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I Want to Be Carried

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Sunday, 10th April, 2016
13:13
Longing

(This post is part 2 of the Brooklyn Chronicles: reflections of my ex-pat life, based on John Crowley’s 2015 movie Brooklyn.)

This is not a critical analysis of Brooklyn, John Crowley’s 2015 movie. Nor is it a love letter to Nick Hornby (who wrote the screenplay) and Colm Tóibín, although that could be its unintended destination. This is a journey, a reflection of how Brooklyn touched me, and the associations it pulled and triggered from the depths of my ex-patriot personal experience.

I am not an Irish woman leaving home in 1951 for the foreign shores of America, drifting alone into the streets of Brooklyn. But if there were ever a more apt description of what the past few years of my life has felt like, I guess I might have written it myself. In lieu of that, I prescribe this movie to anyone who has ever experienced, witnessed, or survived the crippling plague of displacement, homesickness, doubt, and wonder.

There should be very few spoilers, insomuch as I assume you might figure out that Brooklyn is a movie about a girl who emigrates to America from Ireland. If that’s a spoiler, sorry!)

*

I wrote four poems when we lived in Amsterdam. Only one of them was about life there.

I Want to Be Carried
Emma Sedlak

Today, my third floor flat
has become an Everest:
an unrepentant ascent.
So much of living
in a foreign country
is about swimming upstream.

The gulls are tethered
to the winds, buoyed
in the air like puppets.
Below, withdrawn
and lonely houseboats
strain against their moorings,
sink back steadily into the drift.

Not everything is difficult;
moments of ease wash
over like headlights.
I sit backwards on buses
because I want to be carried.
Out on the sleeping streets,
breezes lift the leaves,
help them fall.

When we lived in Amsterdam, everything was in a foreign language. The Dutch speak perfect English (often better than we do!), but we shopped at markets for the first few months to avoid the inevitable linguistic breakdown of trying to decode Dutch labels in the grocery store. At least we could recognise vegetables in real life without having to know what they were called.

At the market, we had a Cheese Guy. He was awesome, but didn’t speak very much English. Since cheese was, and is, very important to me, I was determined not to let a mere difference in language  deter my mission.

“Are you still trying to teach me Dutch?” I ask him.

“Yes – trying.”

And then it hits me:

There are so many things I want to say to him that I’ll never be able to.

— from ‘Vier – Negentig‘ (December, 2011)

Learning takes a lot of energy. Learning places, faces, routines, gestures, customs, language, rituals, politenesses. Learning how and when to admit: “I have no idea what you’re talking about. What does that mean?” Learning to translate internally, learning to observe, and watch, and assimilate, and participate.

This is especially true living somewhere with a new language. But even when we speak in English, a common language doesn’t solve my sense of displacement.

*

I still love Surry Hills when I walk through it. It feels like my first Sydney home. We lived in temporary business accommodation on Crown Street for two weeks when we arrived (read: short-term apartment rentals). Surry Hills library was the first Sydney library I met. There’s a 5-block stretch of Crown Street embedded in my memory of places – it was the first part of Sydney I met. It’s true: first impressions absolutely dig deep into the long-term memory and lodge there.

I don’t know what I’m trying to recognise. I’m just glad when part of the new city jumps out as a place I’ve been before.

*

When I went to the doctor’s for the first time in Randwick, I met Dr. Brittain. Ironically, his name instilled a sense of comfort in me. Then, I discovered he had actually practiced in the UK, and new quite a bit about the US medical system. At one of our appointments, he tried to explain to me where I might fill my prescription, then said: “I forget. You don’t even know where to buy newspapers right now.”

It wasn’t condescension. It was a clear explanation. I was grateful that I happened to find the perfect doctor who could explain everything to me in terms of how it related – or differed – from the UK and US medical systems. Co-pays. Insurance. Prescriptions. Appointments. Referrals. He knew how to translate for me, and it helped me figure out more questions to ask.

*

When Andrew turned 30 this year, I wanted to record a video of 30 friends and family members sending him love and birthday wishes. But it just happened to be a few months after we had moved to Sydney. And I got many more volunteers than I expected; all of it accumulated into a 45-minute video.

