Saturday, November 26, 2011

a strong but silent culture...TCKs and ATCKs

I've been working on my essays to go to that Midwestern school, and one of the things I've been working on is how to get TCKs (Third Culture Kids) and libraries in the same box.

And there are no journal articles. And there are anecdotal events on the internet that happened two years ago in international schools in places like Israel. And librarians in international schools don't even know that a grown up TCK is an ATCK (adult third culture kid) not a TCG (third culture grown-up.)

Do you even know what a TCK is? Have I ever even written about this on this blog? Not likely. Why? It's not because (as I thought earlier) that we don't have a strong culture. No, it's because our culture is one of silence and white lies.

Denizen, an online magazine for TCKs, says it best in the article, "White Lies TCKs Tell:"

Within the Third Culture Kid (TCK) community, distaste for the “Where are you from?” strikes a common chord. It’s indicative of the confused identity that comes innately with a TCK status. According to The Washington Post, TCKs make an average of eight major moves before graduating from high school. It’s what separates us from immigrants or casual travelers, because instead of developing our identity and worldview in one locale and then leaving, we develop these characteristics while in constant transit. This is why, according to Pollock and Van Reken’s “Third Culture Kids”, people can be former expats or former foreign service officers, but never a former Third Culture Kid. We take our world with us wherever we go.

But not everyone else understands this. And this is why we do a “little dance” every time we’re asked about our identity. It’s not only because we’re unsure ourselves, but also because we’re unsure of the reactions we’ll get.

I've been reading my way through Dakota by Kathleen Norris. This morning's bit brought me to talking about why there are so few Dakotan writers. Since I have been wondering why there are so few TCK writers, I perked up. And it came to me. No one is telling our stories, so we don't know how to tell them. We are a strong culture, but one of silence. We want to fit in. So we don't tell you that we moved between five different countries before we were 12. We don't tell you we had household help when we lived in developing countries. We don't tell you that we're not sure if we watched TV shows like "Little House on the Prairie" in English or Spanish. Because we don't want to stick out. We just want to fit in, now that we are on native soil.

So we don't start our stories with, well, when I lived in Bonn, the river flooded every spring, because we have been burned. What was it like? Did you learn German while you were there? Did you see the Berlin Wall? We don't say, well, in the second house in Tegucigalpa was really modern. It had a garage on the street level, steps up to a small terrace, and then steps up to a big patio. I remember my grandmother sitting there, reading me from Lad, A Dog, when she came to visit. Then you went in the door, and the living room was on the left. It had a huge cathedral ceiling, and on the side, steps to the dining room. If you went to the right when you came in, you came to the "study" which was really just where the piano and the TV were. Oh, and my loft. The only place where the maid wasn't allowed, although one year I came back from summer vacation and it was clear she'd been up there to straighten. And then I can't finish telling you about the house because I feel the need to explain why we had household help, something that is very rare in middle class America. We had one live-in maid, and one who came occasionally to do other things. In Honduras, you had to boil the water before you drank it. And we often had bomb scares at school. We'd all file out of the school and sit on the front lawn while the building was searched. And we'd sit on the lawn and look at the bumps in the grass. Do you suppose that is a bomb? And some kids bought mango in vinegar with salt in baggies from the man on the other side of the fence. I never did. (I was a real goody two shoes.)

Can you imagine as a seventh grader, explaining all that to your new best friend, whose parents were first generation immigrants from Greece and whose mother was a seamstress and whose father managed a restaurant? You'd sound like a Trump. And that was the last thing you wanted. Blend. Blend. Blend. I didn't have any friends who were TCKs in junior high, high school, or even college. There are TCKs in Pittsburgh, but I only sort of know them, and I don't know if they remember that I am one. All of them are MKs, a subset of the TCK culture: Missionary kids. I'm a diplomat's daughter. So I'm not a military Brat (another subset), or an MK. So what am I? I'm a diplomat's daughter, which is just as explainable as the daughter of an economist. It's not the sort of thing you can explain in ten words or less. A dentist? People know what that is. A seamstress? yep. A teacher? yes. But what the heck does a diplomat do? Well...and then you get into a long convoluted conversation and people's eyes glaze over.

And what I've been finding, is that the writers who ARE TCKs write about either/or. They write about the folk stories of the countries they've lived in, or they write about the country they are from. There is very little fiction about kids who straddle two cultures, trying to figure out who they are as they move from country to country.

I've written enough for now. I need to sleep. But this has been eating me for the past week, and I needed to get it out.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

My mother, the theologian

So. With all the "living" I've been doing, hanging on by the seat of my pants, getting by on the skin of my teeth, my contemplative life has been pretty much nil.

Instead of reading and praying and going for walks, I pick up the phone to call my mom or Sally in Michigan. If they aren't home, I try Emily in Russia, or Lilly in Maryland. I get online. I tweet, or play game upon game of Free Cell. (I did play solitaire with real cards for a while, but the colder weather necessitates a comforter on my bed and it's too bumpy for real cards.) I watch episode upon episode of Bones.

