Facing The Unfamiliar

Maybe I'm a little old-fashioned, but I still feel like a blog is synonymous with a diary. I think it's because I came of age during the days of livejournal. Don't get me wrong--I love that blogs are used for so much more than just sharing thoughts and feelings, and sometimes this blog is one of those blogs. But for the most part, the posts you see here at KatieLiWriter.com are going to be updates about what I'm working on and what I'm thinking about.

I haven't posted a more personal blog in a while, so unless you follow me on social media, you might not know that I live here now:

 

 

I've been in Kansas City, Missouri for one month. Here's what I like so far: the dramatic skies. The sweet, earthy smell. The thunderstorms. The blue dusk. The rolling hills. The fluffy, almost-tropical leaves on the trees. The food (omg the food). How parking is free. The way the city soundtrack is a mix of street performers and trickling fountains. And, more pragmatically, the cost of living. Our new apartment is considerably less expensive than our place in Boston--I guess I should say it's actually affordable. AND it comes with a home office. Behold:

 

I know that this city has a lot to offer, but in the first month here, I haven't really ventured out too much. After unpacking, I burrowed into my new office, jumping back into revisions for Ladies In Space and preparing to share new work (including my latest post at The Huffington Post, featuring Jenny Bravo and a bunch of other awesome authors). 

I've been so busy with work that I haven't given too much thought to the fact that I live a thousand miles away from the familiar. That people don't use words here like 'Gloucester' or 'tonic' (although the old Boston vernacular is disappearing at home, too). But in the lulls between work, when I step outside my apartment and drive to run errands and look at the streets around me, I realize--I'm very far from home.

Last month was Immigrant Heritage Month. This fact was not lost on me while I was packing-moving-then-unpacking. I was giving a lot of thought to what it means to be from a place, what it means to leave a place, and what it means to be somewhere new, where you aren't sure if you fit in yet, or if you'll ever belong--or if you'll even want to belong.

I remember when my mom told me that my parents were selling their house and moving away from Boston, I was devastated. I felt like part of my heritage, my identity, was being ripped away. It wasn't just where I was from that I was losing--but the person I was supposed to become. 

I was supposed to someday inherit that house, and grow old there, and die there--the same way that my grandparents and great-grandparents did. The same way that my mom was supposed to. I was a girl from Boston--and I wasn't supposed to have these things taken away from me.

As I watched my sixth-generation Bostonian heritage slip away (or maybe morph into something new), my first generation Chinese immigrant heritage kicked into gear.

While I was mourning the loss of this one particular part of my story, the other part told me that if my Nai Nai could move halfway across the planet when she was fifty years old with little money and rudimentary English--I could certainly cope with the fact that my parents were moving halfway across the country. And, I could do it, too.

I'm here now, and in many ways still have the sense of foreignness that I felt when I was living in Japan. It's the same country, of course, but there are times when it feels different enough that I sometimes expect to open my wallet and see a different currency entirely. Or I open my mouth to speak, and I have no idea if I will be understood.

There are days when this feeling is overwhelming and I want to get back in my car and drive until I am back within the familiar, run to my friends and escape to the Atlantic Ocean, dig my feet into the sand and say, well, that was weird.

But more often than that, I am aware of how I've entered this amazing state of deep focus that most writers crave--that I had been craving for a long time. I don't have to worry about anything taking me out of my work, because my words--fiction and non-fiction-- are the most familiar part of my life right now. I know that the days in this head space are precious, and that as time goes on and I get more comfortable in this city, my schedule will slowly fill again with meet-ups and creative excursions and game nights with new friends. That it will become harder to focus on the words.

So I know, for now, to not worry about the existential part of moving, and this quote from Joan Didion has become my new mantra:

Do not whine... Do not complain. Work harder. Spend more time alone.

What I mean to say, by all this, is we are not defined by a place. It's easy for us to use where we are from as a defining feature in who we are, that our identities are affirmed when we look around us and admire the familiar. It's easy for us to point our fingers at maps and think that we know all there is to know about a place from the infographics we scroll past on Facebook.  I think that type of thinking, historically, has done more harm than good--and continues to wreak havoc on our world today.

We aren't where we are from. We aren't where we live. We are defined by what we do and how we do it, what we say and how we say it. And where we are hoping to go matters much more than what we look back on in the rearview mirror.