When I showed it to him, Andrew got through the first 5 minutes and then left the room crying (I’m really glad I wasn’t recording a reaction video). I thought it would be a salve to help the transition of being far, far away from almost everyone we love. It didn’t help. It was too soon.

This year for my birthday Andrew took me for a drink at Baxters, a Sydney whisky bar. I teared up for a few minutes. I miss Scotland. Almost every day. I hadn’t expected to be sharing my birthday with Scotland. The longing was temporarily overwhelming, and then we went back to celebrating.

*

I’ve been an ex-pat for how many years? That’s a difficult question for me to answer, because being an ex-pat (“ex-patriot”) relies on a central place to call home. Which country is the one I’ve departed from? I introduce myself as Scottish-American, when in Sydney I don’t really sound like either of those. Recently, people have told me that my British accent is sounding very Australian. But there’s still so many Aussie references that fly straight over my head.

The act of living in different countries affords great chances to adapt, to learn new places, becoming fluent in new contexts. I may only speak English with a smattering of Dutch and Italian — but I’m multi-lingual in cultures and how to set up foundations.

In Scotland, our landlord wanted to put the flat on the market to sell it. Knowing that we would be moving to Australia in 6 months, we packed up and moved to another area of Edinburgh. We were packing up to move apartments, but it was like a trial version of the packing up we did 6 months later to move countries. It’s not something we did on purpose, but it became a good exercise in letting go, paring down, distilling to essentials (even though we still moved to Australia with too much stuff. I would blame my books, but literature can never do wrong in my eyes).

All of this came with the inherent echo of: I’ve done this before. It both instills confidence, and feels discouraging. Another new city to get lost in. Another culture to decode. Another community to build, brick by brick, person by person. Another time zone to keep track of.

When I get exhausted by the constant learning, the constant adapting, I look for small ways to let myself be carried. I sit backwards on the bus. I spend whole days in bookstores. I have tea and lunch with other ex-pat friends and I ask them to temporarily help me carry the international burden of separation. The hardship of missing what we left, as it weighs against the gift of being where we are.

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An Unreasonable Cover Letter

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(If this cover letter had a title, it would be: All I’ve ever wanted is to live a life of purpose; and yet, here I am reading the CliffNotes.)[i]

 

“Relationship is the key to knowledge,
and creativity is the key to the whole cosmos.”

– Matthew Fox, The Reinvention of Work

Dear Unreasonable Group,

Last week, my friend Ben gave me Bruce Mau’s Incomplete Manifesto for Growth. It was our first coffee date: we’d barely known each other a week. But it was important to him.[ii] And from our first meeting at the LinkFestival conference he got a good enough view of who I was to think I might resonate with it too.[iii]

I scanned it; words jumped out at me (think: Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind, or Cumberbatch’s Sherlock). Flipping to the second page I told him, “This definitely resonates.”

“What the hell?” he asked, “You haven’t even read it!”

I went back to the first page, and pointed at number 11: “_____________. Intentionally left blank. Allow space for the ideas you haven’t had yet, and for the ideas of others.”

I said, “I think this is genius. I can already tell it’s for me.”

If I were to write my own job description, it would include the importance of intuitive reading. I tell people that a book might be made for reading from beginning to end, but that’s not what my mind was made for. I cross-read, cross-reference, ideate, connect, and bridge narrative gaps. This job description would be a job for someone who sees both the forest and the trees, and can oscillate back and forth between large-scale vision and specific details. My zone of genius is in diving deep. Into multiple ideas. Simultaneously. With mental K’Nex sets.

Some of my unconventional skills: picking out grammar and spelling mistakes before you’ve even written them; pattern recognition; reading people; practicing Circling and other inter-subjective relational meditations[iv]; taking extensive notes; making a list and checking it thrice so all the details are covered.

Over the years, I’ve come to recognize my unique creative perspective for what it is: an asset. I don’t see content like other people might. I’m an avid reader, a professional writer, and a creative thinker – but these are just the forefront of a very different set of foundational skills. I’m a philosopher, which shapes the way I inquire, interrogate, search, question, and revolutionize possible solutions. I’ve also worked as a professional singer and actress, which I use in coaching presentation, delivery, speech and performance skills. Pair performance with philosophy, and I can watch a presentation with one lens for content, and another lens for emotional narrative design.[v]

Also, I can read a page in less than 30 seconds.

