow.
  • I Heart Kiosk: This is not only a product but a place for selling it, too. You can set up this shop in any airport, but it works best in the small, regional, last-stop variety. Ever arrived home and realized you forgot to pick up a souvenir for that special someone in your life? Don’t worry—Look, there’s an I Heart Kiosk over there. It’s stocked with taffy, peanut brittle, pork rub, golf balls, teddy bears, and the kinds of et-ceteras that you can find in any locale. But the secret sauce is in the stickers that come with them, stickers printed with “I ♥ [name of a city of your choice].” And you don’t even have to visit a city to show your loved ones that you thought of them while you weren’t there.

[photo: “I got an idea!!!,” by Ky0n Cheng, public domaibn]