But this morning, when I chatted with my mother, as I tried to dust the sand from my sleepy eyes, she was in the midst of preparing for Bible Study later in the morning, and so she told me all about Psalm 124. They are doing a Eugene Peterson* study, so the translation below is his:

A Pilgrim Song of David
1-5 If God hadn't been for us —all together now, Israel, sing out!—
If God hadn't been for us
when everyone went against us,
We would have been swallowed alive
by their violent anger,
Swept away by the flood of rage,
drowned in the torrent;
We would have lost our lives
in the wild, raging water.

6 Oh, blessed be God!
He didn't go off and leave us.
He didn't abandon us defenseless,
helpless as a rabbit in a pack of snarling dogs.

7 We've flown free from their fangs,
free of their traps, free as a bird.
Their grip is broken;
we're free as a bird in flight.

8 God's strong name is our help,
the same God who made heaven and earth.

She said, the point of the psalm is that even when the turkeys tried to get us down, God was with us, and we kept on going. (Those weren't her exact words.) So, as I sat down at the kitchen table with my Grape Nuts and raisins, I got out my Jerusalem Bible, and then my Timothy Botts' book of the Psalms. (Do you know Timothy's** work? Yowsa. His calligraphy is phenomenal.)

And so I sat there, reading Psalm 124, 127*** (if God doesn't build the house)... and ate my breakfast and thought about my mother. Who has been a nurturing force in my life--all of my friends have been. And how finally, I have gotten to the place where I have not one but two scriptures open on my breakfast table.

These are not easy times. I am racing at breakneck to come up with a plausible research project to wow the folks in the Midwest who will determine if I get to start my PhD in the fall. I was pulled off of Mother Goose duty, (where I sing to babies) for the next two weeks, when the session ends, because there were complaints that I seemed not into it, unhappy. And my boss, rather than reprimand me, decided that I have a lot on my plate (oh, did I mention recovery from sinus surgery?) to say, take a break. We'll reevaluate in the new year. Here, I have been off my game, thinking as I look at a sea of young ones and their mothers, grandmothers, fathers, will this be my last fall of singing to them? How they ARE my sunshine. And that sadness came through. And so it's relief, sort of, because yes, I could tell I was off my game, but also, again, sadness, as there is, when you're pulled off the game and someone else is put in.

If God hadn't been with us,

We would have lost our lives
in the wild, raging water.

And I haven't been lost. I haven't been washed away. I'm still here, still plugging, still standing. For now, that is enough.

(I have put the links at the end, in hopes that you will go to them, but to prevent you from leaving the post before finishing reading.)
*Eugene Peterson, A long obedience in the same direction.
**Timothy Botts: Online Gallery
***Psalm 127:1-2, from

Thursday, November 03, 2011

things i will say...

...when I become a professor at library school.

Raise your hands if you like books. Good, good. Raise your hands if you like people. Good, good.
Now put them down and think about this: do you like people when they are nice to you or do you like grumpy people? Because that's what it is to be a "people person." You like people even when they are not giving you the correct information, when they are acting ignorant, when they need help irrationally. This cannot be taught. If you do not like those people, you might as well decide now to become something else when you grow up. Because even if you become a cataloger and sit in your basement office, you will have to deal with librarians. And sometimes, you will have to sit at the reference desk.


I dream about these things, I do. I wake up and create these scenarios, of things I will tell my students. Since I most likely will never have a son or daughter, and won't be taking my nieces for long drives in Pittsburgh, I will probably never be able to explain why you change lanes after the U haul (because people turn in that lane) or why if you get a green light, you keep going and turn at the next intersection, not at Elfinwild. But if I get into grad school, I will get a chance to share my from the front lines info about working in a library.

Yesterday I watched a really awful "customer service" video. It was one of those 17 minute deals, short enough so that you could pause it a few times to talk about things and still not go over a half hour, something you could show before you had a meeting. I sort of remembered that I had watched it before when I saw the accompanying worksheet. This guy was trying to cover every transaction in a library and show the right and wrong ways. I bet this guy has a similar video for cardiac nurses. Since I'm trying to watch these videos and write reviews as a form of comp time (read: work in my PJs) as I recover from the sinus surgery, I decided to research some YouTubes. I found a 6 minute video that gave the same basic information, but gave heart reasons. Because in the end, customer service is not about the 3 P's or remembering mnemonic phrases. It is about the heart. Do you like your job enough to respect the people you work for and with? Will you help the unhelpful? Because if no, then maybe you should make a career change.

So yes, I'm recovering from the surgery. I worked 4.5 hours at work and 1 hour at home, which included doing Mother Goose (where I sing with babies and their mothers) twice. This morning, after the most bizarre mix of dreams, I woke up at 9:43. Since I nodded off around 12:30, that would be over 9 hours. Which is about what I've been sleeping, lately. Roughly 9 hours.

I would write more, but I actually have a lot of errands before work today.
  • Call admissions person.
  • Go to Pharmacy, ask about a medication
  • Go to Pscyhiatrist appt, ask about that medication
  • Drive to work
  • Lunch (somewhere in there.)
  • Work at least 4 hours.
And when I come home, a fresh new episode of BONES, the premiere of the seventh season!!

(Bones is what I watched as a part of my recovery. There was one channel I watched, the bones only bones only bones. Somehow it soothed me.)