The technical things: I’ve recently worked as Lead Content Developer and Editor at Get Storied, the online school of Business Storytelling. Using my experience of 10+ years in editing, I developed membership programs, executed online events, produced team communications, and created strategic content. I demonstrated exceptional writing, editing, verbal communication, networking with external contributors and teachers, and negotiation skills with a remote team. I helped Get Storied create and maintain a consistent voice, tone, and house style, while constantly bringing our attention to our own brand guidelines. The more I read about your work at Unreasonable, the more I want to offer my skills and support to your journey.[vi]

Working for Get Storied also afforded me a background in Business Storytelling. I was responsible for curating their in-house library of assets and resources (my inner librarian is showing); this has provided me with many insights in the most effective use of storytelling in branding and marketing.[vii] Stories are how we stay human. What greater hope can we have for the future of business than that it might embrace our quality of being-as-humans-in-the-world, instead of merely consumers?

In the current digital climate, I don’t think we have time for less effective solutions. I do pay attention to a company’s tone and grammar, because it tells me whether they value an editor. I’ve spent most of my time pitching for the importance of innovative content. I’d love to focus more of my energy in actually building it, rather than fighting for it. I want to disrupt the stories we tell about things we think are impossible. I deal in potentials, and I’m always driving to a place of evolution.

How I work: I demonstrate consistency in on-going projects. I’m able to switch to fast-twitch skills for deadline sprints and tight production schedules. My roles in app development (Poptime) and a technology education start-up (One Month) allowed me to collaborate with graphic designers, coders, tech specialists, directors, product managers, and user experience designers. In short: I play very well with others. I know the value of having a posse. Especially if that posse is comprised of people who know a lot about what I might not.

As a professional researcher, scribe, and polymath, I’m applying for the position of Associate Editor and Staff Writer with you at Unreasonable. I feel like you are my people. I think we both believe in skill and magic. What a fortuitous combination.

As an inter-personal human being, I’d like to come by for a cup of tea and play with your dogs. But I’d settle for Skype or my next assignment.

Best,

Dr. Emma Sedlak[viii]

*

[i] Let me just tell you now: this cover letter has endnotes. You don’t have to read them: most of the important stuff happens before this. If anyone in the office a) knows the Enneagram, and b) is a number 5 (let’s say, George? Arya?), feel free to share. George and Arya might get a kick out this.

[ii] I thrive on knowing what is important to people. I’m also great in creative tissue ideation (yes, I just coined that term). If I know one book you like, chances are good that I can pull out my biblotherapy prescription pad and offer up something new. (This is one of many perks I bring to the office. Another: I’m British. So I make excellent tea.)

[iii] Tech + design + social change = LinkFestival (put on by Engineers Without Borders)

[iv] I would explain Circling, but you’re from Boulder. And you deal in Radical Transparency. So I’ll bet money that I’m preaching to the choir. That’s actual money, not interSubjective relational money.

[v] Okay, this is important. I think stories and human-centered design are what will drive the new economy forward. If we’re not telling stories properly (in words, in person, about our vision, about ourselves), how can we cut to the heart of authentic connection? And isn’t that what any business is about: relationship?

[vi] Yes, this absolutely includes the vision of your Manifesto. I completely geeked out over all of that.

[vii] I just hit 500,000 followers on Pinterest. #Humblebrag (Just kidding. I hate hashtags. At least, that one). But I value good visual stories.

[viii] Don’t be put off by the “Dr.” I slaved for three years to be able to use it, so of course it’s on all my credit cards. When we board planes, my husband reminds me: “Don’t raise your hand. You can’t heal people with poetry.”

Oh no? Challenge accepted.

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Value Beyond Money

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Thursday, 10th March, 2016
22:01
Fulfilled

(This post is part 1 of the Brooklyn Chronicles: reflections based on John Crowley’s 2015 movie Brooklyn.)

This is not a critical analysis of Brooklyn, John Crowley’s 2015 movie. Nor is it a love letter to Nick Hornby (who wrote the screenplay) and Colm Tóibín, although that could be its unintended destination. This is a journey, a reflection of how Brooklyn touched me, and the associations it pulled and triggered from the depths of my ex-patriot personal experience.

