/***********************************************/ /* HEADER */

It's a fine line between living for the moment and being a sociopath.

Patricia B McConnell: For The Love Of A Dog.

Pema Chodron: The Places That Scare You

Daniel Wallace: Mr Sebastian & the Negro Magician

All paths lead to the same goal: to convey to others what we are. --Pablo Neruda

My Photo
Location: Oxfordshire, United Kingdom

100 things about me

Powered by Blogger

Tuesday, January 01, 2002

Shang High Life, #12

Shang High Life, #12
January 1, 2002

______Home For The Holidays_______

A recent US magazine article, titled “Who Would You Jump With?” recalled pictures of people holding hands as they jumped from WTC windows. It suggested you might look around your office. If you don’t see people whose hands you would choose to hold on the way down, maybe you’re working in the wrong place. That guideline likely chills many of us. Some because we look around and find our workplaces wanting. Others because we don’t want that depth of intimacy at work. A bunch of us wouldn’t know how to find it even if we did want it.

The premise of the article struck me as important, somehow. The implied ideal of intimacy at work doesn’t do much for me. Maybe you find it, maybe you don’t, just as in other realms of life. But we do extend our lives into our workplaces, and there we form relationships that have the potential to reach back into our lives and change them. We return to work every day. We take it for granted. Yet, it’s fundamentally important to our lives and our self-concepts. It’s a big part of our story about ourselves: the story we tell about who we are.

In all these ways, it’s a parallel to home and family. And I thought about how the article sort of pointed toward the notion of a professional home and a professional family. On top of that, home and family are topics the holidays bring front and center. So, it was a bit of a car crash that, prodded by the article, I was noodling on the intersection of work and home at about the same time as the holidays sent me into the friendly skies with my betrothed on a family mission. Geri had just arrived in Shanghai to live, for the first time, far from her home and family. We only had a few days in what will become our first home, together, before setting off to California.

Our mission was to get Geri and my family acquainted, albeit in a place that is not my home, unless you consider the US, generally, my home, because I was born there, in spite of my having lived less than half my life there. The trip involved two destinations, because I come from a “broken home” (a term so dated it is, by now, almost quaint). We visited my sister’s family at her home in northern California, joined by my fly-in father and step-mother. We then traveled south to be with my mother and step-father in southern California. Neither place was home for me, but both were home for the holidays. For Geri, there was no illusion of home, but a lot of hope about her new family.

On the way out of China, as we drove to Pudong Airport in Shanghai, I realized we would see a number of other ex-pats in the baggage-check line, on their way home. This added to the car-crash tangle of thoughts about home that was leading nowhere in particular. Ex-patriate means “away from home”. There are lots of other connotations, too: usually trappings of being paid by your employer to suffer the down-sides of being away from your motherland. Ex-pats are people who make a professional deal to leave home, create a temporary home that isn’t really home, and then go back home.

Ex-pats are temporary, transient. It takes a certain kind of person to sign up for that. It takes someone who doesn’t care about being away from home for a while. Or someone who wants to escape from home. Or someone who doesn’t have a home.

As a result, you meet fascinating people in international ex-pat communities. They are a bag of stories. You are much more likely to find a made-for-TV movie script in an ex-pat’s resumé than in that of your common corporate boffin. And I work with French, Belgian and Italian ex-pats, so cloak-and-dagger bodice-rippers are a dime a dozen.

Ex-pats are people who do not define their lives by their locations. Surprisingly uncommon among them are folks whose notions of home are fixed enough that they talk about “finishing this assignment and returning home”. Much more often, you find people who’ve been hopping countries for a while.

Some of them are amazing, mentally healthy folks who consider the world their oyster, regardless of where their feet are planted. Others are wandering, not finding. They are the lost, looking for a home. They are not easy to spot at first. They can be accountants or brand managers or head hunters. But the reason they are ex-pats is that they left their origins in search of something, or running from something, a something unknown perhaps even to them.

One of my acquaintances in Shanghai is a 40-year old woman, professional, cocoa-skinned, speaker of 5 languages. In addition to being intelligent, successful and street-smart, she is strikingly beautiful, attracting men half her age. None of them succeed. No suitor does.

Her least favourite topic is where she’s from. Where is home? Who are you? She has confided in me only a few of the reasons she hates these subjects, but it is clear that “home”, to her, is a place in which one is vulnerable, something she avoids. Her inability to make herself vulnerable makes her unable to find a partner, or to make a new home: her two dearest desires. It keeps her moving around the world looking for something she can’t allow herself to have. She doesn’t have an answer to the question of who she is. . . or of what she is doing.

I think about her in my soup of thoughts about home and family, as Geri and I speed toward the airport. I wonder, with some fear, if perhaps my travels have been the same as hers. I have moved around more than most, and have always thought myself lucky. I was born in a country that considers two weeks of traveling an extravagance. I have worked in more than a dozen countries in the last ten years, and lived in four, on three continents.

But maybe all that looking for adventure and bouncing around has just been avoidance, garishly dressed up in the philosophy that the one who dies with the most experiences wins. Perhaps I have, like my beautiful, intimacy-avoiding friend, been running from anything that began to look like home, even as I idealized finding one someday.

I hope not, but I don’t honestly know. I haven’t really had a home since I was sixteen. My answer to “Where are you from” is infamously convoluted. I usually answer with “When?” It’s a logical response, but it’s outside the bounds of expected answers, and confusion often ensues. But there really isn’t another way to get at what the person is asking about. Where have I lived longest? Where was I born? Where did I grow up? Where do my parents live? Where do I live, now? When you live in transit, where you’ve been isn’t necessarily where you’re from.

But if I have been running, I think I’ve stopped. I used to think “home” equaled “settled”. And settled definitely felt undesirable: averse to adventure and new experience. While I was globe-trotting with McKinsey, however, my idea of home changed. I realized that maybe home could be a place you returned between adventures, which isn’t far, I guess, from the old saw that home is a place you can go where they always have to take you in. That thought made “adventure” and “home” more compatible. With Geri, now, however, I reckon I’ve hit on the best idea of home, yet. Home is a shared adventure.

In the last two weeks, Geri moved from her home to China, and she and I have started setting up our home in Shanghai. We’ve stopped long enough to zip home to the US so she could meet my family in their homes. We are now sitting side-by-side on the plane home---to Shanghai, a place that is home to neither of us, but in which we will make our first connection with each other called a home. It will, for the rest of our lives, be the first place *we* called home, together. And that makes me feel like I’m at home more than I have in almost twenty years. Home is wherever she and I are together.

Wherever home is for you, I hope you’ve had peaceful holidays with people you love close around you, and that 2002 brings more love and happiness to your home, whether it’s a place or not.

Happy New Year to everyone.