“‘A writer is always in exile,’ she said, this is what pushes him or her to write. ‘It doesn’t have to be geographical.’” From Journalist Olivia Snaije’s interview with three Syrian and Iraqi women writers living in exile: Samar Yazbek, Inaam Kachachi, and Rosa Yassin Hassan. This is one of 33 shards of beautiful writing from women from all over the world, found here.
Writer in Exile
I almost think Writer in Exile would be a better title for this blog. Wednesday Missives has certainly never been, ahem, accurate. And exile – at least a psychic one, or as a way to think about my position in the world – fits beautifully. Exile means living foreign, and anyone who has read the blog knows I’ve lived pretty damn foreign since it began. For me the trope of a writer in exile also represents the distance between the writer and the written – as a traveler and as a person I’m on the outside looking in. No melancholy there, or at least not too much – I was like that before I started writing, and I’d be like that even if I never wrote another word.
Always the observer. That’s its own exile, the writer-as-outsider identity, the words a decent if imperfect attempt to connect me to what’s going on. The distance between the writer and the world is not great – sometimes just inches – but that last stretch may simply be impossible to cross.
The blog itself is a distancing mechanism – instead of living a moment, I’m thinking, Shall I write about this? From which angle? How can I make it funny or poignant or sad or truthful? How can I cross back over that divide between me and others – me and family, me and friends, me and love – and get them to feel what I’m feeling, even if just for a minute? Photography is the same, or it would be, perhaps, if I were any good at it. And isn’t that depiction a lot like how it feels to speak in a second language? Instead of living a moment, I am working to hear and respond and fit in, cross that divide.
Obviously, I’m not in exile. No one has tossed me out of my country. I didn’t go to Madrid because of (ahem) our Current Political Situation. I am here to be with someone I love and that’s a damn lucky spot to be in. But I identify.
So what is sparking these navel-gazing reflections? 101 blog posts, that’s what. It is stunning to see it from the Admin page of the blog. 101 posts. Not all that prolific, given that I’ve been at it seven years. Still, a chronicle of some things, perched a safe… distance apart. Almost like a journalist, eh, Aunt Virginia? (She would have to laugh at my 101 posts… how many articles and how many obits and how many pieces has she written? Try typing “Culver” into the Denver Post search box and you’ll find out.)
So without further ado, one of those flashbacky Greatest Hits or end of the sitcom season episodes! Do your best to laugh, willya?
I started writing this blog in Liberia, continued here, went on to Dubai, Cambodia here, here and here, saw NYC at the height of tourist season, ate my way across Georgia (the ex-Soviet one, not the grits one), drank my way around Buenos Aires, Argentina, saw the statue to Bill Clinton and late-season snow in Pristina, spent Father’s Day in Mexico, my birthday in Zimbabwe, then Afghanistan fearing I’d have no more birthdays (which was stupid, it wasn’t even dangerous!), and back to Zambia (where I nerdily noticed that I’d gone from the bottom of the nation alphabet (Zim) to the top of it (Afg) and back down again (Zam)).
I just stole that glass of raki from that stranger, somewhere in Kosovo. Plum liqueur.
At some point I bothered to ponder what it was like writing “at home” in DC and I wondered if I’d find work-life balance with a new job (which I obliviously wrote about again here not two years later. Fun trip down memory lane! It’s all new when you have a memory like a sieve!)
After writing my last Pakistan post about laundry, and moving to Colombia for a long stretch, I didn’t know what I’d write about anymore, if I wasn’t traveling. But life kept putting itself in my way, and eventually some of it made it to the blog. Vultures in the skies over Lima. Kyna and Lauren in Colombia with me. Helicoptering over the Panama Canal. Bike rides in Bogota. Look, there are 101 of them! I’m not going to link all 101, that’s WordPress’ job.
I’ve written a lot about writing on the blog, sharing chapters from my novel, query letters and pitches and synopses and perfect sentences designed to “hook” an agent, rejection letters. Now I’m on to short stories (here and here), and, for your multilingual reading pleasure, even in Spanish!
I promise more to come in these veins, as I sweat and strain over tiny assignments in my creative writing class in Madrid. Plots and characters and settings and arcs and all the ingredients of what I think makes beautiful writing. I’ll only ever achieve (and should only ever shoot for) the best of me, but I am going to list here some of the writers who I hope make it into my psychic influences:
- …the nutty magic of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and the atmospheric magic of Carlos Ruiz Zafon
- …the wit and honesty of family and home from Anne Lamott, Fannie Flagg and Judy Blume
- …the countercultural abandon of Tom Robbins
- …the irreverent twisted surreality of Jasper Fforde and Douglas Adams
- …the graceful timeliness of Harper Lee
- …the psychic pain and depth of Alice Walker and Ken Kesey
- …the masterful plotting and long-term memory of J.K. Rowling
- …the quotidian brilliance of Caitlin Moran and Alain de Botton
- …the moody characterizations of Elizabeth George and Fred Vargas
- …the cutting and yet gentle humor of Mark Twain