I am not an Irish woman leaving home in 1951 for the foreign shores of America, drifting alone into the streets of Brooklyn. But if there were ever a more apt description of what the past few years of my life has felt like, I guess I might have written it myself. In lieu of that, I prescribe this movie to anyone who has ever experienced, witnessed, or survived the crippling plague of displacement, homesickness, doubt, and wonder.

There should be very few spoilers, insomuch as I assume you might figure out that Brooklyn is a movie about a girl who emigrates to America from Ireland. If that’s a spoiler, sorry!)

*

Before Eilis leaves for America, her sister Rose stands in her bedroom helping her pack.

“I can’t believe that’s all you own,” she says, as they both look at Eilis’ single suitcase. (In the book, she has two suitcases – and she’s unendingly concerned about how she will negotiate dragging them on her own. While the movie prioritises the sparseness of her possessions, Book-Eilis’ two-suitcase problem of autonomy is one I know intimately.)

You can tell Rose is upset, perhaps ashamed, that Eilis doesn’t own more clothes, nicer things. It’s not her fault. While Rose has a full-time job, Eilis can’t find one. Of course she wouldn’t have the money for these things.

Rose says, “If it were that easy, I would spend my every last penny on you. But I can’t buy you a future – the kind of life you need.”*

That line was a Nick Hornby addition. In Tióbín’s book, Rose barely discusses the move with Eilis (yes, I have read this far!); instead, she organises the emigration with Father Flood and eventually gets her mother on board.

But I’m grateful for this moment in the movie. I think it fleshes out the narrative motivations more explicitly.

I am not offering you more money, or a better job, or nicer clothes. I did this so you could have a future.

I imagine that was a typical refrain in the emigrant-immigrant experience: where – somewhere over a stretch of land or expanse of sea – a shift occurs from being someone who leaves one country, to someone arriving in another. We are no longer emigrating. We are no longer what we have left behind. Now we are immigrants, already  changed by our destination – even before we arrive.

We think migration is a pattern of history. But it happens all the time. Fleeing war, chasing stronger economies, looking for global opportunities, international transfers, to move closer to family in other countries, to seek out new horizons.

I think what Rose tells Eilis is important. Historically, we connect migration with economics, with the ability to make more money, to escape famine or scarcity of employment. But it’s too easy to associate migrations with opportunity: new jobs, new land, new families, new chances to make money, to have a better life than the one left behind. That was never the whole picture.

“If that was all this was, I would spend every last penny I earned on you.”

“If this were only about money, I would give you all of mine to keep you here.”

“If only this were about money. But it’s not. It’s about so much more.”

“What you need most deeply is nothing I can buy for you.”

“I can’t pay for what this experience will give you.”

Over the years, I’ve moved away from the economy of things, into embracing the experience economy. Part of this comes from being married to a Service Designer, who often works in User Experience (UX) design, whose hands are elbow-deep in intangible projects. It’s hard enough to explain to people: “What do you mean he designs services? Designs experiences?

Except, once you start to subscribe to this philosophy – it makes perfect sense.

There is more to life than what you can pay for.

I’ve seen the humourous slogans (“If you think money can’t buy happiness, you haven’t been to a bookstore”). I don’t care about new clothes, a big house, a big car, the newest gadgets – but new books make me swoon. I do get it.

And I know money makes things easier. Sometimes I get caught up in the comparison game. Not the “keeping-up-with-the-Smiths-and-Joneses,” but the overwhelming context of: A just bought a new car, B just had a baby, C just bought a house, D just paid off all his student loans. Georgia told me a few days ago: “Don’t be jealous of other people’s money. Everyone has their own financial journey.” I’m trying. But I’m surrounded by people achieving great things, and a lot of those achievements are financial milestones.

It’s taken me years to let go of that, and to clarify what my own financial goals are. Am I someone who wants a big house? To take nice vacations? To buy new clothes and go to expensive events? Some of this feels like excess to me (although I know I have a lot of leeway to say that, when I’ve been lucky enough to live in some highly-desirable vacation destinations).

Do I want a home? Yes. Do I walk by the houses and apartments by Coogee and Clovelly, and imagine what my own library would look like with that sea view? Absolutely. But I’ve done the same thing on the Isle of Skye, on Iona, in Tobermoray (in Tobermoray, we even discussed the investment opportunity of buying a Post Office that was going out of business). I have visions for what I would like to build, what I would like my space and environment to look like, and where I would like to turn the key at the end of the day and call home.

But it’s not at the top of my priority list. It’s not an immediate, right-now goal. And neither are the new clothes, or the fancy car (upcoming blog series: Why we haven’t owned a car for 5 years…), or the luxury items, jewelry, gadgets… I’ve even put a cap on book purchases.

It’s true: we moved to Sydney for a new job. But the choice to emigrate doesn’t just come down to economics. It can’t. That would be putting a price tag on how much money it would take for me to leave my friends, my family, the city I’ve called home, the country I love. For Eilis, it would be like putting a price tag on how much it would take for her to leave everything she has ever known.

No amount of money can fully propel us into the unknown. What urges us to leave? It’s the call of possibility, the spirit of discovery, the lure of building something new. Some people weigh that up against the world they know, and decide to stay.

We decided to take the leap.

Last night, Andrew and I biked home from a workout in Clovelly and stopped by Coogee Beach in the twilight. With a soundtrack of guitar buskers, squawking seagulls, and the waves crashing on the beach, we sat under the stars to think.

“What are we doing here?” he asked me.

“I don’t know.” I admitted. It’s a question I’ve asked myself constantly over the past 10 months. “But it’s beautiful.”

“What’s beautiful?”

“This,” I said. The scene in front of us. “The beach, and the sky, and the atmosphere. The Australian lifestyle. The chance that we have to be here at all.”

Why are we here? We didn’t come here for the money. We didn’t come here for the job, although it often looks that way. We seem to have come here with a large shipment of uncertainty.

I tell my students all the time: “I’m less concerned about you having the right answers. I’m more concerned about you asking the best questions.”

Sometimes I wonder whether we came here looking for better questions. The kind without a price tag. The kind that have no immediate answers.

 

 

* (All quotes from the movie are pretty much summarized as per my memory and references from scribbled notes in the cinema darkness. Apologies for any inaccuracies.)

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A poem can travel far…

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       ‘Presence is something you sense and know, but cannot grasp. It engages us but we can never capture its core; it remains somehow elusive. All the great art forms strive to create living icons of presence. Poets try to cut the line of a poem so that it lives and dances as itself. Poems are some of the most amazing presences in the world. I am always astounded that poems are willing to lie down and sleep inside the flat, closed pages of books. If poems behaved according to their essence, they would be out dancing on the seashore or flying to the heavens or trying to rinse out the secrets of the mountains.

      Reading brings the presence of other times, characters and cultures into your mind. Reading is an intimate event. When you read a great poem, it reaches deep into regions of your life and memory and reverberates back to you forgotten or invisible regions of your experience. In a great poem you find again lost or silent territories of feeling or thought which were out of your reach. A poem can travel far into your depths to retrieve your neglected longing.’

– from Eternal Echoes: Exploring our hunger to belong by John O’Donohue

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This blog is a novel…

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I’ve discovered (been directed towards) Autostraddle.com. It’s pretty much great. One of the founders of the site is a fantastic writer (the other contributors are as well), and I stumbled upon her personal blog this morning. A quote from a recent post:

     ‘This blog is a novel about a heroine in her twenties lost in a giant dirty/beautiful city. She’s swallowing hearts and breaking fingers. She’s giving herself daily emotional autopsies and they’re always inconclusive. — She’s excessively maudlin at odd hours and doesn’t know what to do when her shoe breaks on 14th street. 


     Now I’m in California. It’s another chapter, or it’s an Afterword that might never end. The Neverending Afterword.’

– by Riese, posted on This Girl Called Automatic Win

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This is the island I love.

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Isle of Iona, 2014

Isle of Iona, 2014

This is Thisby, I think. This is the island I love. I suddenly feel I know everything about the island and everything about me all at the same time, only I know that it will go away as soon as we stop…

… Something wild and old spins inside me, but I don’t have any words.’ (368)

– from The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

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6/15

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My Myers-Briggs personality type is an interesting and complex question.
I took the test a few times during my undergraduate career, for psychology classes and for placement within the Resident Advisor program. Each time, my scores oscillated back and forth between being an ENFP and an INFP (introvert/extrovert-intuition-feeling-perception). I was at the point in my life where my personality was evolving from wanting to be in the limelight and the center of attention toward more humble acknowledgment of the value of silence and reflection. I’m not surprised the results changed.

Today’s results are even more interesting. My introverted nature has been fully cemented, but now I seem to be undergoing another, entirely different shift. I took the test and scored INFP — no surprise here until I realized that I had left one question unanswered. The test told me that my “results could be compromised”!! (Clearly no over-reaction there). I went back, answered the question, and my results suddenly shifted to INFJ. Really? I’ve never scored for judgment over perception before in my life. That’s when I realized I must be in the middle of another kind of personality shift, so I read both results closely.

Here are the phrases that resonated in each category:

 

INFP (The Idealist):

“INFPs never seem to lose their sense of wonder. One might say they see life through rose-colored glasses. It’s as though they live at the edge of a looking-glass world where mundane objects come to life, where flora and fauna take on near-human qualities.”

“INFPs live primarily in a rich inner world of introverted Feeling. Being inward-turning, the natural attraction is away from world and toward essence and ideal. This introversion of dominant Feeling, receiving its data from extraverted intuition, must be the source of the quixotic nature of these usually gentle beings.”

“INFPs, more than other iNtuitive Feeling types, are focused on making the world a better place for people. Their primary goal is to find out their meaning in life. What is their purpose? How can they best serve humanity in their lives? They are idealists and perfectionists, who drive themselves hard in their quest for achieving the goals they have identified for themselves.”

“INFPs are highly intuitive about people. They rely heavily on their intuitions to guide them, and use their discoveries to constantly search for value in life. They are on a continuous mission to find the truth and meaning underlying things. Every encounter and every piece of knowledge gained gets sifted through the INFP’s value system, and is evaluated to see if it has any potential to help the INFP define or refine their own path in life.”

 

INFJ (The Protector):

“Beneath the quiet exterior, INFJs hold deep convictions about the weightier matters of life.”

“INFJs have a knack for fluency in language and facility in communication. In addition, nonverbal sensitivity enables the INFJ to know and be known by others intimately.”

“Writing, counseling, public service and even politics are areas where INFJs frequently find their niche.”

“Their amazing ability to deduce the inner workings of the mind, will and emotions of others gives INFJs their reputation as prophets and seers. Unlike the confining, routinizing nature of introverted sensing, introverted intuition frees this type to act insightfully and spontaneously as unique solutions arise on an event by event basis.”

“INFJs are twice blessed with clarity of vision, both internal and external. Just as they possess inner vision which is drawn to the forms of the unconscious, they also have external sensing perception which readily takes hold of worldly objects.”

“As an INFJ, your primary mode of living is focused internally, where you take things in primarily via intuition. Your secondary mode is external, where you deal with things according to how you feel about them, or how they fit with your personal value system.

INFJs are gentle, caring, complex and highly intuitive individuals. Artistic and creative, they live in a world of hidden meanings and possibilities. Only one percent of the population has an INFJ Personality Type, making it the most rare of all the types.”

“INFJs place great importance on having things orderly and systematic in their outer world. They put a lot of energy into identifying the best system for getting things done, and constantly define and re-define the priorities in their lives. On the other hand, INFJs operate within themselves on an intuitive basis which is entirely spontaneous. They know things intuitively, without being able to pinpoint why, and without detailed knowledge of the subject at hand. They are usually right, and they usually know it. Consequently, INFJs put a tremendous amount of faith into their instincts and intuitions. This is something of a conflict between the inner and outer worlds, and may result in the INFJ not being as organized as other Judging types tend to be. Or we may see some signs of disarray in an otherwise orderly tendency, such as a consistently messy desk.”

Ok, forget it. This entire description is me. I was going to keep copying out the points that resonated with me, until I realized this entire page is applicable.

What’s interesting is how the introverted and extroverted qualities flipflop for each case:

INFP: Introverted feeling and sensing; extroverted intuition and thinking.

INFJ: Introverted intuition and thinking; extroverted feeling and sensing.

*

Now I’m really glad I filled out that last question.

 

 

(websites used:)

http://typelogic.com/infj.html
http://www.personalitypage.com/INFP.html